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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Baby Naming Issue: How Do Parents' Own Names Affect Their Naming Tastes?

Kayleigh writes:
This isn't a question about what I should name my baby, or if a name I've chosen is okay, or anything strictly like that. It is, however, a question about names. You recently had a question sent by someone named Kayleigh, which happens to be my name, and all of the names she said she liked are on my list, as well... and it's something I've noticed among other people in different name forums who have similar names. So my question is this:

How much influence does a parent's name have on their naming decision for their children?  Obviously, things like a father named Samuel Jones VII is going to bear rather heavily on the naming of a son, but what about other things- are women with common names more likely to choose unusual names, or will they be more comfortable with a trendy name because they turned out fine? Will someone with a name that lent itself well to nicknames be less likely to name their child something that will also allow that? Have you noticed any trends like that in your questions and in your readership?

Thanks so much!


One thing I can imagine playing a role here is the way certain names go with certain ages. For example, a mother named Kristen or Jennifer is likely to be in a different age range than a mother named Brittany or Courtney---and so two mothers named Kristen are more likely to have favorite baby names in common than a mother named Kristen and a mother named Courtney: in the years between them, naming trends will have changed.

Another issue is that we tend to notice people more if we share a name with them. If I'd posted a question by someone named Brittany who shared your naming tastes, it would have caught your attention too---but it likely wouldn't have caught it as firmly, or stayed with you as long. Same thing if I'd posted a question by a Kayleigh with different naming tastes than yours: you'd notice it, but that information would be more loosely filed than a double hit like same name AND same tastes. Over time, this can give an exaggerated feeling of correlation.

What I've noticed about the connection between naming tastes and the namer's own name is that every combination can be used for a cause/effect explanation---even if those explanations come out completely opposite. So for example, one person will say, "I had a really unusual name, so I want something unusual for my child too," and the next person will say, "I had a really unusual name, so I really want something traditional and familiar for my child." (I notice similar things with parenting experiences: one person will say, "We had sweets around all the time when I was a child, so I got in the unbreakable habit of eating them" and the next person will say, "We had sweets around all the time when I was a child, so they were never a big deal and never became important to me.")

I have wondered if naming tastes are set up largely by a person's own family/community. This would be one possible explanation for how people with similar names tend to like similar names: if a person grows up surrounded by people named Margaret and Elizabeth, they're likely to have a different idea of what a "normal name" is than someone who grows up surrounded by people named Oso and Grove---and a different feeling about what the reactions of their family/friends would be to a name they're considering. But that's when the previous paragraph kicks in, because some people grow up wanting what they think of as a normal name and/or wanting to fit/please their circle, and some people grow up wanting the opposite.

Definitely I think some of our naming tastes come from our own names---but I think our experiences with our names are so varied ("I hated it!"/"I loved it!" for two people with the same name) as to cancel out the effects. If I were to ask people to say in the comments section how their names affected their tastes, I think that's what we'd see: a nice even split between, "Well, my name definitely affected my tastes: I always wanted a nickname, so I gave my children names with nicknames" and "Well, my name definitely affected my tastes: I hated my nickname, so I gave my children names without nicknames." How we feel about our names affects our decisions---but how we feel about our names is more connected to us than to our actual names.

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What do you think? Have you noticed any connection between parents' names and the names of their children? And if so, what issues do you think enter into that connection?

17 comments:

Jessica said...

I also think growing up with, for instance, 'parents who chose the name Kayleigh' might lead two people to have similar tastes. Their parents had similar taste and, presumably, they were influenced by their parents' personality. (I think you've mentioned the same in response to a different question before, Swistle.)

Of course, this can also go both ways: maybe you feel like going as opposite from your parents' taste as possible, while someone else feels the opposite.

Megan said...

