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How can I pick a name my child won’t hate?
That’s the question somebody typed into a search bar, and Google knows how, ended up on my blog. Here’s the kicker: you can’t. There’s no name, no matter how tastefully chosen, that comes with a guarantee that your child won’t one day hate it to bits.
I know people with what I see as very nice names (nicer than mine, in my opinion) who hate them with a bewildering passion, while people who have what I consider very boring or even ugly names are deeply grateful to their parents for choosing them. We all have different tastes.
I do know quite a few people who hate their names, and if you hang out on name forums, you don’t have to look hard to find others who have become disgruntled with their names. While everyone has their own personal quirks, over the years I have noticed a few things they tended to have in common.
These are often not the things that baby name articles warn you about. For example, a popular belief is that a “weird name” is sure to be hated by the bearer, who will be teased in the playground and come to loathe their name, their parents, and probably the whole world.
I haven’t noticed this to be the case, with most owners of unusual names enjoying, or at least coming to terms with them. I have never met anyone with an unusual name who legally changed it to something more mundane, even those who professed to find it a bit of a pain sometimes. At most, they adopted a pseudonym when booking restaurants.
Another piece of advice often handed out is that a “bizarre” name spelling will be such a nuisance that the bearer will undoubtedly wish that their parents had gone with something more traditional. Again, I don’t find that to be generally true. Some people with unusually spelled names loathe them, while others are delighted by them.
I know someone with a very unintuitive name spelling (think Veeruyniiikkarh for Veronica), and she loves that every letter in her name was individually chosen by her mum, with each one having a specific personal meaning. I thought it would be the most tremendous nuisance to have to spell out every time, but she assures me that she doesn’t mind at all. “It makes me feel special that my name gets so much attention”. For her, holding up queues is an ego-massage.
As I can’t tell you how to pick a name your child won’t hate, I thought I would least explain why they may end up hating it.
They hate themselves
Research has shown that people with high self-esteem tend to like their own name, and the higher their sense of self-worth, the more they liked their name. That suggests that people who dislike their own name may suffer from self-esteem issues.
You might assume that someone who dislikes their name would arrogantly think it not good enough for them, but sometimes it seems to be the other way around – they don’t think they are good enough for their names.
“It’s a popular girl name, it’s just not me”; “It’s too pretty for me carry it off”; or the most tragic I heard, “It sounds like the name of a happy normal person”.
To give your child the best chance of liking their name, make sure that they have high self-esteem. Convince them that they are pretty, popular, happy and normal enough for their name.
Their name is going downhill
A lot of parents worry about popularity; nearly always that the name is “too popular” to use, or is going to be too popular in the future.
However, I’ve noticed that the majority of people who dislike their names were given names that were either falling in popularity when they were born, or hitting their peak, so that they had begun falling by the time they started school.
Not only that, but the level of dislike appears to correlate with how steeply the name rose and fell. Names with a very obvious peak and trough, dating them to a particular era, seem to be the most disliked.
It doesn’t necessarily seem to be the most popular names that are disliked so much as those which display this pattern. For example, Sarah was the #1 name of the 1980s, yet I rarely hear Sarahs complain bitterly about their name. Could that be because Sarah is a classic which is still in the Top 40, so we don’t think of it as a “typical 1980s name”?
I don’t often hear anyone identify the trajectory of their name’s popularity as the reason for their dissatisfaction. They all have what appear to be good reasons for their dislike: it’s unattractive, it’s boring, it doesn’t suit them. Yet somehow it seems to be names falling in popularity which are perceived as ugly, boring, and not suiting their owners.
People given names that were already dated and out of style at the time of their birth (“old people” names) usually say that they hated their name as a child, but now they’re grown up, they appreciate it’s different from the usual names of their generation.
That may because such names sometimes begin to come back into fashion when they are adults. For example, someone born in the 1980s named Florence would have had a dated name, as it peaked in the 1900s. But now it is fashionable and rising in popularity – suddenly Florence has a cool name.
