Your Baby's Name and its Lifetime Effects

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Life is no easier for a girl named Jaye than it is for a boy named Sue

Women named Tiffany or Jennifer don't realize their luck. Even if an envelope turns up in their mailbox labeled "Mrs." when it should say "Ms.", at least it's directed to the appropriate gender.

Some of us can't count on that. The Billies and Bobbies of this world will surely empathize when I tell you that it's tough, tough, tough to be a female labeled at birth with a guy's name.

At least, it was when I was born in 1943 and attending school in the later '40s and '50s. Back then, the trend toward using unisex names (mostly for girls) or family surnames (both genders) had not begun. Nowadays, a girl who answers to Madison or Casey is not at all unusual. Back then, however, bestowing on your baby girl a name normally reserved for the masculine gender was not only unusual, it was fraught with problems.

Here I'm going to digress a bit. "Jaye" is actually my nickname, and it's a combination of my true first name and middle name (the latter an old southern tradition).No--I'm not going to tell you. Have fun guessing....(And those of you who know, I'm putting you on your honor not to tell!)

Not only was I given a masculine first name in memory of my father's army buddy, my middle name (an old tradition of Deep South culture) paid honor to my maternal grandfather. Both my given first and middle names were normally spelled ending in the letter "y" when attached to a boy. The "e" trailing off the end of both my given names was my parents' only concession to femininity.

Once a friend, trying to console me about the names that caused me to be teased throughout elementary school and later, assured me I could have fared worse.

"My grandfather," she explained, "was named Gunther."

I resented my names from the moment I realized than even a shiny new pair of Mary Janes or undergoing the torture of sleeping in curlers to have temporary curly hair would not put me on an equal footing with a Darlene or Linda.

My first few years of school were a nightmare on the playground. Eight-year-old boys are no kinder to a girl with my moniker than they would be to a boy named Sue. I earned a tomboy reputation to match my name by fighting it out with these boys during recess.

We moved to another school district the summer before I entered junior high, and I began a campaign of begging my mom to let me legally change my name. It was crucial to my acceptance at a new school, I believed, to shed my manly-sounding name before classes began that fall.

I visualized myself sweeping down the hall as a mysterious "Julie" (my new name of choice--no middle name required) and was willing to commit to a year's worth of babysitting to pay for the court procedure that would change me into Julie.

Alas, it was not to be. If I'd been named for a cinematic hero, perhaps I could have swayed Mom with my pleas. In our family one didn't tamper with names that memorialized relatives or close friends. As a minor, I had no choice but to live with this decision.

I sulked and experimented with exotic spellings, such as ending both my names with double "i" or double "e" and leaving out other letters associated with each name. That little ditty about the difficulty of fashioning a silk purse out of a sow's ear kept coming to mind with each new spelling I tried. I gave up on that endeavor, but announced to my family and friends that I would not answer to the double-southern-name combination any more.

"Just use my first name," I demanded.

Nice try. To this day (and I'm now pushing 70), relatives and people I knew "back when" still lump the two together when they speak to or of me.

As a young adult, I forged an uneasy truce with my name. I became a mother of three children, and rearing them left little time to worry much about what I was called other than "Mom" or "Mother." However, I still encountered a raised eyebrow from time to time when introducing myself to someone at PTA meetings.

I cringed when I overheard a friend of one of my sons saying, "Your mom? I thought that was your dad's name!"

When the kids were nearly grown, I ventured into the working world, where telephones and (a few years later) computers were necessities of the environment. I sooned learned that leaving a phone message for someone who had never spoken to me before was certain to elicit a return call for "Mr. ______."

Since my voice was rather soft in those days, my "Hello" usually brought a stammered, "But I thought...." from the other end.

Interoffice email made gender somewhat incidental, since first names and titles were normally used when writing emails. When a phone call or personal appearance became necessary, there were sometimes surprises.

Over the years, I learned to take in stride such things as Arrow shirt advertisements in the mail addressed to me as "Mr.", and the embarrassed look on the face of a new pharmacist as he handed me the pill bottle with its neatly typed "Mr." before my name on the label.

I didn't even bat an eyelash when, in my thirties, I opened that letter from the U.S Marines that began, "Dear Mr. ____: We are looking for a few good men."

As a recent divorcee, so was I. Perhaps the Marine Corps would be a good place to meet eligible dates. An enquiry revealed I was past the maximum enlistment age anyway. Oh, well....

