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What’s In a Name?

While Romeo & Juliet is the typical introduction to Shakespeare in the 7th grade here in the U.S., it seems much of the learning is lost. There’s no greater evidence of this than people labeling endearing couples “just like Romeo and Juliet”. (Um…folks…might I remind you, that ended badly? Worse, it’s not the point.)

One of the timeless pieces of wisdom Shakespeare eked out in this oft-redone work (lookin’ at you, Baz Luhrmann), comes from Juliet in Act II:

“So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title.”

If Juliet is right, then the qualities and character of a person or thing is the way it is and is not dependent on what it is called. Simply, it suggests the names of things don’t affect what they actually are. So why do so many parents have “Baby Name Regret”? (Yeah, it’s a thing).

A new study from the UK shows that “18% of parents regretted the name they chose for their offspring”. Nearly one-third said they felt this regret within the first six weeks.

Wow! So, 1 in 5 parents feels they got it wrong. How can this be? How can there be a “right” and a “wrong” in choosing a name? (Unless, of course, you want to name your baby “Hitler.” That’s just wrong on so many levels.)

So why do so many parents feel this way? Well, according to the data, 25% cited the reason for their regret is “It’s too commonly used.”

OK, so there may be quantitative data about this phenomenon of baby name regret, but, in the absence of qualitative data, we want to posit a few of the reasons why this could be happening.

Reason #1: Some parents choose a baby name which is a reflection of their own image. They either lean conservative or show a more adventurous nature depending on their own personality. Some research even reflects an assertion that the parents’ political affiliation is reflected in their choice of a baby name. While I’m highly amused by this theoretical correlation, I’d love to have a conversation about that methodology (as would Shakespeare).

Reason #2: Some parents choose a baby name to project an aspirational image of themselves. Perhaps the underlying angst in the research is best explained by this. If the name “doesn’t fit” or is “too common,” does that paint a picture of the parents as too conventional? Too rigid? Stuck in an old paradigm? Followers? I don’t claim to have the answer, but they seem like good questions to understand how this could be happening at such a high rate, particularly when other data suggests that common names have steadily declined for the past 100+ years.

The study analyzing the names of more than 325 million babies born between 1880 and 2007, found parents are steering clear of common names more than ever.

So the regret is because the name they chose was “too common” yet the incidence of names in the top 10 has precipitously declined. What gives?

Reason #3: Some parents choose a baby name to project an aspiration they have for their child. If their child has too common a name, even if not in the “Top 10”, how can he/she stand out as a unique, special snowflake? (Though the data suggests the baby name shouldn’t be too unique or that causes anxiety as well, albeit single-digit angst.) Better yet, if parents choose the “wrong” name, their child will never become “fill-in-the-blank”. There are studies suggesting that the child’s name might influence everything from a proclivity to smoke to a probability of being good at math (see what I did there?)

We venture to guess that, at least part of this anxiety for naming babies stems from how ephemeral our world is today. Trends come and go so quickly and the ability to a.) know of and b.) participate in a cultural wave is easy and common. Thus, the pressure to explore “statement names”, the hot-celebrity-based-name-of-the-moment to give a child the proverbial “leg up” on his or her contemporaries is obstructing parents’ logic and good judgement.

I promise you no one wants to grow up with the name Amara or Silas with teachers misspelling them and prospective 1st-grade friends being unable to understand or pronounce them. It’s like French food on a menu: you don’t order what you can’t identify. No one wants his or her 1st grader eating lunch alone.

So what’s a new Mom to do? Name her child what she likes based on conditions she employs? Honestly, this doesn’t seem like a world problem on which we should be focusing. With so many other things to consider when raising a child in today’s world, it certainly shouldn’t be the cause of a cultural malaise.

How about we concentrate our collective efforts on raising children to be good, positive, contributing members of society, regardless of what they’re called? Remember, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

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