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. If an envelope turns up in their mailbox labeled "Mrs." when it should say "Ms.," odds are 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 attended school in the '40s and '50s. Back then, the trend toward using unisex or family names had not begun. Nowadays, a girl who answers to Madison or Casey is not at all unusual. When a name normally reserved for the masculine gender was bestowed on me, however, it was fraught with problems.
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 that formed double first names) paid honor to my maternal grandfather. Both my first and middle middle names were normally spelled ending in the letter "y" when attached to a boy. The "e" trailing off the end of each 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 one-upped her.
"I'm lucky my parents didn't go back a generation. One of my great-grandfathers was named Erasmus."
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 were no kinder to a girl with my moniker than they were 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 to convince my mom to let me legally change my name. It was crucial to my acceptance at a new school, I believed, to do this 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 required.
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 finally 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, relatives and other people I've known all my life 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 my son's friend say, "Your mom? Gosh! I thought that was your dad!"
When the kids were older, I ventured into the working world. I soon learned that leaving a phone message for someone who had never spoken to me before was certain to result in a return call for a mister.
My soft-voiced "Hello" usually elicited a stammered, "But I thought . . ." from the other end.
Over the years, I learned to take in stride such things as Arrow shirt advertisements in the mail with the ubiquitous Mr. before my name, or the embarrassed look on the face of a new pharmacist as he handed me a pill bottle with its neatly-typed masculine prefix Mr. on the label.
I didn't even even bat an eyelash when, in my thirties, I opened that letter from the Marines that began, "Dear Mr . . . " and went on to assure me the USMC was looking for a few good men.
As a recent divorcee, so was I. However, an inquiry revealed I was past the maximum enlistment age.
I've never even been allowed the luxury of a 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 boyish name
How a Name May Affect the Child's Life
There's been a great deal of research in recent years on the effects of the given name on a person's life. Because of the expectations a name may provoke in others, it may influence his or her level of ultimate success and happiness.
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. Teasing can make a timid child miserable. If it worsens to bullying, there may be disastrous results.
Unusual spellings of either gender’s name may impinge on a young child’s ability to spell and read, since having teachers question the spelling (“Are you sure it’s spelled that way?”) can be detrimental to self-assurance.
If you like your name, you’re more likely to have good self-esteem than if you’re unhappy with it. One’s name appears to have a major effect on a person's sense of identity, and individuals whose names evoke frequent negative reactions tend not to be well-adjusted.
You would think that the responsibility of bestowing a name on one’s child to be used for a lifetime would give parents pause to seriously reflect on its choice, but some children seem to have been named as nonchalantly as a family pet. This may lead to subsequent remorse on the part of Mom and Dad. In one study of several thousand parents, 20% of them indicated they wish they'd named their children something different. Once that name is on a child’s birth certificate and is used, however, subsequent modification of it is very rare.
These days, names for both girls and boys trend toward the androgynous and unusual. I can't help but wonder how being called "Apple" will suit an adult. At the same time, some vintage names that were out of fashion for decades are making a comeback as today's parents search for just the right name to give their child.
William Shakespeare wrote: What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
When that name designates a person, it has a profound meaning. That's why choosing a new baby's name should be done carefully and with due consideration for the role it will play throughout his or her life.
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© 2010 Jaye Denman