Sunday, June 18, 2017

NAMES Revisited: My Friend's Dissertation

Warning: This post is less politically correct than are my usual posts.

One of my high school friends is writing her doctoral dissertation in educational psychology. I don't want to post her title, but the topic concerns the effects of names on children's social and academic success.  She picked a great topic. I suggested to her that once she has turned everything in, it's been approved, and her degree has been conferred, she should edit the content, removing the boring educational statistics and other pedantic material that's only there to satisfy requirements for fulfillment of her degree, informalize the language if doing so would make it more readable, and either look for a publisher or self-publish through or a similar outlet.  She said that if she's not so sick of the entire project by the time she has completed it, she will probably publish it in some form.  Meanwhile, she has a few tips for prospective parents or anyone else who cares, which everyone is free to consider or to ignore.

I've written about names here before. Names are a particular concern of my mom's. My friend, Caitlyn, who is writing the dissertation, interviewed my mom for the project. My mom has charted statistics regarding names since she entered the field of education thirty years ago. She firmly believes that the average parent can set a child up for success or doom the child for failure based on the name alone. I don't think my mom seriously believes that you don't have to talk to your child, or even  feed your kid regularly or change its diaper if you pick a sufficiently good name, or at least I hope that's not what she would want someone to get from her research. I would hope, rather, that her point is that a name can be a deciding factor in a child's academic, and to an even greater degree, social success.

What Caitlyn has concluded after looking at my mother's data and that of many other researchers, is that some parents are highly intelligent and were successful as students. If those parents find each other, boink each other, and raise any children they happen to create  in the process in a somewhat sensible fashion, unless some sort of mishap occurs with genetics, gestation, or the standard roll of the dice that is inherent in making a baby, the children will likely experience academic success as well. Likewise, some parents have considerable social success as individuals. They're probably naturally cool people. We all know a few of those people. Most of us, unfortunately,  aren't those people. If those cool people marry or otherwise become a cohesive unit,  barring the same mishaps with genetics, gestation, or the luck that is always involved in creating a baby, any babies created by these cool parents will, with a high degree of probability, turn out to be cool individuals who experience social success in every direction they turn. 

If you are one of those smart people who has experienced nothing but success in academics,  unless you get something like a third twenty-first chromosome thrown into the mix or something equally flukish, and assuming you can forego booze for the better part of nine months,  your child will probably turn out to be smart and academically successful. Whatever name you choose for your child will, henceforth and forever, in the minds of all who come to know your child, be associated with a high degree of intelligence and academic success, even if you name your kid something like Quasar, Colo-recto, Blaze, Sha Nay Nay, Bambi, or Na'Tequila.

The same is true of the cool people who co-mingle their gametes, except they have a chance of producing an ultra-cool child who is the epitome of social success even  with the addition of an extra twenty-first chromosome.  Those parents will make any name cool with the mere act of bestowing it upon their kid.  Those parents could name their child or children Guy, Cliburne, Don Juan Quixote, Barxalotte, Fartsalotte, or Pelvicia, and instantly propel those names into local eternal cool-dom by the simple act of having graced the name with their child's or children's association and associated coolness. 

In the extremely rare case of parents who are both socially and cognitively/academically successful [Note: it doesn't usually work if one parent is smart and the other is cool; in such cases, Murphy's Law usually comes into fruition, and the resulting offspring wind(s) up neither all that intelligent nor in possession of the social skills needed to locate the cool kids' table in a cafeteria of a school exclusively for students with behavior disorders, or to find the cool seat on the short bus even if you give the kid a color-coded diagram or smart phone app to assist him in finding it. Any child resulting from the unprotected coupling of such parents must be named Isabella, Sophia, Aiden, or Jackson, or something else on the Top Ten list. One must take no chances with the naming of the result of such a potentially meteoric pairing.], any name will do. The parent may take a name from the top 100 list for the decade or the millenium, or the parent may blindly draw eleven scrabble tiles and combine them in some form to produce a pronounceable (or, for that matter, an un-pronounceable) name.  Probably nothing by way of naming the child will screw him or her up, and you are enhancing the local status of any name you choose by virtue of gracing it with your child's identity.

Most of us, however, even if we're lucky enough to be academically successful, do not have any sort of monopoly on all that is cool. Most of us would be wise to consider a few basic extrinsic and intrinsic properties when naming our children.

Don't give your son a name that has been, historically, a male name but is now trending more strongly for the female segment of the population. Consult available Social Security lists or other reliable lists of popular names both for your state or province and for the nation in which your child will most likely reside. (Alexis is a girl's name in English-speaking regions. It's more commonly a boy's name in Spanish-speaking locations.) Perhaps even more important, scan both actors' and characters' names of popular TV programs and movies, and check out lists of high finishers of televised reality- or talent-based competitions.  And if the child you're expecting is a girl, don't give her a name like Daniel just to be different even though it is less likely to be socially stigmatizing to her. Be kind. What if you start a trend? Then all the little boys whose unsuspecting parents named them Daniel will be teased and bullied for having a girl's name even though God himself couldn't have predicted that Daniel wouldn't be a boy's name before their sons were finished using it. If you don't have a conscience, grow one.

