Saturday, May 22, 2010

What’s in a name?

Recently I had the pleasure and honor of presenting scholarships to two graduating senior high school students on behalf of the company I work for.  These two outstanding scholars were certainly deserving, and one was the Salutatorian of her graduating class.  As I sat on the stage and listened to other awards being presented, I couldn’t help but notice a very high percentage of non-traditional given names of the students.  My favorite was Toshiba.  She reminded me of one of my first laptops.

Other interesting names of people getting awards included Shenequa, Woodrow, Laquita, Tyshanna, Ta’drien, Devontay and I could go on.

Similarly, I have noticed that my children’s friends have some odd names as well: Gage, Briggs, Kennedy, Breck, Destrey, Kenzington, Garren, Kyler, Draven and I could go on.  And on.

Not to mention some teens and twenty-somethings we know: Skyler, Starling, Utahana, Amberly, Caitlyn, Clayn, Hyacinth, Janny, Leleza and I could go on.

Don’t get me started on alternative spellings.  I know a Hailee, Hailey and a Haley, not to mention a Destiny and a Destinee.

Maybe I know so many people with strange names because I am Mormon.  For some reason Mormons, and especially Utah Mormons seem to pick strange names.

And then there is the tendency for some families to concentrate on a single initial character, like several families we know (for example: Aaron and Autumn had four kids, Andrea, Audry, Anna and Adam.  My Aunt VelDean and Uncle Roy had Jaimee, Jessica, Janelle and Julie).  One family we are friends with named all their kids with the same first two letters (Brock, Breandan, Britt, Brailey).  I have a hard enough time with calling my own kids by their right names without swapping them and their names don’t even sound like one another!  If my kids were named Brock, Breandan, Britt and Brailey I would never be able to call them by the right name.

Even though we both agreed that we would use more traditional names for our children, my wife and I had more than one argument about what we would name each of our children.  Our oldest we named after me, as I am named for my father, his father, and so on.  Our next son, Nigel is named for my best friend.  Emmaline is probably the most non-traditional name (named for a minor character in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars), but her middle name is Eileen, named for my mother.  Our youngest child, Maxwell is named for a well respected religious leader and author, the late Neal A. Maxwell.

I have often wondered how much our name shapes who we become.  If I had been named Demetrius, for example, would I behave any different?  Since my given name is Ernest (the 655th most popular boys name in 2005), would I have been any less truthful if my parents had named me Mendacious?  Will my son, Nigel (which means, “dark and swarthy”) become more tan with age?


Maxwell (Left) and Nigel (right)

I came across an interesting website that you can use to see what historically have been the most popular names in the US:  You might find it interesting to learn that for the last 10 years, Jacob has been the most common boy name each year, while Michael was the most common name each year in the previous 35 years.  Since 2000, the Name Emily has been the most popular each year, while for the prior 15 years it was Jessica.  From 1880 through 1960, the name Mary was the top picked girl’s name each year while that honor rotated between John(1880 through 1920), Robert (1921-1939), James (1940-1954),  and from there Michael and David took turns.

My wife, Rebecca has joked that I should get her name tattooed over my heart.  I told her that doing so would be tempting fate for us to break up (Remember Angeline and Billy Bob’s tattoos?)  If that did happen, I could try to hook up with another Rebecca, just so I wouldn’t have to have it removed.  While the name Rebecca is only the 34th most common female name in 2005, there were over 600,000 women with the name Rebecca in the 1990 census, and there is roughly 130,000 women named Rebecca that are within the ages of 26 and 40 (which is the target age range!).

Maybe I’ll get that tattoo after all!


  1. I had a roommate whose parents, after having four children, realized they were on the way to spelling TEMPLE, so they kept going. They achieved that goal then had a surprise baby! What a joy! Now they could spell TEMPLE-S! Luckily no more surprise babies, or they might have had to start a whole new word!

  2. Several years ago there was some research saying that job seekers were more likely to be hired if they had traditional names, meaning of course, non-ethnic names with a European root. But from my perspective in middle school, there has been a huge change in names, both spellings and actual names, in the last few years that I would think it might be different now. Do you know of any recent studies?

  3. BTW, you forgot to mention that Max's middle name is Barry.

  4. I enjoyed reading this post, as Barry and I are currently in the "discussion" stage of names for our newest addition. I'm sure as we continue our search the "discussion" will surely turn to "debate" and then to "argument"! haha We had a hard time agreeing on Natalie, so to come up with another girl name is gonna be rough I imagine!....Maybe we'll go with Toshiba!? ;) That sounded like a great name!

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  6. Just for your info, I was the one who alerted the Utah list to your mom's name, Maytha, and mine, VelDean. I always felt unique - although I have been called a remarkable number of things from Valvoline to Velveeta... If you Google my whole name (VelDean Fincher) you find several hundred links to me. Imagine my surprise when I recently just Googled "VelDean" and found almost a dozen - several spelled with the capital D in the middle that my parents gave me. Amazing!!

  7. Of course, one of my daughter's thinks that my first name is racially confusing, but every other VelDean / Veldean I found was also Caucasian!

    Plus - I suppose a dozen with my name is still more unique than millions of another name.