What's In A Name? Why Your Name Shouldn't Dictate Your Success

by Lauren Martin

Growing up, I hated my name. I absolutely thought it was the worst name my parents could have given me. I cursed them for having such bad taste, cowering when I thought how their bad judgement would haunt me the rest of my life. However, as I got older, I began to appreciate my name more. I realized that it suited me in a way, even if I thought there were better, prettier names out there. But I can't help to wonder, did I grow into it, or did it grow into me?

You grow up around your name, whether you like it or not. It's this one big burden that weighs on you day in and day out. You think about it when introducing yourself, wondering how people perceive you when you tell them your name. You cringe when a substitute calls roll and you have to hear it out loud, in front of everyone.

There is nothing you can do except try to live up to the name your parents gave you or cower behind it. For many years, plenty of us probably cowered behind it, creating nicknames, respelling, re-pronunciations or even changing our name altogether. But if you really think about it, your name, and everything it stands for, is really just a reflection on your parents. So no matter how far you run, how much you fight them, they will always be a part of you.

Baby names while at first glance may seem like a relatively frivolous kind of concept, they’re incredibly powerful indicators of status, of aspiration, of taste and identity. -Eric Oliver

I mean, a name is a big thing. From the moment someone meets you, he or she is instantly repelled or attracted by your name. Most of the time it's somewhere in the middle, but nevertheless, it's still a feeling they get about you. However, I've realized that names are something people get over as they get to know you. Your name grows on them the same way it grows on you.

In "Freakonomics," there was a chapter about names, debating this exact question. Does your name have an effect on your success? After an in depth analysis on the socioeconomic, political and race issues of naming, they found that there is no evidence that your name determines your success.

They backed up this conclusion with the story of the two brothers from New York, whose father named them Winner and Loser. While many assumed that clearly a boy with the name Winner would grow up much more successful than his brother, Loser, it turned out the opposite. In the end, Loser went on to have the better life, while Winner ended up a criminal.

As I’ve studied naming, what I’ve come to believe is that the primary purpose, when a parent gives a name, is to impress their friends that they are whatever kind of person that they want to be.-Dr. Steve Levitt

Of course there is probably more background to the story, like Winner believing he deserved a privileged life because of his name, which led him to seek a life of crime, however, that's not important. What's important is that even if your name is Loser, you can move past it. Because it's not about your name, but what you do with it.

While researching this question on names, I referred back to a Podcast from "Freakonomics" that debated this same question. Their findings are similar to that of the book, however much more in depth. I broke it down into segments on how exactly your name could come to hinder or propel you through society.

Your Name And Money

I don't remember much from high school, but I do remember something my tenured Econ professor told us as one of his tokens of wisdom. He told us that when we get into the adult world and start taking jobs, especially as women, we must have a powerful name. He said that if you went by Jenn now, you must go by Jennifer in the workplace. It made sense. Jennifer is a much stronger name than Jenn. It holds more weight and thus more respect.

However, according to Stephen J. Dubner, the name you give your child does not have a direct effect on that child’s future economic life. However, it doesn't mean that it has no effect on how your child behaves or how he or she is perceived. Apparently, if a boy has a more feminine name, he is more likely to act up and misbehave in school. On the other hand, if a girl grows up with a more masculine name, she is more likely to get more respect in professional settings, like law firms.

And it makes sense that men with girly names would feel the need to exert their masculinity, while women with names like Kyle and Bobbi, end up gaining more respect in male-dominated workplaces. However, there really isn't much difference if your name is within the normal range. The study also pointed out that if you have a "white" sounding name, you are 50 percent more likely to get a call back when sending out your résumé.

Why Your Name Is So Common

One of the main issues I have with my own name is that it's commonplace. Isn't it the worst when you're out somewhere and someone has your name? It's like the validity of yourself as a human has automatically decreased now that there are two of you. I used to think that I could never become an author, or a movie star, or anyone worth knowing because there were so many people in the world with my name.

However, as I got older, I realized that it's more of a competition. Of all of the people with my name, I have to be the one who makes it mine. According to Eric Oliver, as a mother becomes better educated, the more likely she is to give her a child a popular name. So if your mom went to college, graduate school or got her PhD, you are more likely to have a more commonplace name. However, if your mom was a liberal hippie in college, you're most likely to have a unique name.

The study also pointed out that names that used to reflect high status and wealth were eventually downgraded throughout the years, to names that signify lower class status. So names like Tiffany and Brittany, which were once associated with high ranking stature, became demoted to a status that signified less income over the years.

Does Your Name Represent Your Parents?

It makes sense that your name is a reflection of your parents. When you think about what you're going to name your kids, it's all the names you like, the ones you would want to be called. They are the names that reflect your desires, inhibitions and taste. Your children have no say in what you determine and they must live their lives as a product of your decision.

While we know that your parents' socioeconomic status, education level and political views shape what name they chose, it's also just a matter of personal preference, isn't it? Your parents are unique individuals with unique tastes and preferences. They chose your name out of the thousands (millions?) they could have chosen from. There was a reason they picked that one, and you should be proud. You should represent that name with the utmost dignity because it was chosen just for you. Your entire life should be about giving your name the respect it deserves.

So while you may think that you're a unique individual totally nothing like your parents, you are most definitely a product of them until you die. While this may be a scary thought, it should also be comforting thinking that when you die, your child will carry a small bit of you throughout his or her life.

In the end of it all, however, it's really simple. You can try to find patterns and coincidences, or examples that prove your name is hindering you. You can turn to genealogy and political ideals to blame you parents for their subconscious choice. But no matter where your name originated, or why you were given it, you're stuck with it forever.

It's not about fitting into your name; it's about defining your name with who you are.

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