I've never even been allowed the luxury of a really feminine nickname. You'll notice that guys named "Shirley" or "Carroll" invariably answer to something macho like Chip or Buster. My nicknames have only been variations on my original names. Except for the time someone decided (who knows why?) to call me Sam.

Still, I was comforted knowing I wasn't alone in my plight, but had the sympathy of other women who wore masculine names back in the days when it was a big deal. They endured the same teasing, the same confusion, the same wish for a girly name.

As long as my mom was alive, she was one woman who especially understood. Her lifelong nickname was "Jake." Honest...cross my heart.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The little girl with the boy-sounding name

Mom and me.  I must be practicing the mean look I developed to counteract teasing.
Mom and me. I must be practicing the mean look I developed to counteract teasing.

How One's Name May Affect Life

There's been a great deal of research in recent years on the effects one's name can have on a person's life, even on his or her success and ultimate happiness. I read about a research study of several thousand parents that indicated 20% of them wish they'd chosen a different name for their child.

In addition, research shows that boys with names traditionally thought to be feminine are more likely to have behavior problems when they start to school, particularly if a female schoolmate has the same name. (Shades of little "Jaye" fighting it out on the playground!)

A person who likes his or her first name is more likely to have good self-esteem while, conversely, if the name is disliked, the individual's self-esteem is likely to be low.

Other research even indicates that unusual spellings of a name may negatively affect a child's ability to spell and read, since having teachers ask, "Are you sure it's spelled that way?" can be hard on the child's confidence.

Names appear to have a major effect on a person's sense of identity. People who really dislike their name--especially if other people react to it in a negative way--tend not to be well-adjusted individuals.

A person's name may even affect his or her success in life because of the expectations the name provokes in others.

Gee! All that makes me realize I was incredibly lucky to have been given my "boy's" name way back in the days before all these research studies were done! I didn't like my name as I was growing up, but managed to live with it relatively unscathed. I would have preferred being a "Julie", but perhaps that name would not have suited me. I'll never know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Background of this humorous essay:

A slight variation of this hub was first published in my city's newspaper in the 1980s when I was a one-time guest columnist while the staff columnist was on vacation. It was later published in a national employee news magazine as part of a contest held by the corporation for which I worked and won an award.

In the interim, the naming of both girls and boys has trended toward both androgynous and unusual names. I think of a popular actress naming her daughter "Apple" and wonder how that name will suit the girl when she's an adult. At the same time, some vintage names out of fashion for decades are making a comeback as today's parents search for just the right name to give their child. I hope every new baby's name is chosen carefully, with consideration for how that name may affect his or her entire life.


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Comments 29 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Hi, all - I'm sorry about the delay in responding to your comments. Other commitments kept me away from HubPages yesterday. (I may have suffered withdrawal symptoms!)

Audrey - I've always loved the name Julie. Of course, at the age I was a teen ('50s) it didn't seem old-fashioned in the slightest. It's still one of my favorite names. I think it's hilarious the way you announced to the Julie-as-a-name-hating visitor that you'd selected "Julie" as the name for your baby. Thanks for the read and comment. JAYE

DzyMsLizzy - From your comment, it's easy to see that you identify strongly with my feelings of being stuck with a name you didn't want and not being able to change it earlier in life. Where would we be without nicknames?

I think about all these kids born to celebrities (particularly movie actors and rock stars) who have the really odd names that seem more appropriate for naming a new cocktail! Haha. Either they grow up accustomed to oddities or when they're older (unless they're "infected" with the celebrity "virus") will probably opt for ordinary names. Thanks so much for sharing....JAYE

Carter - Yes, I'm hoping parents will give more thought to the names they give their babies. It's important to consider how a name will affect the child growing up and in later life, rather than provide instant gratification to the parent who wants a unique or unusual name. Thanks for sharing.

