What's in a Name?
The story of your name probably sheds some light on who your parents are—or who they were, before you were born. And now that the name is yours, how has it influenced your life’s course? We asked 10 people, “What’s in a name?”
Pia Murray, 28, would have been named Shaniqua if it had been up to her father (“Hey, it was the 80s,” she explains), but her mother chose her name instead (“Thank goodness…”). “Pia Zadora, an actress, was being interviewed on Entertainment Tonight. My mother saw this just before going into labor, and decided then and there that I’d be a Pia, too,” Murray says. “She’s always said I was meant to be on television.” Instead of TV, Murray takes to the stage as a Brooklyn-based choreographer and dancer. She believes her unusual name made her more willing to stand out from (and in front of) the crowd. “Most people assume I’m quirky and interesting because of my name,” she says. “I try to live up to it!”
Geronimo Risquez, 41, was named at birth. “I was a large baby—over 10 pounds,” says Risquez, who’s originally from Venezuela, and now lives in Amsterdam. “My father held me up and announced, ‘This kid is big! He’s going to be like Geronimo, the great American chief!’” If Risquez’s parents ever planned to name him something else, he never heard about it. “A lot of people I meet think I must have changed my name, since I’m tall and it suits me so well,” he says. “But I was a Geronimo from the very beginning. Perhaps the name has shaped me more than I know.”
Amoreena Campbell, 36, was also named by her father, an avid music fan. “Amoreena” comes from an early Elton John song, and means ‘Little Love’ in Italian. Campbell’s middle name is Joy. “There’s clearly a theme going there,” she says. “I was the first born, so I think my parents were feeling pretty romantic about having kids … Both of my younger siblings got normal names!” Campbell didn’t love having an unusual name when she was young, but her feelings changed as she matured. “Having a memorable name is helpful,” she says. “I’ve always gotten the jobs I wanted; my name alone helps my resumé pop!” (Had she been born a boy, she would’ve been named “Sting.”)
Kell Condon, 27, was nearly named Rafael, but his parents decided on Kell (which is Norweigian in origin and is usually spelled ‘Kjell’) instead. Condon, who grew up in Silver Springs, Maryland, is relieved that his parents strayed from the name’s traditional spelling, as his name often confuses people, even without a silent letter ‘j’. “People think I’m a girl if they see my name on paper before meeting me. Even though lots of people ask about my name, saying it’s unique and wanting to know where it comes from, that conversation is no longer interesting to me,” he says. “Honestly, it makes me long for a more conventional name. That way I’d exceed people’s expectations rather than starting out with something that sets me apart!” He wants to name his future children with that in mind. “They’ll have more generic names,” he says. “You know: Joe, Paul, Steve…”
Shenandoah Clisset, 32, has been told two stories about the origin of her name, which means “Daughter of the Stars” in Cherokee. The first is that she was conceived under the stars; the other is that her mother decided on the name years earlier, when she came across it in a book. “Knowing my hippie parents, either story could be the accurate one,” Clisset, who lives in San Francisco, says. “Wherever it came from, they chose a unique name for me, and for all my siblings after me; it gave a very clear message that we’re each individuals, and different in our own ways.” Clisset’s name, or the care behind it, gives her confidence when facing life’s challenges. “That wouldn’t have been as ingrained in me if I’d been named Kimberly, which my dad suggested. My mom vetoed that right away—and I’m glad she did.”
Adrain Matthews, 36, inherited the name Adrian (spelled conventionally) from his grandfather, but wound up with the alternative spelling due to an error on his birth certificate. Although he requested that people call him ‘Joe’ for a short time in second grade, Matthews, who’s from Portland, Oregon, appreciates having an unusual name—even if he does have to spell it aloud on a regular basis. “If people see it written out, they ask about it. I meet more interesting people (and women!) in that way.”
Jennifer VanDer Way, 27, was almost a Genevieve, but her mother feared growing up with an unusual name might be difficult. “I have a sister named Gisele,” VanDer Way says. “So I don’t know why Geneveive was too far out!” VanDer Way ended up with that year’s most popular baby name—Jennifer—instead. She found it irritating to meet countless Jennifers as she grew up, and, as a result, steered clear of common names when deciding on names for her kids: Greyson and Holland.
Emily Gilbert, 23, could have been a Sarah or an Allison, but her parents decided Emily was perfect, when they finally met her. “My mother thought she was choosing an unusual name, actually,” Gilbert says. “She was a little annoyed when she met three other baby Emily’s at my one-month doctor’s appointment. Whoops!” Gilbert, who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, likes her name, despite the number of friends and teammates she’s shared it with over the years. “Playing sports with multiple Emily’s got a little confusing at times,” she recalls. “But I haven’t given it much thought otherwise. I think a name is just a name.”
Nadia Mariano, 25, was about to be named Jessica when her older sister—who had a friend named Nadia—convinced her parents to name their new baby Nadia, too. “I love my name,” says Mariano, who lives in Massachusetts. “People occasionally think I’m going to be a supermodel before they meet me in person; but nope, I’m just a normal, Italian girl from Saugus with a supermodel kind of a name.”
Lisa Simmons, 42, was almost given her middle name, Nichole, as her first, but her mother didn’t want anyone to call her daughter ‘Nicky.’ Instead, she experimented with several first names, and settled on Lisa’s full name, Lisa Nichole Simmons, as boasting the best overall sound. “My name is straight-forward, like me,” Simmons says. “If I’d have been named Nichole, I think I’d be more serious, or more mysterious. You really have to get to know a Nichole. Lisa? What you see is what you get.”
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