I do think popularity is worth considering – but not to cross off a name because it’s hit a particular point in the charts. Of course, you can’t know how a name will perform in the future, but you can at least see how it’s doing now. Has it maintained its position over several decades? Has it suddenly “come out of nowhere”? Is it already falling steeply? This information might help you choose between different names.
They hate the reason you chose their name
If someone really loves their name, I don’t think a bad name story will seriously ruin it for them, but if someone is already lukewarm, a bad one can add insult to injury. The factors that seem to get people’s goats are a perceived randomness, casualness, or lack of thought in the way their name was selected.
When you tell your child how you chose their name, stress how important it was to you and how much you love their name. If you chose their name from a baby name book, or a TV show, for example, make sure they understand that it wasn’t just by chance you chose their name. Whatever it was that made you fall in love with the name, express it. And don’t wait until they’re a moody teen or resentful adult to share the good news – they should know from an early age how special you think their name is.
I know a lot of people who disliked their names, and were even thinking of changing them, until their parents explained how much love and care had gone into choosing it. Teenagers who thought their parents had unimaginatively picked a popular name found that they had been named after a much-loved relative. A “made up” name that seemed “random” was the result of putting together the initials of their parents’ best friends who introduced them. And sometimes just knowing it was a name their parents loved above all others was enough to reconcile someone to a name they had thought ordinary.
The bottom line: everyone wants their name to be meaningful. Show your child that theirs is.
You hate your name
In some cases, disliking names seems to run in the family. Quite a number of women I know who dislike their names tell me that their mother was also unhappy with her own name. This may be from parental modelling. Just as mothers who constantly moan about their flabby thighs tend to have daughters with body image problems, it could be that mothers who dislike their name unconsciously send the message to their children to focus on anything about their name that fails to please.
If you hate your own name, make peace with it. Don’t try to work out your own issues when choosing your child’s name. So many parents seem to think that because they hated being one of a dozen in their class their child’s name must be rare, or because they hated their nickname their child needs a “nickname proof” name.
It’s well intentioned, but the trouble is that you’ve made your child’s name story all about you. When you tell your child how you chose their name, the story shouldn’t include information about how you felt about your name. Don’t use your child’s name as an opportunity to fix the mistakes of the past.
They hate you
In rare but distressing cases, people reject their names because their relationship with their parents irretrievably breaks down. It’s not uncommon for them to change their names in order to signal a complete break from their family background, and it can also be so their parents can’t easily locate them.
I don’t think this is worth worrying about, because if it occurs, their name isn’t really the issue, and is the least of your problems.
POSTSCRIPT: I should add that most of my observations in regard to name dislike relate to women. It isn’t that I don’t know any men who dislike their names – I know a fair few who hated their name enough to legally change it, and I’ve read a lot of articles written by men on how much they dislike their name.
However, women and girls do seem to more openly express their feelings about their names, and it’s possible that they have subtler emotions toward their name, or are more likely to be analytical about them. Perhaps women are more likely to be “fussy” about their names than men. Whatever the reason, it seems to be easier to gather information about their feelings towards their names (at least for me).
79% of people responding to the poll were generally satisfied with their name. 33% liked their name, 19% loved their name, 18% weren’t mad about their name, but could live with it, and 9% said that they used to dislike their name, but had changed their mind and now felt positive towards it.
However, 12% of people did hate their name, while 9% thought that hate was too strong a word to use, but they didn’t really like their names either.
The good news is, most of us have names that we are content with, and around 10% of people who don’t like their name will change their minds.
(Picture from Naver)
I realize I’m rather late to the conversation; however, here’s my perspective.
I am a person who has always disliked their name. I do not have low self-esteem, nor do I greatly dislike my parents. My mother passed away before I really got to know her and she came from an entirely different cultural background (which shows in our names–mine is of English/Latin derivation while hers is of Hispanic/Arabic background) so connecting my regard (or lack thereof) for my name with her own experience seems invalid. I’ve also grown through that experience and have moved on so please do not play the, “X thoughts/concerns are a result of a lack of healing from your mother’s death”. The reason they (my parents) chose my name is also a non-issue as I didn’t even know their reasoning by the time I first remember being this way. They also don’t loathe me and I don’t believe ever truly have–we’ve disagreed on things occasionally but that’s just an effect of being in a human relationship. My name has also not ever in my lifetime been on the verge of great decline. (So, by now you probably already know what it is!)
