How names influence our destinies: We don’t choose the names we carry, but they have an immense and often hidden effect on our lives
Do names matter?
To a remarkable degree, they do. Though we don’t choose them, our names are badges bearing information about our class, education level, and ethnic origin — or at least those of our parents. Scientific studies have shown that the world makes different assumptions about a boy named Tyrone than it does about one named Philip, and while those assumptions are often wrong, they can have a considerable influence on the course of a life.
Has the way we name kids changed?
In this country it has. In 1912, when the most popular names in America were John and Mary, parents of 80 percent of American babies chose from among the 200 most common names. Today less than half of girls and about 60 percent of boys are accorded a top-200 name.
What influences those choices?
Individual taste and popular cultural have an effect on name choice trends. The name Wendy surged after the release of the movie and musical Peter Pan in the early 1950s, and Brittany took off in the 1990s with the career of pop star Britney Spears. The popularity of the names Isabella, Jacob, and Cullen in recent years has been linked to characters with those names in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.
Is it good to have a popular name?
In situations where the name is all that is known, people with common first names fare better than those with unique ones. Studies have found that a résumé submitted under a name perceived as African-American, such as Lakesia Washington, gets less attention from potential employers than the identical résumé bearing a more “Caucasian” name, like Mary Ann Roberts. Nonetheless, in this era of individual self-expression, many parents view commonplace names like Thomas or Jane as boring and uncreative.
More on names…