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Why your name is so important to you

Updated on February 25, 2012
Kylie in Berlin in July 2008
Kylie in Berlin in July 2008 | Source

My name is....

A name is usually given to us when we are born, it is an identifier something that distinguishes one person from another. Without names where would we be? Second daughter married to second son and our children, first daughter of second son and second daughter? that would never do, much too confusing.

So, on our birth our parents give us a name. In the western world we think of our first name, often as a Christian name whilst for others it is just a first name followed by a family name or surname. In western culture there are a number of factors which impact on our choice of name. You could be named by your parents after them or after a favourite relative. Sometimes it is a name given out of respect for someone in a position of superiority or simply just someone famous- I wonder how many little girls have been called Kylie after Kylie Minogue?

Top Baby girl names in 2011

There are trends in names, whilst I was at school there were lots of Susan’s and Julie’s- still are in fact, but we’re all over 50 now! The most popular names in the United Kingdom in 2011 were…(information from

· Lily

· Emily

· Isabella

· Sophia

· Isabelle

· Sophie

· Olivia

· Ava

· Chloe

· Isla

Top baby boy names in 2011

For boys there is often a trend to continue the male family name with names such as William and its derivatives of Bill or Billy. The most popular boy’s names in the United Kingdom in 2011were…..(information from

· Oliver

· Jack

· Harry

· Charlie

· James

· Joshua

· Alfie

· Thomas

· Jacob

· Ethan

Too much choice!

If you have free choice, choosing names as a parent is a nightmare that does not get better the more children you have. In a weak moment my beautiful “Charles Edward” was named Daniel Jack by his father- I refused to have the names reversed as requested, I was not calling my baby after a bottle of bourbon!

As a child grows up they have the opportunity to change their names, Elizabeth is now Liz and Victoria now Vic, but some opt for a complete name change as they hate their names so much. British citizens can change their names by deed poll. This is a quick and efficient way to change your first name, surname or both, and you don’t even have to give a reason, although obviously if you do it with an aim to commit fraud, then you would be acting illegally. You only need to be 16 years old to change your name and if you are a foreign national you may still be able to change your name using the British deed poll—so there’s plenty of opportunity for changing your name! My mum thinks she can change my name, even though I am significantly over the age of 16 years. She and dad could not think of a middle name for me so I didn’t get one- I avoid solicitors when I am out with mum in case she suggests Tracy or Patricia

Men and the Family name

The surname or family name is really fraught with obstacles. It usually passes through the father’s line and depending on where you come from can have particular significance. African surnames may be a “tribal” name whilst English based surnames may indicate the original profession of a family member. Is your name Baker- perhaps your ancestor was the Village Baker, or maybe Cheeseman as the village cheese maker?

In some families the fathers surname is a focus of pride and the continuance of the family name assumes a significant level of importance- male heirs to the name are expected by the family and are triumphed when they arrive. Some people in the western world have a double barrelled surname-, often separated by a hyphen; examples of this include the late Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother, whose maiden name was Bowes-Lyon. In many cases it is simply because at some point in time one person did not wish to have their hereditary name extinguished. In modern society same sex relationships where there are official partnerships often have double barrelled names to avoid each of the partners assuming the others name.

The marriage effect

Name’s can have greater significance in our increasingly mobile society. A family formed by husband, wife and children from both previous marriages may have different surnames with the absent parents not supporting the change of name seeing it as a loss of identity. Until a child is 16 years old permission has to be given by all persons with parental responsibility to change the Childs name. At 16 years old the young person is able to choose to change their own name if they wish.

Women often do change their names, usually on marriage and usually initially willingly. It may be that after time passes they wonder why they did change their name and why their children have adopted their father’s name. The question has to be asked, does a woman loses her identity when she changes her name? Possibly not, it might be the action of the marriage that causes the loss as she assumes her role in peoples mind s as …….’s wife. There’s the standard joke of the spurned wife standing outside the divorce court “all I got from the divorce settlement was his name, and he can have that back!”

Culture makes a difference

In some cultures names take on a special significance and may indicate caste , class or social standing. The Hindu caste system forbids marriage outside of the caste. I was told by students that even today in modern Britain some parents will not let their children marry out of caste , let alone religion, although this is dying out as parents recognise that it is the qualities of the individual that count rather than their family name.

African slave names

When the African slaves first arrived in America they were given an American first name as few people could be bothered to learn the unfamiliar tones of an African name. Names chosen were usually a formal name, such as Robert of Elizabeth which could be shortened to Bob or Lizzy. Other sources of inspiration were from the classics, such as Caesar, from the Bible, with the name Moses being very popular and from the location where they lived such as Lincoln. There are records that surnames when they were used were in fact the surname of the slave owner who had power to do with them what he would.

Some educationalists would argue that until you are happy with your own name you cannot be a happy and contented person- how much that is true I am not sure, but maybe just thinking about what you are and what you could be named will be a very thought provoking exercise.


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