Despite what the current list of popular boys' names says, don't name your kid Liam. Almost any child named Liam will grow into a self-centered, narcissistic, whiny, impulse-driven jerk. Ask anyone who has taught elementary school in the past ten years. He or she will back me up on this.

This one can be difficult to predict too far down the line, as new insulting terms find their way into the vernacular of our language all the time, but try not to choose a name for your child that rhymes with an obscenity or with an obvious epithet. (For  that matter, don't rhyme your child's first name with his or her last name, either.) Playground bullies love to torment sweet, unsuspecting children. Don't make it easy for the bullies of the world. Just as you would not send your child to school with a literal target painted on his back, don't send him out with a metaphorical target.

You may want to avoid the incredibly popular names in most instances of naming children. Most children would prefer not to be one of five Isabellas or Aidens in a classroom. If you're absolutely in love with the name, however, go for it; give the name to your child. There are worse things in life than having a popular name. In most cases, names are popular because they are nice names.[ Notable exception: See Liam.] The verdict is that children with overly popular names usually like their names better than do children with extremely obscure or made-up names.

Likewise, most children don't want either to go through life having to spell their names aloud or having to correct the mispronunciation of their names because Mommy and Daddy so wanted to be different that they invented a new spelling of a standard name or, even worse, came up with a name that either phonetically doesn't match its spelling or can be pronounced phonetically in more than one way. It may be either the drugs from labor still in your system that are influencing your brain in not-so-good ways, or it may be the champagne that you drank immediately following the birth to celebrate the fact that your doctor successfully removed the foreign object from your crotch in a single piece so that you no longer are experiencing pain every three minutes -- each time lasting two minutes and thirty-five seconds -- that is so intense that you would be forced to -- with your bare hands or with whatever tools that might be handy ---  kill the person who caused you to be in such a condition  were you to have experienced even one contraction more. Whatever the reason, whatever the inspiration, it's not a positive force that is leading you to believe that Jerremey is a superior alternative to Jeremy, that Gill is somehow better than Jill, or that Mareyea is for any reason a better spelling of either Maria or Mariah -- whichever pronunciation you intended and would have expected every substitute teacher [or regular teacher on the first day of school] your child would ever encounter to possess the psychic power to know which name you were attempting to replicate with your creative or otherwise non-standard version of spelling. If you desire to be creative, make pottery or write haikus.  Do not force the unintended effects of your creativity to inconvenience your child for the entirety of his or her life.  If your child really wants to be different or to be noticed, he or she will find a way of achieving distinction or notoriety.  You do not have to predispose him or her to stand out in a way that is not desirable with your choice of a name or your dumb-ass way of spelling the name.

Think of resulting initials when naming your child.  Consider the implications of a child having to go through life with the  initials created with the following names: Grayson Andrew Young, Amelia Savannah Sorenson, Fabian Alexander Green, Faith Ursula Carter, Bruce Owens, Penelope Michelle Smith, Stephanie Tabitha Davis, David Oscar Anderson, or Samuel Oliver Bennett. I've only scratched the surface.

Despite following all conventions and considering every common sense rule of naming a child, disaster can still strike.  A psycho with your child's first name can commit a heinous crime.  With YouTube and other media, just about anyone who is sufficiently desperate for fame can achieve it by doing something really stupid and then publishing it for all to see. (The fame or infamy resulting from these acts of YouTube idiocy are, fortunately, usually short-lived.) Your daughter can marry a man and take his surname, and it can form something that sounds really silly or worse with her existing name. (Women are not forced to take their husbands' names upon marriage.) Therefore, with everything that can potentially go wrong despite your best intentions, you owe it to your future child to control all the variables associated with his or her name that you have the capacity to control.


  1. Going on with the politically incorrect theme, there was a woman who named her daughter Lee-a. When asked how to pronounce it she sad, "Lee-dash-a, the dash don't be silent". Some parents are unintentionally cruel.

    1. I realize why, even though sometimes it seems wrong, government cannot insert itself into the process of procreation, which is why a person cannot operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway without having passed some sort of test at some point along the way, but can, with no assessment of competence whatsoever, be allowed to spawn a human life and can take full responsibility for the care and well-being of that new life. I propose as a compromise, since we can't have any say in who gets to make babies with whom and what they do with the child once it arrives as long as there's no compelling evidence of abuse or serious neglect, that a parent must at least past some sort of minimum competency evaluation before the parent is allowed to name a child and to determine the spelling of the name. If the parent isn't at least minimally competent, allow the hospital's registrar to name the kid. We would have far fewer kids with really dumb-ass names under my system. Granted, they'd still be thoroughly screwed up by their parents' brain-dead genetics and child-rearing practices, but at least they would be named Victoria or Benjamin instead of Lee-a or Lucifer.