12 April 2014

Names

A recent academic study has focussed upon the first names we saddle our children with.  The names of 14,449 first year students attending the University of Oxford between 2008 and 2013 were compared with the frequency of given names in the population as a whole. The study concluded that people with rather traditional first names like Eleanor. Peter, Simon, Anna, Richard, Elizabeth and John are three times more likely to be accepted into Oxford University as people with what we might think of as more trendy, transient names like Stacey, Connor, Reece, Kayleigh, Jade, Bradley and Paige.

This doesn't surprise me. As a secondary school teacher, I was instinctively convinced that youngsters with solid old-fashioned or biblical names were more likely to succeed than the kids who arrived bearing fashionable names. There were many variations on the name Kayleigh - Kaylee, Keeley, Kealy, Kelly, K-Lee etc.. And it always seemed puzzling to me why families who demonstrably put little store in literacy were very defensive about their creative and often idiosyncratic spelling of their offspring's first names. Why, for example would anyone insist on spelling Mathew with a single "t" in the middle? Or Barny without the final "e"? Quite bizarre.  And I recall a boy with the surname Allen whose first name was Alen and a girl called Neika whose name symbolised the love that her parents - Neil and Karen  - felt for each other. Equally bizarre.

I am not entirely sure of the psychology behind choosing baby names but I think that some people want the safety and security of "respectable" names that won't rock the boat, others seem  determined to embrace current naming habits while yet others deliberately seek the unusual. Whatever the psychology I am convinced that those choices say a lot about us - how we see life and the kind of aspirations we have for our  children. What do you think?

33 comments:

  1. I hope Neika was suitably grateful not to have been named Kanie
    or worse Kn'ell.

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    1. If my parents had used that naming idea for me I'd be either Dorlip or Phileen. Wouldn't have gone down too well when picking rugby teams.

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  2. Couldn't agree more. If someone said to me, 'There's an Elizabeth to see you', I would think nothing much of it. On the other hand, if the name were Kaylee or any derivative thereof, I would instantly think of trainers, shell suits, dyed hair and the mental acuity to match.

    I chose Dominic's name because it applied equally well to either sex. His mother refused to have the sex disclosed until the birth, I was uncomfortable referring to it as 'it' so chose to call it Dominic/Dominique instead. The name stuck.

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    1. Dominic and Alex are nice names for kids and the name Marcia is also nice but Tom is very common in my humble opinion.

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  3. I thought my co-worker had a daughter whose name was Courteney but I discovered that it was Kortnee. I know a woman here in Atlanta named Trunicia Rainwater and in college there was a Tranquilla Furbush whose brother was named Carl. In high school there was a Fredonia Musselwhite who had brothers named Wayne and Fred. Some families start off well but then something happens -- I know of five adult sisters named Emma, Mary, Shirley, Ollie Hazeline and Trella.

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    1. Surely many love poems were written in praise of Tranquilla Furbush - a most promising name to bear. As for Shirley in your last sentence - my wife is of course called Shirley - much better than Ollie Hazeline or Trella which sounds like an unpleasant foot condition.

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    2. Trunicia Rainwater, Tranquilla Furbush and Fredonia Musselwhite sound like class mates of Harry Potter at Hogwarts.

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    3. Arian - Young Bobby Brague bore a striking resemblance to Harry Potter but I can assure you that his given name does not conceal a magical Hogwartian past.

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  4. I have little doubt that how we name our children says a lot about us although exactly what is a little more speculative. I should be very surprised if there is not research on the subject. I can see a host of Masters and PhDs out of that topic.

    I have always wondered how people can be so often either be thoughtless or inconsiderate when giving names. Examples being a colleague in Liverpool (where else?) who was called Theresa Green or the child saddled with a name which inevitably leads to a life of hell at school.

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    1. I also wonder about people who inadequately or incompetently proof read their comments! Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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    2. GB - We knew a Sheffield woman whose married name was Nora Bone. Like Teresa Green - you really couldn't make it up!

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  5. I have no idea about what can be done in Great Britain, but when choosing names for my children, I had in my mind that for $25 or 15 pounds they could change their first names if they bloody well pleased! So, if they had wanted to go to Harvard and, in order to get in they needed to change their name to Richard or Anne, so what??? My son-in-laws name is Leigh and he went to Cambridge. Did he get in because of his brain or his name? Eh?

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    1. MT - Generalisation makes no allowance for the particular. In Britain we can also change our names but very few people do this because like it or loathe it, the name we are given at birth soon welds itself to one's very psyche.

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  6. You've asked a hard question. As a teacher , some of my colleagues always thought that some names meant trouble! I don't think I agree with them. I had to consider the person first and the hell with the name.

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    1. Red - I wholly agree with that sentiment but if a time-served teacher looked back on his/her career he/she might find that there were correlations between first names and achievement, first names and behaviour. Of course this rule wouldn't always apply - there would bne cmany exceptions to it.

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  7. I saved the exotic names for our pets. The kid was just Bob.

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    1. Bob is a good solid name p- like the young man who bears it. Janice on the other hand suggests exotic dancing and husky whispers!

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  8. The wonderful Irish singing sensation twins 'Jedward' are so called by adding J (for John) to Edward. Their parents had considered calling the Peter and Rick.

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  9. It's obviously a class thing. Conservative middle class vs proles railing against the system in a futile, pathetic way. I used to be embarassed of my traditional biblical name when surrounded by, what I now term vile American nomenclature like Scott, Virgil and Jason rescued from classical literature by pompous mid American families.

    In the end I am so glad that I have the respectable grown up name and don't have a 60s American name like Kevin or a made up one that makes you and your bloodline reveal their social and economic ineptitude.

    I am proud to be working class but don't need to advertise it. The working class used to want to look up...

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    1. Thank you - your points are thought-provoking as usual.
      But I can't remember seeing the name disv2002 in The Bible. Was he one of the disciples or one of those unfortunate fellows who were crucified alongside Jesus?

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  10. It will hardly surprise you to hear that I love language, and words, and ethymology, and names with their meaning etc. How fitting that, precisely two years ago (to the day!), I wrote about names on my blog:
    http://librarianwithsecrets.blogspot.de/2012/04/its-all-in-name.html

    Germany has rules for each and everything, and so of course first names are regulated as well. Here, parents can not just give their offspring any name they desire; for instance, Neika would probably not have been allowed, or K-Lee. Some years ago, a couple wanted to name their child after the ugly, mischievus red-haired cartoon character of a popular German children's book & TV series, but were not allowed to.
    I think those rules are a bit more elastic nowadays. We have so many people from foreign countries here that it is impossible for the rule-sticklers to prohibit them giving their children names that are uncommon in German, and of which you can not immediately tell the gender of the child.

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    1. A fascinating tidbit of naming history Arian. Thank you.

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  11. And then there's another whole sphere of first names: inner-city America.
    In my teaching days I had too many students with "creative" names to count. However, there was the girl with both a hyphen AND an apostrophe in her first name, another one named Money (to be pronounced Monet), and the boy whose parents gave him the first name of Mister (presumably so people would always address him with respect. Unfortunately, his behavior never warranted it.)
    Taking attendance on the first day of school was a challenge indeed.

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  12. On a much more edifying and happier note: Many congratulations on the Tigers' victory.

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    1. Yes Elizabeth - perhaps this is The Year of The Tiger. A thrilling day out.

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