What is in a name?

Implications of unusual and overly unique names Malcolm is more likely to go to prison than Michael.

Implications of unusual and overly unique names Malcolm is more likely to go to prison than Michael. Alexis is more likely to succeed in math than Annie. Laura is more likely to be a lawyer, while Dennis has a higher probability of being a dentist. A girl named Vaseline is probably going to be the most antagonized member of her class.

Study after study says that names influence nearly everything in a person’s life, and yet people still insist on giving their children “unique” or “exotic” names.

Sociological studies have found this to be a double-edged sword. Recently the State of Oregon has jumped on the bandwagon, ranking 10th in unusual baby names by the Association for Psychological Science Journal..

Some parents are set on a name before the baby even arrives—in some cases, regardless of gender. This is how an energetic little boy might end up named “Madison” or a daddy’s girl might be called “Tyler.” These names, while fairly normal for the other sex, tend to stand out among the children’s own gender. These children are more likely to face bullying in school and raised eyebrows and extra requirements for opening bank accounts and credit cards than more traditionally named peers.

For boys especially, an androgynous or feminine name spells trouble. A study on the social consequences of names at Northwestern University found that boys with androgynous or feminine names are more likely than their peers to lash out and become disruptive upon entering high school, particularly if a female classmate shares his name. Female students with masculine or androgynous names were also found to act out, although in less destructive ways.

Surprisingly, femininity and masculinity in names was found to influence female students’ success in various disciplines. Girls with traditionally feminine names such as “Elizabeth” or “Hannah” were found to be more likely to pursue studies in the humanities and thrive, whereas those with more masculine or androgynous names such as “Alex” or “Terry” were more likely to excel in math and science courses. But then, names can influence so much more—people tend to choose careers close to their names (which is, of course, why there are so many dentists named “Dennis”).

Of course, challenging society’s expectations in terms of gender is only one factor causing parents come up with “unique” names. Some kids are just going to grow up with names like “Maserati” and “LaMichael,” despite the fact that studies dating as far back as the 1960s suggest this is a terrible idea. Unusual first names have been linked to everything from psychosis to criminal convictions to socioeconomic status.

Particularly for school-aged children, unusual names can be something of a handicap. Teachers are likely to draw certain expectations from students’ names based on their own experiences. Many instructors assume students with unusual first names will be troublemakers. For students with names common in low-income communities, teachers may assume a minimum of parental involvement setting students up for preconceived expectations while furthering stereotypes.

There are some benefits to unusual names. Children who grow up loving their names are likely to have higher self-esteem, and those with unusual names tend to have strong feelings about said names. Unfortunate for those who don’t like their names, certainly, but for those who do, the boost is a good thing. In addition, unusual names tend to be more memorable for some people. A manager may have seven Amys working for her, but probably only one Artemis. And, of course, people with unusual names don’t tend to run into the problem of having to be identified by a letter or a defining trait—Alex C., Alex F. or “the Ashley with the mole on her chin” do not have this luxury.

Regardless of what parents choose to name their child, they need to keep in mind the implications for the future. That child will someday be an adult—will a name like “Chansey” or “Gomorrah” be anything but detrimental in the real world when he or she is looking for a job (or even just respect)? Do you want to make someone have to endlessly correct the pronunciation and spelling of his or her name?

Kids don’t get to choose their names, but parents do. And with statistics showing that as many as one in five parents regret the name they chose for their kid, maybe names should be given a little more forethought. ?