I'm a Megan who hated having a common name. Part of it was that my parents tied it so strongly to my identity as partially Irish. "We gave you a good, traditional Irish name!" Found out it's Welsh, not Irish at all, but had an Irish sound so many Irish American parents chose it. I think that's why I like really knowing the history of my children's names. I also typically had at least 1 other Megan in my class growing up and still know multiple Megan's across age groups. So many kids in class were "first name" kids, you only needed one name for them, but I was a "two name" kid, as were all the kids with popular names. First and last, first and last initial, first and middle, first with a signifier like "brown haired," etc. I personally like knowing that my kids are "first name" kids, which seems to be more and more common anyway.

Cordy said...

I have mostly assumed that our name tastes are largely (not exclusively, but largely) the result of cultural forces at work on our brains: socio-economic class, era, age of parent, region - maybe you can think of all of these together as a specific subculture.

That is, I suspect that the influence of your own name on your naming taste is a red herring, and what you're actually seeing reflected is that you tend to like the 2013 flavor of names your parents liked in the 70s/80s. Which makes a lot of sense, because many of us are culturally pretty similar to our parents. Of course you see people who veer away radically from the naming style of their subculture, but I would suspect that it's more common to see an Elizabeth naming her son Oliver than to see an Elizabeth naming her son Brayden, and so on.

Anonymous said...

I think Swistle got it spot on (as usual). A parent's name probably does influence their taste in baby names, but there are so many variations on how 2 different people can experience a name, combined wit so many other forces (age, sex, religion, culture, etc) that I don't anything is 100%.

Anonymous said...

My friend is in her late twenties and named Dori$. She never met anyone with her name besides older people. She hated it. She had a baby in 2011 and named her Sophia because she preferred her daughter to have a more common name than an unfasionable/outdated one.

LB said...

I know my name influenced me. I have a very uncommon name and while I have never particularly like my name the one thing I did always like about it was that it was uncommon. So it was a high priority for me to name my darter something relatively unique, so much so that I chose her name over other names that i initially preferred because it was less common. I do love her name but part of the reason I love it is that you don't hear it that often.

Of course, as swistle said, I could just have easily disliked having an uncommon name and gone in the other direction with my kids. That's just how it happened to influence me.

Katie said...

My dad and his sister are less that an year apart and have rhyming, almost identical names (i.e. like Jon and Ron or Sam and Pam). They both have two daughters who have radically different naming styles. My parents opted for long, traditional names (think monarchs of England) while my cousins have trendy names with a lot of y's in random places.

All of this to say that I think your parents names and era are only part of the whole naming equation.

Lawyerish said...

This reminds me of the family size conversation, in that the cause-and-effect can cut either way (i.e., only children might choose to have an only child because of their experience, or might prefer to have 10 children because of their experience, and the same for people from larger families).

Just like anything else, I think it's a confluence of many factors. Personally, my name and my daughter's name are similar in style -- unique but not weird, classically English-sounding, not easily nicknamed -- and even though I sometimes wished my name were common enough to find on pencils when I was a kid, I have always liked being the only one with my name in my class or workplace. And now my daughter has the same situation with her name, and that's kind of cool.

Jess said...

I was going to say the same thing as Lawyerish about the family size conversation. I think it probably DOES have an impact... but the impact varies from family to family. In our case, I have a common name and gave my child an unusual one; I was a bit reluctant to do so but Torsten's assurances that it was never that big a deal to have to correct people about his name made me feel comfortable doing it.

H said...

My parents gave my sister and I names that were the height of trendy the decade before we were born. So while we didn't have 5 other kids in our grade with the same name, they always felt really boring. And there were years when I did have to add an initial. As a result I developed popularity phobia the closer I got to child-rearing. Most people I've talked to who had trendy name as kids want the opposite for their own children. I'm not sure if every Heather I meet has similar tastes as me but I do know that my experience as a Heather affected my naming style. Another thing that really affected my preferences was that 1. I never had an intuitive nickname and regretted it and 2. that my parents didn't give me an honor name. I was named after a lady at a cafe my mom hit it off with. As a result my biggest preference for naming is that the name have meaning and options. And out of the top 100 is a plus :)

Giselle said...

