On Naming Baby: Choosing Unusual Names
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?”
Even bearers of unusual names warn parents not to give their kids “kick-me-in-the-head” names, which will easily lead to teasing in the schoolyard. Regina Koske, a teacher at a private school in California, remembers two of her students, Strawberry and Justice, who had especially hard times. “The other students laughed and teased Strawberry constantly and said things like, ‘I’m going to eat you.’ Every time we said the Pledge of Allegiance and got to ‘… and justice for all,’ many kids would repeat ‘And Justice?’ and laugh. After a time, (they) got used to the unusual and name and it wasn’t unusual any more. However, every time that child enters a new group of peers, he or she will once again have to deal with the stigma of a particularly unusual name.”
Even as adults, an unusual name may lead to ridicule, especially with the Internet making written communication more common. Dr. Mehrabian says he has counseled many adults who felt they were ridiculed by coworkers for their unusual names. Contrary to the “Boy Named Sue” idea that a nonstandard name will strengthen a child in adulthood, Mehrabian said he’s found that the more unusual a person’s name is, the harder it is for them to adjust.
Of course, as more and more parents delve into exotic name books and creative spelling, the unusual becomes more and more familiar. If your heart’s set on giving your unique child a unique name, use some common sense: be sure it’s easy to spell, pleasing to the ear, and is something your child can wear—both in childhood and adulthood—with pride.
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