JAYE

Crystal - Your mom was wise to leave off the "K". Kids will often look for ways to make jokes out of most any name but the most ordinary, and I don't suggest that every name be "plain vanilla"...I just recommend caution when making such an important long-lasting decision. Thanks for the read. JAYE


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

Parents should always think twice, for sure. My mom intentionally avoided spelling my name with a K (Krystal) so there wouldn't be any hamburger jokes. I have to say, that was thoughtful of her.The worst I ever got was "Crystal Pistol," whatever that means! Great hub. Sharing.


carter06 profile image

carter06 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

This is such an important issue here jaye..and you've mentioned the nightmare years at school with taunts and bullying re your name and one can only wonder why parents can't see the consequences for a child if given a name that is easily made fun of..why put kids through years of heartache unnecessarily..school is difficult enough for most kids without adding to it..this is a really great reminder and will def tweet & pin..VUA& I

Cheers


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

Wow--I sympathize, on a slightly different level. I've heard some oddball names in my life (one man my father worked with sported the unfortunate moniker of "Beverly Couch."), but I was not "afflicted with an opposite-gender name. However, my real first name, (which I stopped using back in the 1980s), I hated all my life and especially in my school days, because ALL my friends had nicknames, but there was no nickname for my name.

In the 80's, because my then-married surname was only a single letter different than my first name, and I got sick to death of all the mix-ups people could invent, I went the path of first initial, middle name on all my documents, driver license, etc...but simply introducing myself by my middle name/nickname of "Liz." (That was the era when Dizzy Miss Lizzy was born, as a stage name with the comedy troupe I was in.)

There are also the dual-gender names with spelling alternatives, as you've pointed out, such as "Frances/Francis," and made-up names, like the daughter of a family friend. Her mother was Eleanor, and they wanted to name the child after mom, but since "junior" is generally not used with girls, and not wanting confusion, they reversed the spelling, and added another "e," coming up, then, with "Ronalee." I can pretty much assure you there is no other Ronalee on earth.. LOL...and she used to get called by the nickname of "Ron" or "Ronnie." LOL

Very interesting article..Voted up.


brakel2 profile image

brakel2 3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Your story reminded me of my first baby who was to be named Julie. Several young women were at my house talking about baby names. One girl said she hated name Julie as it reminded her of old lady name. I told her about my baby name. It was funny. Anyway, love your hub - reminds me of what not to do. Thanks for sharing. Pinning it. Blessings. Audrey


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks, Au fait - Believe me--if anyone understands the problems caused by names or getting people to call you by the name you prefer, it's "yours truly." Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing. Jaye


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

I used a nickname here for the past 20 years, but now where I work the people refuse to call me by anything but my given name. When I first met them I told every single one that "my friends call me ____.' Not one person calls me by the name I asked them to, and I guess it's their way of saying they aren't one of my friends. At least I know where I stand.

Came back to pin this to my 'Babies' board, and will share again. I hope people will think carefully about what they name their children because it can make such a difference with self-esteem which in turn makes a world of difference in every aspect of a person's life.

Voted up again too.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Au fait...Thanks for the feedback, vote and sharing!

I understand why you decided to keep your name rather than change it since your mother named you to honor your grandmother. That's the reason I kept my own, though I was named after my dad's army buddy and my grandfather. We do those things to prevent hurting anyone's feelings.

Besides...there are always nicknames!

Jaye


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Tried to add to my previous comment after submitting it but it wouldn't let me. Meant to say that I voted this hub up, interesting and useful. Will share!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Very interesting hub and I agree with the findings that names can affect self-esteem and success. I have always hated my name. It was my grandmother's and to my thinking extremely old fashioned. It could have been worse, but it's still bad enough. I started to change it a few years ago, but I felt so guilty because my mother wanted me to have the name in honor of her own mother, so I made up my mind to suffer with it.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for reading, Gable, and for sharing your own experience. I'm sure you understand. However, I do like your name...Jaye


Gcrhoads64 profile image

Gcrhoads64 3 years ago from North Dakota

My story is similar. My first name is Gable, and I toyed with the idea of changing it to something feminine. I have come to accept and make peace with it. Thank you for sharing.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Glad you enjoyed it, Ann. When I was growing up, the word "unisex" had not even been coined! I just felt stuck with a guy's name. Made peace with it long ago.

Some children these days have androgynous names--not so blatantly meant for one gender or the other. Some are cute, but some I've encountered simply seem odd to me.

