Your Baby's Name and its Lifetime Effects
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
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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