Made by Andrea Micheloni
Not too long ago I read What's in a name? by Veronica Mitchell. She'd read the NPR/USA Today article, Blame it on your name, that shared new research results: "a preference for our own names and initials — the 'name-letter effect' — can have some negative consequences." Veronica's post and that article got me thinking about names, and their importance.
Changing to my husband’s name and shedding my maiden name was no love lost for me. By the time we married, I’d have gladly married any other name just for a change. My maiden name was a trial; I was sick of spelling it, pronouncing it, explaining it, and dealing with the thoughtless rude comments about it.
My sister and I dreamed and planned for the day we could shed that name.
So I wonder, sometimes, whether I adequately considered what a name change would actually mean. Heritage and genealogy matter to me and my maiden name reflected a great deal of familial history. History I don't think I valued enough at the young age I married. In fact, my maiden name will be a blip on my overall life story. In a few years, I will have been Julie Pippert longer than I carried my birth name.
However, I don't regret my choice.
I am glad that the family shares the same name. I grew up with different last names in the family and that always lead eventually to some embarrassing moment or personal explanation.
I’m not very fond of my first name, either, which seems too bubbly and flighty for my personality and carries no possible nicknames other that Jules or (gag) Ju-Ju.
So I spent a lot of time planning different names for myself. I very nearly legally changed mine to Julia when I turned 18. I thought that would be a minimal change that appeased me. But the idea really, really upset my mother.
Which begs the question: who “owns” the name? And what effect does it have on your life, really?
As a parent I know I very carefully selected my children's names. I wanted something strong and feminine, something good for childhood and adulthood, and something that would be flexible and benefit them in their lives. I tried to consider not only my own reaction to the name, but also what society's reaction would be. I'm sensitive to this because I believe people have drawn conclusions about me as a Julie that they might not have had I been a Catherine.
Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D. says this is true in his book about baby names and the effects names have on us and our lives, "Many parents select names for their babies using the name of someone they like or admire (a relative, a movie star, a politician, a character in a book, a childhood friend). Unfortunately, the personal associations one has to another's name rarely reflect consensus associations of the general public. In this way, many children are given names that have neutral or even negative connotations."
Most parents I know seem to understand this principle.
For example, yesterday, I attended a baby shower. One of the games was to create baby names out of the parents' names. The mother-to-be was to select the winner based on the name she liked best. As we went around the room reading the names we created, one lady apologized, "I don't know why but every name I came up with sounds like a cheerleader, I'm sure you won't like any of them!" Both parents are engineers who work for NASA. Rocket scientists. It's assumed they won't be pushing their child down any primrose cheerleading paths, and thus will eschew names such as Tiffany. That's probably a good assumption.
The more interesting assumption was that each name the lady thought of was likely to be a cheerleader sort of person. What is a cheerleader sort of person, and what sort of name is a cheerleader sort of name? I bet you have specific ideas. I think most of us do.
That's the point: names matter, and they carry connotations that can benefit or adversely affect us.
When we do not know a person, we gather any information possible to begin sorting and identifying who this person could be. Often, the name is all we have to go on, and while we generally don't form conclusions about a person solely on their name, we do often form impressions. The impressions, of course, reflect more on who we are than who the stranger is, but nevertheless, that affects our interactions.
For example, imagine that you are a hiring manager in charge of sorting through resumes to select candidates for interviews. Picture a resume. What's the most prominent and first thing you see? Often, the candidate's name is most prominent. And that name might sway your initial "feeling" about this candidate.
In fact, it might affect that candidate's potential success
Ohio University researchers asked participants to read descriptions of people—including their name and occupation—and found that they deemed women with a more feminine name such as Emma more likely to be successful in traditional female occupations such as nursing, while men with a more masculine name like Hank were expected to excel at jobs like plumbing—traditionally considered a male career.
The results suggest that people with names that don't "fit" their desired career might have more difficulty finding work than equally qualified colleagues with more fitting names.
Perhaps I should have made that name change, after all. My career field is a studious and serious one...has my flirty name held me back?
In the end, though, once people get to know me, instead of me being "a Julie sort of person," the name "Julie" becomes a me sort of name.
What do you think about the effect of names? Do you like your own name? How do you select names when naming someone (characters in a story, children, pets, etc.)? Do you agree that names carry connotations, and does this affect your selection process when naming?
For more interesting reading about the effects of names
Hello, My Name is Unique by Carlin Flora
Some parents want names for their children that are unique but not too trendy. Other parents seem to love alternative spellings. How important is a name to our self-perception?
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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