Names, Socially Desirable
Names, Socially Desirable
Significance of personal name.
Finding an appropriate name for a child is one of the first tasks new parents assume. For some, the effort begins well before the child is born. Other parents decide on a name after birth, when they have an impression of the child. Some names are dictated by family tradition, such as taking on the name of a parent or other relative. A name may also be given according to some circumstance surrounding the birth, as when a child is named after a season or month of the year or after the doctor performing the delivery. Names can be dictated by fashion, some parents may name their children after their favorite movie and television stars.
In the early 1900s, Agnes and Charles were among the most popular names for babies. As of the mid-1990s, the names in the accompanying table were the five most popular for boys and girls
Names with significant religious meaning are also frequently chosen. A child's name may be chosen by whim or after long deliberation, but in either case, the decision has a life long effect on the child. A child's name is important to his or her self-image. Names convey impressions of personality, and people are likely to attach their image of the name to the child bearing it. Some names, for example, sound exceedingly feminine or masculine, while others are intellectual or sporty. Associations with particular names may change because of
prominent people who bear them, the development of new slang terms, or world events that focus attention on a specific region. Many studies have been conducted rating particular first names for qualities they imply, such as cheerfulness, health, achievement, authority, and passiveness. Several names that seemed to imply positive qualities tend to be the most conventional or popular, such as John, Michael, Jennifer, or Lisa. One study found children with the most popular names were also the most popular kids, and that children with odd names were not as well liked. Adults have also been shown to judge people based on name prejudices. One study gave teachers a set of fictitious papers to grade. Some of the papers were said to be by children with popular names and others by children with odd or unpopular names. Though all the papers were judged by the researchers to be roughly comparable in quality, the teachers graded the papers by the children with popular names significantly higher than those by the oddly named children. Other studies have found people with unconventional names have a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders and criminality. However, people who are socially prominent also seem to have a high incidence of unusual names, with many successful business executives and politicians apparently overcoming the stigma of their rare names.
Some research findings on the social effects of names may not hold true for today's children, since there is a departure from conventional names. The name John may be more rare in the nursery school of the 1990s than the name Gideon. In some communities, a unique, invented name is popular, and children in those communities may have very different name prejudices than those noted earlier by researchers. Since name fads quickly change, research on the qualities of particular names can become outdated. Research, however, does show that the connotations of names are very important, and should be kept in mind by conscientious parents.
Parents desiring to give their child a name that is both socially acceptable and a little unusual, or that follows
Anderson, Christopher P. The Name Game. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.
Mehrabian, Albert, The Name Game: The Decision that Lasts a Lifetime. Bethesda, Maryland: National Press Books, 1990.
Rosenkrantz, Linda. Last Word on First Names. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Doyle, Brian. "Naming: A Name Is a Thing of Immense Power." America 170, No. 16, May 7, 1994, pp. 10-12.
Sagert, Kelly. "Angela Barbara, Cheri." Hopscotch 8, No. 2, August-September 1996, p. 20-22.
"Top 5 Baby Names." Time for Kids 1, no. 16, February 16, 1996, pp. 2+.