I am one of those with a very uncommon name that purposefully gave my kids generic and common names because of mu experiences. But I was influenced by the fact that my older sister's name didn't match my name at all...she was Katie and I was Gigi. It was almost painful as a child for her to find stuff with her name on it and have people easily pronounce it and spell it...while my name was constantly questioned and mispronounced etc. Maybe if she had a unique name as well I would have had a different impression of unique names.

Jenny Grace said...

As a Jennifer of 1982, I am very, VERY aware of the popularity/trendiness of names, and very wary of 'flash in the pan' names.

I like my name okay because it's mine, but I don't LOVE my name.

But also, I feel like Jennifer is such a very common name that it's hard to judge the taste of Jennifers. There are too many of us, and we cover too vast an age range.

Tonni said...

I have a unique mash-up name, and it's tolerable, but it absolutely influenced my decision to give my kids 'real' names- uncommon, but not unheard-of was the goal. My name was also an honour-name, so all my kids will have honour-middles.

Anonymous said...

My husband & I's parents had very similar naming styles (he has one sister whose name is one letter off from mine, and I have one brother whose name is one letter off from his) and we have fairly similar naming styles as well.

Picking out the name for our little girl, I actually ended up deciding all of the things I might want to change about my name weren't so bad. Like me, she has a name that can be spelled multiple ways, is also a verb, and doesn't have international equivalents or nicknames.

Suki said...

This was an interesting issue in our family because I am at one end of the popularity charts as a Suki and my husband is at the other end as a John- he used to sign Mothers' Day cards "Love, John L.". In general I like my unusual name, and one thing that made having such an unusual name easier is that it is spelled like it sounds and vice versa. My son's name is Gus, and while it is much more common than Suki, I hope that it hits a similar sweet spot: easy to spell and pronounce, but rarely requiring a last initial identifier.

Having a name that is from a different culture/ethnicity than my own did make me rule out such names for my own kids. For instance, I love the name Javier, but for some reason it seemed like it might be too confusing to have a Javier and a Suki in a Wonderbread white family.

Sela Freuler said...

My name is Sela. My parents gave me the name because of the deep history, the deep meaning, and the fact that it's not in any way common. They both had common names, my mom had a "trendy" name, and they wanted different for their kids.
I have never met another Sela (and NO, Selah is not the same name. Completely different Hebrew words. Anyway.) No one who has met me has ever met a Sela before. (Except Sela Ward, the actress). I love having that ownership of my name, the uniqueness, and I LOVE the ancient history and meaning of the name.
So, I want the same for my future children. Not in the top 1000, NOT made up, no creative spellings. I want ancient names with deep meaning. The only thing I want differently for them than what I experienced with my name is a name that is easily spelled and/or pronounced, or at least that has a nickname that is. There is no nickname for Sela, and I have to spell/pronounce my name at least twice a day. People butcher it, and in conjunction with my also extremely uncommon, foreign last name, it get's really obnoxious.

Heather said...

I have a name that was popular (~#34) about 20 years before I was born in 1991. I grew up without knowing any and most people only knew moms named Heather. For me, I felt Heather gave off a shallow, dull, cheerleader-type impression. Most people only knew me, though, so I could take make their impression change easier. Bad news was that many books, especially teen/YA stuff, used Heather as a shallow mean girl.
What I like about Heather is that it's definitely feminine and easy to spell. I'd rather be Heather than Taylor or Meghann. The things I didn't like, besides the general impression, were the dated fell and that Heather has no easy nicknames. I'll shy away from names that have been in the top 50 in the last 100 years and go for something feminine and strong with at least one nickname. The names I think work for me are: Veronica, Gwyneth, Fiona, Helena, and Susanna. All of these feel somewhat familiar, but not overused. Veronica is the closest to overused, but I feel like it falls more towards classic than anything. Some have pronunciation/spelling issues (Helena, Gwyneth), but none I think are too difficult.
I think the boy names I pick are less impacted by my own experiences, though I still like them to be clearly masculine, easy to spell, not dated, and preferably with nicknames.