What’s in a Name?

The names that parents come up with for their children these days seem to increasingly stranger and stranger.  Jayden, Kayden, and Jaylen seem to be the most popular unusual names; names of unique combinations, interesting origin, and profound meaning seem to be the most compelling for their offspring.

But with all the wild names that parents name their kids, one question remains: does naming your child an unusual name cause future detriment in his/her life?  Research says that it indeed does.

Research shows that boys with names traditionally given to girls are more likely to misbehave than their counterparts with masculine names.  Five psychological studies conducted in UCSD and Yale University demonstrated that people like their names enough to unconsciously pursue certain outcomes that resemble them (Nelson1 and Simmons, 2007). Baseball players whose names begin with the strikeout-signifying letter “K” strike out more than those that don’t.  Although all students want As, students whose names begin with letters associated with poorer pelegeniousrformance (C and D) achieve lower grade point averages than do students whose names begin with A and B.

As research shows, names matter.  But to what extent?  Do unusual names given to baby’s now-a-days prevent future success?  Does it cause future failure?

David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University, obtained names from millions of birth certificates, and then broke down each name into more than a thousand phonemic components. He analyzed the names for letter combinations, complexity and other factors, and then used a statistical analysis to figure out the probability that the name belonged to someone of low socioeconomic status.

The study revealed that kids were treated differently if they had an unusual name.  It was determined that kids with unusual names, from a linguistic perspective, were likely to be given by poorly educated parents.  These kids did worse in school and were less likely to be recommended for gifted classes and more likely to be classified as learning disabled.

Preliminary results from Figlio’s work suggest that changing up the spelling of a common name (like spelling Kevin ‘Kevynn’) in order to make it unique or different may not be wise. Children with a deviant spelling of a common name tended to have slowed spelling and reading capabilities.  “That suggests a lot about internalizing,” Figlio said. “You have the child named Jennifer spelled with a “G” – her teacher says ‘Are you sure your name is spelled that way?’ That can be incredibly hard on a person’s confidence.”

In an Ohio University study, employers weigh several factors when judging job candidates.  Results from this study showed that the gender match between an applicant’s name and the occupation could have a subconscious impact.  Participants predicted that women with more feminine names — Emma and Irma, for example — would have more success pursuing traditional female careers such as nurse, hair stylist or interior decorator.  Men with more masculine names — Hank and Bruno — were expected to be successful with traditional male careers such as plumber, truck driver and electrician.  Those whose names least matched occupation stereotypes might have a harder time landing certain jobs, the study suggests. A woman named Garrett pursuing a job in day care or a man named Bud who wanted to become a podiatrist, for example, might be searching for that dream position for a long time.

It is clear that names could have a very negative impact on a persons life if it is unusual, bizarre, or atypical.  A name is often the first thing you tell someone, the first thing someone knows about you, and the first thing a potential employer sees on a CV/resume.  People unconsciously judge others based on their name.  Having one that is greatly unusual can be associated with unintelligence, incompetence, or even stupidity.  So parents: avoid excessive punctuation, modifications to existing names, names or cars, cities or states, names of ideologies (eg, Freedom, Joy), more than one capitalized letter in a name, compounded names, invented names, or names with novel elaborate meaning.  Doing so will help prevent a child like Le’Genius from a life a crime and not a college education.

-Deshawn (@ShonJay714)

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Journalist and aspiring writer. Contact me at da.advocates@gmail.com

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