I keep wondering how Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter Apple is REALLY going to feel about her name when she's an adult? I think parents should try to think of the name they choose for their child from his or her perspective at adulthood. (Would Gwyneth want to be an Apple?) :) Just my opinion! Jaye


Ann810 profile image

Ann810 5 years ago from Sunny Cali

Thanks, interesting article. Don't you just love those unisex names? :)


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks for your kind comments, KoffeeKlatch Gals. I'm glad you enjoyed it. You're right--one's name can really affect one's life. I know! JAYE


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Choosing a name for a child is such a monumentous decision. Some parents look around for cutsie name Kandy Kitchen or Billy Bill. Some parents are into the non gender names as you said Billy or Bobbie. Whatever they do name them they need to be careful. Many people do believe that a name shapes the life. Great hub, rated up and funny.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks, Little Sis...I'm glad you liked it. You're lucky...you got a feminine name. At least you weren't named after Papa Hamp! Love you, JAYE


your little sister 6 years ago

Great story. I did enjoy the humor especially in my own family.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Hi, Linda...Thanks for reading and commenting. Given my "druthers", I think I'd have preferred an unusual name (such as Happy) to a masculine one, particularly when I was growing up. Happy may have the same issue as my daughter-in-law, Angel does: It may be difficult, at times, to live up to the definition of their names. I think Happy handled her career credibility well by using her middle name, while using her memorable first name for her private life.

You're right about out-of-the-ordinary names making others remember them. I think that's the main reason I finally (after many years) adjusted to my own. JAYE


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Glad you enjoyed it, T. I like writing humorous pieces and have a few others "moldering away" in my files. Maybe I'll drag them out and dust them off to post here. Thanks for keeping up with my HubPages writing.


Linda 6 years ago

Jaye, I've wondered since the first time I saw your name if it had been a problem for you. I'm guilty as a parent of choosing a name for our daughter that has caused her some problems. I named her after a dear friend in high school. Her name came about because she was born on New Years Eve. You might have guessed it; "Happy". I thought it was cute and I loved my friends smiling personality. My grandmother told me my daughter would hate me when she grew up for naming her Happy. My daughter wanted to change it in middle school. When I said sure we'll go to the courthouse and have it changed she suddenly didn't care anymore. Now she uses her middle name in business because she said no one would take her seriously if she used Happy. Everyone else calls her Happy and they all like her name. I still do. I know a few female Happys, but most are male which I've never understood. Believe me being named Linda (after a movie star) makes you feel very ordinary because there are gazillion Lindas. At least your name gets attention and people remember you because of it. Thank you for this trip down memory lane


T Starnes profile image

T Starnes 6 years ago

Great story JR! Love your writing.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

MimiKat...Thanks for reading this hub and your comments. You indeed received good advice about thinking ahead to how an adult will live with the name given to a baby. That's great advice for any parents-to-be. JAYE


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Petra...You have a lovely, feminine name, so I don't blame you for loving it! I think you're right that parents don't think about the name they're giving a child from the child's viewpoint...only their own. ("I like this name!") As for your granddaughter, Ingrid Joan is a lovely name, though a bit unwieldy for a small girl. She will grow into her full name, but perhaps using only the Ingrid or the Joan while she is younger might make her feel more comfortable. Thanks for your comment. JAYE


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Attempted Humour...I went to your profile before I realized that you're Bosley's human! I loved reading about Bosley, and he's such a photogenic dachsy. JAYE


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Dear Attempted Humour....I think my name caused me so much aggravation due to the time in which I was born and grew up. Unusual and unisex names have become rather commonplace during the past twenty years--especially with celebrities naming their kids after fruits and the moon! When I was a child, my name marked me as "different"--the status most children don't want relative to their peers. Thanks for your comment,AH. I'll check out your hubs, too.


MimiKat33 profile image

MimiKat33 6 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

When naming my child I was given some sage advice...imagine your child in his or her 40's, is the name good for them then too? I remember children being named Apple, Feather or something cute. Somehow a 40 year old doesn't sound so cute being named Feather.


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

Most of the time parents don't even realize that by giving children a certain name they are putting "a mark" on their personality. I happen to love my name, so that was never a problem, but I had friends who were more than embaraced by their names.

My granddaughter's name is Ingrid Joan and I believe it is too much of a Hollywood diva name for a little girl to cope with, but try tell that to the parents...


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

I read a similar site with the same problem, it's a lack of common sense by your parents unfortunately. They had reasons for choosing those names but the reasons didn't do you a great deal of good. Our daughters names are Heather and Sarah safe as the bank of England, or Fort Knox in your case. Choosing a name can obviously have a massive effect on a person's life but as usual it's not taught in the place where it causes the most damage. We have friends who's named their son Meno, a Dutch name that may not do him any favours either. Another great hub. Cheers

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