Unique baby names might be more trouble than they are worth — names carry weight
Utah is known for using unique baby names, but research suggests this could be a disadvantage
Utah has a reputation for peculiar baby names. And many of the parents who give their kids traditional-sounding names bestow their child with an extra “y” or “e” for a unique spelling element.
But last year in Utah County, parents decided to take the traditional route, with names like “Olivia,” “William” and “Jack” topping the charts, per the Deseret News.
The draw to common American names might actually be a blessing for these newborns — research suggests a child’s name impacts their behavior, academic achievement and success in landing a job.
Hard to spell or pronounce names
When Elon Musk and Grimes named their son X Æ A-12, the internet exploded. The Washington Post even published an article with instructions on how to pronounce the name (apparently its X-Ash-A-12).
As someone with a traditionally-spelled name that has been popular since the 11th century, I’ve never had to explain to a teacher how to properly pronounce it during roll call on the first day of school — and apparently that matters.
Children who have common names with unusual spellings have slowed spelling and reading capabilities, said U.S. psychologist Jean Twenge in her study “First Name Desirability and Adjustment.”
“You have the child named Jennifer spelled with a ‘G’ — her teacher says ‘Are you sure your name is spelled that way?’ That can be incredibly hard on a person’s confidence,” Twenge explained, per the study.
According to Live Science, a Bounty.com study shows that many British parents regret giving their child a unique name. A fifth of the parents said they wished they had chosen a name that was easier to spell. And 8% said they were sick of people being unable to pronounce their child’s name.
Difficult to pronounce names could impact a person’s career. A study by New York University found that people with easy to pronounce names were favored more than those with names that were hard to pronounce. The study also found that those with names that were easy to pronounce held higher positions at law firms.
Within a certain culture, names can be considered common or uncommon, but they can also be seen as desirable or undesirable.
A 2011 German study asked participants to say whether or not they would follow up with a potential date based on the person’s name. They found that individuals with names considered unfashionable at the time (such as Kevin) were more likely to be rejected than those with trendy names (such as Alexander).
But names with negative connotations affect more than a person’s dating life.
A recent study by Huajian Cai and his colleagues at the Institute of Psychology in Beijing looked at the link between a person’s name and their risk of being convicted of a crime. The researchers looked at hundreds of thousands of people. They found that even after controlling for the influence of background demographic factors, people with names that were unpopular or had negative connotations were more likely to be involved in a crime.
“Since a good or bad name has the potential … to produce good or bad results, I suggest parents should try all ways to give their baby a good name in terms of their own culture,” said Cai, per the BBC.
Names can impact behavior
A 1954 study published in the British Journal of Phycology by G. Jahoda found that a child’s character can be affected by their name.
Jahoda researched the relationship between names and behavior in Africa with the University of the Gold Coast. He learned that in Ashanti communities, they believed that the day of the week a child was born would affect their behavior. So, children born in Ashanti communities had the day of the week they were born included in their name.
Boys born on Mondays were expected to be mild-mannered, but boys born on Wednesdays were believed to be violent and aggressive. Jahoda looked at the local juvenile court records to see if boys born on Wednesday were involved in more crimes.
Boys born on Wednesdays lived up to their names. Jahoda found that the number of violent crimes committed by Wednesdays far exceeded what would be expected through chance. He also found that boys born on Mondays were more likely to be peaceful, law-abiding citizens, per The Week.
Unique names and academic success
Kids with common names are more likely to get into Oxford University. Economist Gregory Clark, author of “The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility,” looked at the names of thousands Oxford University students between 2008 and 2013. He calculated the likelihood that certain names would get accepted to Oxford, per the BBC.
Clark found that there are three times as many Eleanors at Oxford than would be expected, based on its frequency among girls in the general population — Peters, Annas and Simons were also ranked high. But there is less than a 30th of the expected number of Jades at Oxford, and even fewer Paiges and Shannons. An Eleanor is 100 times more likely to attend Oxford than a Jade.
Boys who are given names more commonly given to girls, such as Ashley or Dana, are more likely to misbehave in school, found a 2005 study by University of Florida economics professor David Figlio.
Figlio studied a large Florida school district between 1996 and 2000. He found that boys with traditionally female names misbehaved more in middle school. Their misbehavior was linked to lower test scores and disciplinary problems.