What’s in a name?

Have you ever wondered if you would be a different person if you had another name? At a pub quiz the other day I learnt that Barbie’s full name was Barbara Millicent Roberts and I started wondering if she would have been equally successful had she used her full name.

People tend to make judgements based on first impressions and your name is likely to be the first thing that someone learns about you. Your name will most likely have been chosen by somebody else, yet it is something that is very yours and you will have to live with it throughout life, with some exceptions (you may remember the story of Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii). So whilst your name identifies you, does it shape your personality?

Think back to your days at school…think of your first crush… or your best friend…Now think of their name. Do you like the name itself? Are you able to think of the name without associating it to that particular person? Some names become engraved in our minds and we find it difficult not to associate it with a particular person. Obviously, we also make negative name associations.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, the famous Shakespeare quote suggests that what is important is what something is and not what something is called. We all use labels and are exposed to brands in our everyday lives. Our name is our own personal label. Imagine yourself doing your day to day things and being referred to as “hey you over there” or “dude”. Would that make you feel any different?

How many of you have forgotten someone’s name at some point? Yes, I am with you. Unfortunately I too have my hand up. I think we’ve all been in situations where someone’s name escapes us. If you were to forget someone’s name in a business context are you likely to close the deal? Maybe. Maybe not. Think about how you would feel if they forgot your name or worst still, called you by the wrong name. Would this be a deal breaker?

So if names are so important why are we so bad at remembering them? There could be several reasons for this. I suppose the main one is that we just don’t pay attention. There are of course lots of little memory tricks that you can use that will help with this. I often imagine a post it on someone’s forehead with their name written in big and associate the first letter of their name with a common object starting with the same letter, that I then link to them. This exercise has served me well on many occasions!

Every name has a meaning, as does every word we use. There are many studies on the origins of your name, what it means etc. The meaning of your name is however relative and can differ across cultures and communities. The baby naming industry is booming and over the past 20 years many books and websites are offering services that reflect that just like a brand, names need to be marketable. A trend that seems to be emerging is an increase in more original name such as Poppy Honey (Jamie and Jules Oliver) and Fifi Trixibell (Bob Geldof and Paula Yates) Is this a desire for individuality? Do people think that you need an original name to stand out from the crowd?

Professor Albert Mehrabian, a psychologist at UCLA and author of the Baby Name Report Card, tested a host of names to see how attractive people found them. Some names immediately aroused images of success, others of popularity or kindness. On the whole, people judged to have more traditional names such as Rachel and Robert did extremely well. More alternative names scored badly. ‘A name is part of an impression package,’ said Mehrabian. ‘Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish.’ According to Dr Cleveland Kent Evans, a psychologist and former president of the American Name Society, “Parents think the right name will improve their child’s chances of getting into the right university or finding the right job.”

An individuals’ personality is a result of many external factors and inborn characteristics. Yes your name is important and you are the most important of all. If you are called Bla and being referred to as Bla Bla would
make you happier, go for it. You can be whatever you Aim to Be. So is a name important, yes. Does it define you, no.

Resources:
Top 50 Crazy Celebrity Names
Photos provided by Flickr users: Giant Ginkgo, Chris230***, Gene Hunt

35 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Jemima says:

    I've always been to glad to have an unusual name. I can count the number of Jemima's I've met in my life on one hand, whereas if I think of the group of friends I was hanging out with on Saturday, there were several Sarah's, Claire's, and Kates. I'm chuffed that my parents named me after the Jemima the Puddle Duck from Beatrix Potter's stories.

  2. Hannah says:

    You see there's unusual… and unusual. My first name is Tzeitel – but by 16 I was so sick of people getting it wrong, or worse not speaking to me because they weren't sure what my name was I decided to go by my middle name 'Hannah' instead.

    Don't get me wrong – I think unusual names are great, but I'd warn against saddling your child with something that's just plain weird 🙂

  3. Diana Pereira says:

    Your last name can also influence your life in many ways… Just by having a connotation with a particular culture or country might also make your life easier or more difficult. maybe a whole new blog?!!!

    • Diana, I can absolutely relate to your comment on surnames! I wonder how many people have made assumptions about you and I based on our surnames? It is indeed a possible new blog topic, one that could address tradition, family trees and heritage…Thanks for the idea! Did you know that the name Diana is of Latin origin and means "divine"? Diana was an ancient Roman divinity noted for her beauty and fleetness and often depicted as a huntress. I wonder if that describes you in any way?

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