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)