In today's New York Times, John Marion Tierney writes about names. Old studies showed that "children with odd names got worse grades and were less popular than other classmates in elementary school," he writes. "In college they were more likely to flunk out or become 'psychoneurotic.'" But more recent research shows that names don't really matter as much as we think. "Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person," says psychologist Dr. Martin Ford. "Add a picture, and the impact of the name recedes. Add information about personality, motivation and ability, and the impact of the name shrinks to minimal significance." But people (and not just celebs) love slapping kids with "odd" names.
For a new book, Bad Baby Names, Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback checked census records from 1790 to 1930 and found names like Garage Empty, Hysteria Johnson, Infinity Hubbard, Please Cope, Major Slaughter, Ima Muskrat, Ima Nut and Ima Hooker. They also interviewed adults who had survived childhoods with names like Candy Stohr, Cash Guy, Mary Christmas, River Jordan and Rasp Berry. Fun is one thing. But what if you want a kid to succeed? Do you name your daughter "C.E.O."?
According to a survey by BabyCenter, 58% of parents believe that the name they give their baby will contribute to his or her success in life, the Freakonomics guys write in the New York Times. ("Apparently they didn't read Freakonomics, or at least they didn't believe it," they add.) Moms and dads think a baby boy's name should convey strength and individuality; a girl's name should relay femininity, individuality and kindness. And yet! 3% of survey responders said they'd change their child's name if they could, because the name had become too popular. So much for individuality. "I've seen brilliant children with awful, meaningless names," said one parent.
(Meanwhile, the trend of naming your kid after a famous city (London, Dallas, Paris, Brooklyn) can only go so far: over on Babble this morning, Jen Chaney warns that some towns (Lizard Lick, NC, Crapo, MD, Sugartit, KY) should be avoided.)
As a child with a unique name I always felt bad for the kids in my class who had to be Brian M. and Brian S. or Jennifer C. and Jenny C. I thought unique names were better, until I realized that I'd be spelling mine pretty much every day for the rest of my life. But I've got to ask: Does an interesting name make for an interesting person? Even though Freakonomics claims that a name has nothing to do with the life a child will lead, do you secretly believe a name has the power to shape a kid's personality? To make a person achieve more — or less? (And are all Jessicas really bitches?)