Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's in a Name?

The New York Times has a great article on names. "A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names".

Studies showed that children with odd names got worse grades and were less popular than other classmates in elementary school. In college they were more likely to flunk out or become “psychoneurotic.” Prospective bosses spurned their résumés. They were overrepresented among emotionally disturbed children and psychiatric patients.

Today, though, the case for Mr. Cash’s theory looks much stronger, and I say this even after learning about Emma Royd and Post Office in a new book, “Bad Baby Names,” by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback.

By scouring census records from 1790 to 1930, Mr. Sherrod and Mr. Rayback discovered Garage Empty, Hysteria Johnson, King Arthur, Infinity Hubbard, Please Cope, Major Slaughter, Helen Troy, several Satans and a host of colleagues to the famed Ima Hogg (including Ima Pigg, Ima Muskrat, Ima Nut and Ima Hooker).

The authors also interviewed adults today who had survived names like Candy Stohr, Cash Guy, Mary Christmas, River Jordan and Rasp Berry. All of them, even Happy Day, seemed untraumatized.

But even if a bad name doesn’t doom a child, why would any parent christen an infant Ogre? Mr. Sherrod found several of them, along with children named Ghoul, Gorgon, Medusa, Hades, Lucifer and every deadly sin except Gluttony (his favorite was Wrath Gordon).

You can sort of understand parents’ affection for the sound of Chimera Griffin, but Monster Moor and Goblin Fester? Or Cheese Ceaser and Leper Priest? What provokes current celebrities to name their children Sage Moonblood Stallone and Speck Wildhorse Mellencamp?

“Today it’s all about individuality,” Mr. Sherrod said. “In the past, there was more of a sense of humor, probably because fathers had more say in the names.” He said the waning influence of fathers might explain why there are no longer so many names like Nice Deal, Butcher Baker, Lotta Beers and Good Bye, although some dads still try.

“Researchers have studied men with cross-gender names like Leslie,” Dr. Evans explained. “They haven’t found anything negative — no psychological or social problems — or any correlations with either masculinity or effeminacy. But they have found one major positive factor: a better sense of self-control. It’s not that you fight more, but that you learn how to let stuff roll off your back.”

Before I got pregnant, I had strong opinions about names. Working in schools, I did NOT want a name that a child would be ashamed to have on the playground. I wanted a name that seemed like a name -- not just trendy Madisons or even less trendy odd names. When I was pregnant I flirted with name Henry which I love, but then I realized, I wanted a non-nicked name.

As a result, I have children with extremely common names. In fact, if I look at the Social Security database, I have a daughter with the 17th most common name and a son with the 15th most common name. When I first learned that, I got upset.

How boring! How common! But the I realized the intention behind my name choices and I realized that of course they would be common.

I love their names and can't imagine them with any other name.


Icarus Graeme said...

Hey. I'm the author of Bad Baby Names, the book mentioned in that article. Thanks for commenting on it. I guess in the end it's what a person chooses to do that determines whether a name is a "bad" baby name or not. Anyway, if you or your readers want to know more about the book, visit my blog,

Matthew Rayback said...

Whoops. Posted under the wrong GMail account. That last post really was from me, Matthew Rayback, the co-author of Bad Baby Names. No funny stuff.

Julie said...

We picked chompy's name because we hoped it would be unique and we liked it. Stupid name is the number one most common name from his birth year forward. Lame. These two I picked based on family names of people who mean a lot to me (me being one of them) so I don't care that there will probably be several of each in a class.