What's in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but would Rose by another name grow up to be the same person?
Many sociologists, baby name experts, and teachers agree that what you name your child impacts her personality, her ability to interact with her peers, even how she is perceived by total strangers. Along with the baby-naming trend of unusual and creative names or spellings, parents ought to give a little extra thought before naming their child: whether James, Jr. or Zafan, it does make a difference.
People with unusual names have the advantage of standing out, not getting confused with others of the same name, being memorable, and often having a special story or deeper meaning to their monikers. However, such names can be hard to spell or pronounce, open a child to teasing, and may negatively impact how others see the person or how the person sees himself.
Most parents who give their children exotic names are striving for individuality. "We wanted them to be unique and individual—to stand out in a zillion common names," says ShaHarriet Houchins, mother of nine. There are certain advantages to being the only Shalice Jadzia Washington in the school or on the payroll. Even with computers looking at Social Security numbers, there are still cases where someone is confused with another person of the same name and is mistakenly assigned that person's debts, bad credit history, or other problems.
Because we naturally take note of things that are different, someone with an unusual name may be more easily remembered. This can be an advantage later in careers where someone may know you only from your name in print. "As a writer, I'm pleased my name is memorable," says Cherith Baldry.
Unusual names also don't hold a lot of predispositions that common names do. Danelle Duran named her son Ukiah in part because it was the only name everyone could agree to; no one associated the name with jocks, hicks or nerds, she says.
Odd names can be a great conversation starter, especially if they have a special meaning or story behind them. Almost all names have meanings, but often people who give their children unusual or cross-cultural names do so specifically for the meanings. A child born to a couple later in life may enjoy hearing that her name, Gadel, means "God will surprise you." Elvira Bates loves her name not only for its uniqueness in American culture, but also because there has been a Catholic Council of Elvira. She also enjoyed the fact that on the playground, no one could think of a nasty rhyme for it.
Speaking of playgrounds, when you're shouting for your child in the playground, it helps not to have five other kids respond to the name.
Unique names can have serious consequences, however.
They are harder to pronounce, which can be frustrating, especially for younger children and for teachers coping with a new class at the beginning of the school year. "My name is Elvira, but children and even teachers (who only made things worse) would make it Elmira, Olivia, Alvera ... I soon learned to come to whatever sounded like my name," says Bates.
Unusual spellings, especially of common names, may make the person stand out, but people will always be misspelling the name. "Only your mother and your husband will get it right," notes Shaye' Gurrera. In the day and age of spell-checkers, one's name may get automatically misspelled: Karina to Karen or Finola to Finale.
On a more serious note, studies have shown that people tend to negatively judge people with unusual names solely on the basis of the name.
"Sociologically, a very general finding is that people don't react well to things that are new and unusual. They aren't as comfortable with it, and that applies to names," says Dr. Albert Mehrabian, PhD, author of The Name Game and The Baby Name Report Card. For over a decade, Dr. Mehrabian has studied how a name changes perceptions of a person's morality, cheerfulness, success, and even masculinity or femininity. Compared to names standard for our culture, unusual names are rated dramatically lower in all categories—even a change of spelling in a common name will negatively affect someone's scores, he says. "I know a lot of people don't like to hear that, because they think they're being creative. They think they're making their kids (individual), but blue hair is unusual. But is it desirable?"