30 April 2011

What's in a name?

What's in a name? A friend of mine on facebook (hi CC!!) posted a link about names that people hated. I'm glad my name wasn't on the list, but at the same time, there were several popular names on the list. Michael and Jackson were number 9 and 10 for boys, which some commenters found quite hilarious. 

The question is, though, what is in a name? "A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet" (Shakespeare! Romeo and Juliet, in the balcony scene). Context- she wants Romeo to forget the family name that divides them, and remember that the name he is given doesn't have to define who he is or what actions he takes. I think Shakespeare had the right idea there. I've been thinking about it ever since I read the link that was provided on facebook.

My name can be turned into a number of mockeries- my first name alone! Ashtray, ash-hole, jack-ash being among them (just take ash and put an "s" instead of an "h"....and you can use it in far too many ways). They claimed in the article that a name that is easily mocked could create low self-esteem. They also claimed that having a name that makes a person stand out could make them feel like they don't fit in; however, my name is far from standing out, and blends in quite well. 

Statistic time!! Just going by the last century (rather than just after the 1980s), Ashley showed up in the top 20 names. It jumped into the top five female baby names in 1983 and didn't leave the top five until 2001 (except once, in 1999, but I'm sure it was up there still). It was ranked 4th in the 1980s, 2nd in the 1990s, and was still in the top 10 until 2005. As of 2009, it remained in the top 20. None of this includes the variants in spelling...just the traditional spelling!! In other words, there are a lot of Ashleys. (These stats were retrieved from the Social Security Administration website, and represents babies born in the US- I'm not sure of the popularity elsewhere in the world. If you'd like to look at the way your name has ranked, you can click here, and there are several tools you can use from this point to trace your name- or any other name you're interested in. Results will be based on US births only, though.)

I can remember roll calls, especially in my larger classes, where there would be multiple Ashleys; with my last name typically toward the bottom of the list, I'd have to ask them to add the last name on to make sure they had the correct Ashley marked present. Frustrating, but at least the professor could pronounce my name!! Plus, it's very easy to spell, which would have been good had I had trouble spelling when I was younger. I did not, however, have that problem; it's unfortunate when parents give a kid a name that they can't spell, or that nobody can pronounce (or spell) correctly. Hell, I remember when people would misspell my name as "Ashely" I would get a little bent out of shape. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have to correct someone on my name more often than I already have to! (sometimes family members call my by my sister's name)

I never, though, felt like I fit in. Obviously, I have an extremely common name. If I had a bizarre name and fit in, that would be in line with the article; however, this is not the case. Unless I'm an outlier, they've got something wrong, so I put little faith in this article (which is why I did not post the site). More research could be done on this, but it would require researchers to follow trends for quite a while, over which time the name will decrease in popularity in favor of more modern names, making it difficult to track from one age cohort to the next. 

Honestly, I don't believe a name defines a person. It can look good or bad on a job application, depending on the regional connotation of a name (some areas view some names differently). It can be somewhat distressing to always have to correct someone. I don't, however, believe that this is a sole contributor to a person's character. 

For instance, the article hypothesized that children with common names might not stand out in their achievements; I, however, stood out in high school a great deal with my achievements, and, considering the circumstances, have achieved some decent things while in college, despite the obstacles that stood in my way. I've done all this with a common name. 

Plus, those with uncommon names don't always end up doing anything extraordinary! Don't get me wrong, some of the creative names or traditional names have a certain ring to them, but when you go to variants on spelling a name- such as Ashlee, Ashleigh, Ashli, Ashely, Ashly, Ashlei, etc- that is a little bit ridiculous. Variants when passing down traditional names- such as if a man named Alexander and his wife named their daughter Alexandria- that's not ridiculous, because it has a meaning behind it. Truly traditional names aren't ridiculous. It's when you start trying to make it too different by changing the spelling or pronunciation that it gets out of hand. I'm also bothered a bit by the La- or Sha- or other prefixes, and -iqua, -onda, and other suffixes. It's almost like people think they can throw those around everywhere and be "creative"....

What's really sad is when a parent gives a name the kid hates so much that the person has to go and change it legally as an adult. That's one thing that the article mentioned that I liked- sometimes, even the parents regret giving their children some of the names they give. Some parents give good names, and I applaud them for their thinking. Others really don't think about the impact of their child's name when they get older....they just think "Oh, that's a cute name!" or "Oh, I'm going to create a name!"...ah, no. Please.

I think the best way to go about it, in my opinion, would be to give the child a regular, normal first name, that way they show up as normal names on the roll sheets and when the child becomes an adult and applies for jobs, and use normal names in formal settings, then give them a creative middle name, which they can use if they wish instead of their first name, giving them the freedom to choose. That way, in the future, they have a more formal name if they need it, and a "fun" name, for when they're around friends and family. Another possibility is giving a name that has associated nicknames- for instance, Jessica has Jessie, Jess, or if given with a "J" middle name, JJ, etc. Amanda could be Mandi, Mandie, Mandy; Christina could be Chris, Chrissy, Tina. 

I never really had much freedom to choose a nickname, and I really don't get called Ash much. I was almost Amanda! But I still ended up an Ashley. I dare not speak my middle name. If someone would try to call me by my middle name, it is more than likely that I won't answer them. Actually, I can guarantee I won't answer. Call me Ashley, though, and a thousand people turn around. It feels less awkward now than it used to. 

I don't believe, though, that the name "Ashley" has had anything more than a minimal impact on my personality. I think it can have a (minimal at most) impact, but there are so many other things in a person's life that shapes who they are. Environment (can be positive or negative), parenting skills, other children, biological forces such as chemicals in the body, challenges and obstacles (or lack thereof)....the list goes on. A person is a sum of so many things....name being only a small part of the sum. 


Texchanchan said...

Some good thoughts there. When I was young I came up with the exact same idea as you did - put the standard name first and the creative one in the middle.

And, when a person really is outstanding, a common name isn't going to hold them back.

Have you seen this site? http://www.notwithoutmyhandbag.com/babynames/

Lisa Loo said...

Hey! Saw you on my blog and came over to check you out. FOund this post really interesting but then I am a total word nerd! With 5 kids of my own I am sure I have overstepped the normal name boundaries more than once.
I like your writing style--I will be back!
(she said in her least creepy stalker voice.....)

AiringMyLaundry said...


My name is Amber and I didn't get teased too much. But my initials spelled ASS so....yeah....got a bit teased for that..

♥α§ђ£ε¥™♥ said...

I have a cousin whose initials would have been ASS had they not thought it out ahead of time- they wanted him to have his father's name, which started with an S, but they wanted him to have his own first name....then they realized what his initials would spell, and simply reversed the first and middle names, so his initials are SAS, and he goes by his middle name, Andrew.

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