What’s in a name?

When it comes to choosing your child’s moniker, think carefully, says Claire Calvey

Bumps and Babies

A friend gave birth to a beautiful baby girl a couple of weeks ago, and as wonderful and life-changing as this event is, it has presented her with a dilemma: what should she name her?

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ Juliet famously tells Romeo. But if the experts are to be believed, what we are called can profoundly affect our lives, and had Juliet been named something more prosaic like ‘Anne’ for example, she may have just married Paris, saving everyone a headache.

Nominative determinism – the theory that your name can impact on your character and even profession – isn’t new. The Romans even had a phrase for it – ‘nomen est omen’ – your name is your destiny. Studies have proven that certain names send out more positive vibes than others, which in turn affects how people treat us, and ultimately how our lives turn out.

Some even argue that your name can affect your profession of choice, as in the case of one Sue Yoo, who became a lawyer, or Douglas Hart who went on to become a cardiologist. Even more bizarre is the case of a man named Tonsillitis Jackson, whose hospitalisation for – you guessed it – tonsillitis, made headline news (however, the research stops short of telling us how his brother, Laryngitis, or his sisters, Appendicitis, and Peritonitis, fared health-wise).

For me, one of the best things about being pregnant was finding the perfect name, and I had a short-list of contenders before the morning sickness had even kicked in. Getting it right is tricky, it’s important to strike the right balance between ‘too common’, and ‘too pretentious’. To this end I used to employ what I called ‘the supermarket test’. It’s quite simple; just ask yourself ‘can I call out for this child in Spinney’s without feeling embarrassed or pretentious?’ This tends to clear up pretty quickly any doubts about names such as Lucretia or Tarquin.

But some people are just plain thoughtless. Take the parents of the poor unfortunate infant ‘Iona Knipl’ for example, who didn’t realise their mistake until people started sniggering and replying ‘I own two!’ in response to being told the baby’s name.

Stupidity can be forgiven, but some people are just plain bonkers, going out of their way to saddle their unfortunate offspring with a ridiculous moniker, like the New Jersey parents who saw fit to name their son ‘Adolf Hitler’. The boy, along with his sister ‘JoyceLynn Aryan Nation’ was unsurprisingly removed from his parent’s custody shortly afterwards.

But when it comes to really crazy, you can always rely on Hollywood for some truly outrageous names. Step forward the late Michael Jackson and his brother Jerome. Michael modestly named not one but TWO sons ‘Prince Michael’ (family dinners must be interesting – ‘pass the salt Prince Michael’, ‘no Prince Michael, get it yourself!’), and his brother Jermaine thought it sensible to burden his son with the catchy ‘Jermajesty’. And what made My Name is Earl star Jason Lee think his son might want to go through life telling people ‘my name is Pilot Inspektor’? On the upside, at least he’ll be able to afford the therapy fees when the child is older.

Surely if positive determinism really works, we should all be consulting the statistical study by one Dr Albert Mehrabian from UCLA, who concluded the most successful name for a girl is ‘Jacqueline’, and ‘Steven’ for a boy. Unfortunately, top of the list of ‘boy’s names which connote a washed up loser’ is Rufus, which worryingly happens to be the name of my five-year-old son – oh dear. (Interestingly, Rufus means ‘red-haired’, something I didn’t know when I named him. He is my only red-haired child!)

So what advice can I give my friend in her quest for the perfect name? Well, it’s probably best to avoid anything that has already been used by a tyrannical despot, oh, and keep away from made-up royal titles. In short, keep it sane. After that luck and a lot of love are her best chances of a long and happy life, and if she actually likes her own name, that will help too!

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