No, my distaste with my name is- at it’s core- an issue of dissociation. I do not connect with my name on any level, neither do I hold any real animosity towards it as names go. It’s fine. It’s meaning is pretty great, even, and in a way could suit me for meaning alone; yet its sound and cultural connotations are all off when in regard to my own psyche. Even when people call it, I either do not recognize or assume that it’s me they’re calling for and/or feel wrong answering to it. It has never belonged to me intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise. It’s simply a misfire. My parents got it wrong and I’ve known this for a very long time from a very young age. So I’ve begun the process of finding my name and I believe I’ve found it. I’ve tested it out in new settings and practiced my signature. All of the legal steps necessary for the process have been studied and the moneys have been saved.
For me, this is the natural progression—the only progression, truly—where I could introduce myself honestly to the world on my own merit as an adult. As a child, I had no choice in how I was called and really was a representative of others: my school, my extended family, my parents. As an adult, my name is the written manifestation/ambassador of who I am. It’s often what people see before they see me and that presents others with a dangerous power to presume things from my name (a very easy thing to do) that I know to be disjointed with who I am (if I were not to change it). So why continue complaining and in such identity turmoil when it can be relatively easily fixed, or even for that matter if it is a difficult fix?
This is a long post, which probably nobody will read. If someone does, I sincerely hope that they won’t disregard these words. This isn’t everyone’s experience, but it’s one that is true in me and I know for a fact, is true in some others.
Think Wisely and Live Intentionally,
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I hate mine no matter what and it has caused me to not have a good social life and I want to puke when I hear it. And yes, I am a bitchy, complaining teenager to lives with two shitty families.
I hated the name when I was a kid. Wanted to be Jenny, Jessica, Jane or Josephine, as I liked my initial, but not the weirdness.
I’ve grown fond of/accustomed to the name by now, and I know it DID have meaning which probably helps, but the spelling is still wrong. Even my mom admits the spelling is wrong – it was an attempt to make it phonetic and easier for Anglo people. It doesn’t work. They still can’t say/spell it and now neither can the people who are familiar with the name.
And that is why Josie is much easier most of the time. But I do like my actual name, now that I’m not a kid anymore.
I suspect that your real name is something very pretty! 🙂
I think that hating your name is a pretty common teenage stage – it was for me anyway. I have a theory that it is about forging your own identity separate from your parents. I also think that as you get older you get a little less self-absorbed and don’t feel that everyone is paying attention to your name anymore!
My husband however has a very legitimate reason to hate his name (spelling/pronunciation issues and also very unusual and always causes negative comment) he hasn’t legally changed it but other than his mother I don’t know a single person who uses it and I don’t think many friends would even know it. So I would say that he is someone with any unusual name who hated it enough to ‘change’ it. (or at least to hide it).
I would say that every man I know who has changed his name, or uses another in its place, was landed with a name that nearly everyone would describe as awful.
Whereas, all the women I know who’ve changed their names or use another one, were given completely normal names at birth with nothing wrong them, objectively speaking.
There is a definite gender difference when it comes to name changing.
I suspect that if your son has to change his name, you really made a mistake, while if your daughter changes hers, you probably didn’t do anything wrong at all.
I would love to see some examples of this! I don’t think I know any men who have changed their names and only a couple of women who always went by something else that I never found out about.
A famous example is Clive James, who was born Vivian – just a couple of months before “Gone With the Wind” was released, and Vivienne Leigh made Vivian spelled any way seem “feminine” by the time he started school. Another famous person is David Bowie’s son Zowie Bowie, who changed his name to Duncan Jones. I also remember a young British man, who had been named Derek – he changed his name to Jake on his 18th birthday after getting sick of being constantly ridiculed for his name. He wrote in to BBC Online with his story.
