Monday, September 03, 2007

What's in a name?

So truth be told, my mom wanted to name me "Jim." But apparently at least one person in her family didn't like that name, so the brainstorming continued. Finally, the name they all compromised on was "Greg," a name that nobody in the family was particularly crazy about, but everyone was at least "okay" with it--and they couldn't think of any obvious schoolyard taunts to which a "Greg" would be subjected. So it was settled. (Years later my mom told me that she was actually glad I wasn't named "Jim" because kids would have called me "Slim Jim" much like they had called her "Bony Joany.")

Anyway, I got my first psychological lesson in names when I was in the first grade. For some reason, my first grade teacher nicknamed me "Gregger." Due to her position of authority (and my general state of confusion at that stage of my life), I didn't question this nickname and always would answer to that. It became a way of life for me in that teacher's first grade class. However, slowly but surely, my fellow first graders started calling me "Gregger" too. This made me slightly uncomfortable, but still, I wasn't going to say anything. They weren't taunting me. For all I knew, some of them probably thought that was really my name.

Then one day as I was getting on the big yellow bus to go home, one of the girls in my class came up to me and asked, "Do you like to be called Gregger?" Now, even though I was only in the first grade, I do remember thinking something along the lines of, "This girl is pretty and she's smart. She can call me anything she wants." But those weren't the words that came out of my mouth. Instead, I simply said, "No."

Word must have spread fast, because my classmates soon stopped calling me Gregger; and once that year was over, it wasn't until later when I took a Spanish class ("Gregorio") and then some German classes ("Gregor") that teachers gave me nicknames again.

An article last year in Psychology Today, "Hello, My Name is Unique," talks about what parents these days tend to look for in names; and the article also explores to what extent a name has on our self-perception and success. The article opens:

Proper names are poetry in the raw, said the bard W.H. Auden. "Like all poetry, they are untranslatable." Mapping your name onto yourself is a tricky procedure indeed. We exist wholly independently of our names, yet they alone represent us on our birth certificates and gravestones.

Varying viewpoints on names and their importance are given in the article. Here's one of those views:

Children and teens either struggle to stand apart or try desperately to fit in. A singular name eases the former pursuit but thwarts the latter. If parents give a child an offbeat name, speculates Lewis Lipsitt, professor emeritus of psychology at Brown University, "they are probably outliers willing to buck convention, and that [parental trait] will have a greater effect on their child than does the name."

Of course a name matters to some degree, which is why many parents put much thought into it. However, at what point should the government get involved if a name is deemed inappropriate?

According to this article, "Venezuela Seeks to Crack Down on Odd Baby Names,":

Venezuela is considering a bill barring parents from giving their children "names that expose them to ridicule, are extravagant or difficult to pronounce," or "that raise doubts about whether a child is a girl or a boy."

Earlier this month, a couple in China made international news by trying to name their son, "@". The parents said that they liked the name because it's in every email address, and because the phonetic sound "at" can be translated into "love him" in Mandarin. Sounds reasonable to me, but whether or not @ was officially approved as a name is unknown. What is known is that one of the government officials wasn't too thrilled, saying:

The name (@) was an extreme example of people's increasingly adventurous approach to Chinese, as commercialization and the Internet break down conventions.

So how about you? Do you feel your life has been impacted by your name? At what point should the government step in and ban certain names?


Westy said...

This is pretty funny you should post this just now. Baby names are a hot topic in the Westy household.

As you know, we're getting ready to unleash on the world a new person with a new name.

As you can also guess, there's some pressure in making a choice like that. I guess you'll all have to tell us in a week if we did alright...

Greg said...

Yeah, when I was reading Sarah's blog I started thinking about the topic of baby names and went down memory lane.

For some reason I hadn't seen that "Baby Name Wizard" on your blog before. It's pretty neat to play around with... One name that stood out to me was "George." It has had a steady decline in America since at least the 1890's (its graph struck me as the most linear that I saw).

I'll be curious to see how long "Jacob" stays in the top 10 seeing as how it surged to No. 1 this decade. Also, when you look at the Manning brothers Peyton and Eli, neither of their names were popular when they were named. But now both of their names are shooting up the charts...

And of course, it's a shame what happened to the once proud name of "Dick." For some reason that name fell completely off the map in the 1980's...