We just had a woman write in to the blog about to change her name – she was called Chloe and still hasn’t decided what her new name will be. Rock singer Brody Dalle was featured on the blog as a celebrity mum – her birth name was Bree. We’ve also had interviews with bloggers Abby Sandel (born Amy), and Isadora Vega (born Christina).
Two people I know from real life. One had a name that rhymed when you used his nickname – think Anthony Coney, known as Tony Coney (he changed his surname). Another had a completely normal female name, like Grace, and for some reason she changed it to an unusual male name, like Benson.
I would say the big factor for men is if their name leads to ridicule or bullying from others, especially if it makes it harder to build a successful career, or form relationships with women.
I know when I was about two I started hating my name, or, rather, took a real shine to being called Darlin’ and would only respond to that (like, full-on tantrum if anyone used my real name). Then at six I desperately wanted to change my name to Kate because I had a friend with that name who I loved. I disliked my name (Jessie May, and used to wear it with a hyphen between the two) for a fair few years but now I quite like it, especially first and middle together. I think a lot of people go through phases of not liking their name, or just not feeling like it quite sits right on them. One of my good friends recently changed her name and I found it really interesting that when I asked her how she’d found the change she said it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders because it just never felt like that name was hers, and she would dread introducing herself because she didn’t feel like it was really herself she was introducing.
It’s interesting that few women who change their names seem to hate their names – it just doesn’t seem right. While all the men I know who have changed their names absolutely hated it.
I hated my name because I hated the meaning black yuck. Now I do like it but I agree you can’t choose whether they like it or not. Whether its Jessica or Ebony or Veeruyniiikkarh.
I was glad to see that several people in the poll said they used to hate or dislike their name, but now feel good about it. That suggests that hating your name isn’t necessarily a permanent condition or absolute state, and that people can change their minds.
I think it’s pretty common for people to change their minds about their name as they get older, and it sounds like you’re one of them. 🙂
Happily anonymous said:
There’s a sixth possibility: Perhaps, unlike “Veeruyniiikkarh”, they don’t have the temperament to enjoy an attention-grabbingly unusual/unspellable/unpronounceable/all of the above name. That’s why I’ve spent my entire life wishing my parents could have named me something English and normal. (And why I spent my entire childhood dreading new school years and relief teachers.)
I did say that I’d never met anyone with an unusual name who hated it enough to change it. It sounds as if you have never changed yours either?
Happily anonymous said:
Unfortunately, I can’t meet the ID requirements of the ACT, where I was born, and I live in a state which refuses to accept change of name applications from people born elsewhere in the country. So, I’m stuck with it.
I’m especially interested in names going downhill as we named our daughter Laura recently. It was super popular for a few decades there and now isn’t anymore. For us that was a positive because it’s well known but there won’t be many of the same age. But we just picked it because we loved it even if it does feel dated to some. I always thought “we are the only ones who need to like her name” but now you raise a good point – what if she doesn’t? But I do think that is unlikely because I haven’t heard any negative responses to her name. Perhaps people don’t even realise it’s fallen down the charts because they know a lot of adults with the name. It’s unlikely she’ll hear comments like “you don’t hear that much anymore!”
I think you’ll be fine with Laura. As I said on Nameberry recently about another “dated” name there are “modern dated” names like Brittany that I’d advise against naming a contemporary child, and there are “classic dated” names like Amy that I think are perfectly usable (and in some cases a better choice now IMO that they aren’t so common for the new generation). Laura is definitely on the classic side, and I think you made a lovely choice. At worst it’d be like a young adult named Patricia or Susan (classic-dated names common during the baby-boomer years); she might at times which she had a more “current name” and others may assume she’s older before meeting her, but in the end I don’t think Laura is a name that she’d curse you for giving her.
I agree with Kelly – Laura isn’t dated at all! It’s a classic name which has never been off the charts in Australia, and has never been lower than #300 at any time – at the moment it’s only just out of the Top 100. A Laura could be absolutely any age, so I think it’s a very safe choice as far as popularity goes.
It’s such a pretty name as well – it seems so fresh and feminine, without being frilly. I think you did a very good job! 🙂
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