There are benefits to giving your child a unique name. (Photo: Stocksy)
In an era where unusual has become the norm for baby names in Hollywood, no one batted an eye when Mad Men actress Jessica Paré and her rocker boyfriend, John Kasnter, recently announced they’d named their newborn son Blues Anthony.
And as the old batch of rarely used monikers including — including Alpha, Sheba,Nanette, Zelma, Inigo, Sherwood, and Waldo — faces extinction according to baby name site Nameberry (since a mere five children in the country were given them in 2013 per the Social Security Administration), increasing numbers of moms and dads in all walks of life are seeking as- yet- unused names for the new generation.
“Parents are pushing the envelope in lots of ways in terms of choosing names that will be different,” Pamela Redmond Satran, author of The Baby Name Bible and creator of Nameberry, tells Yahoo Parenting. Citing the growing trend of names with artistic meaning, like Poetry or Ellington and O’Keefe, she says, “They’re looking for names that their child won’t share with anyone else.”
Beyond the distinction that a one-of-a-kind label provides, experts tell Yahoo Parenting that giving a child an unusual name can impact his personality.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that begins with an unusual name and ultimately leads to unconventional or creative thinking,” Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at New York University who has studied how names can affect the way people are perceived, tells Yahoo Parenting. “When you think of yourself as different, you might in turn think and behave differently.”
In other words, parents who give their children unique names are helping create unique kids. “People are very sensitive to how others treat them,” adds Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave. “If they treat you as though you’re different, whether because of your name or some other characteristic, in time you’ll come to feel that this difference is real. It’s possible that perceiving yourself as different might liberate you to behave and think differently from other people.”
Science backs up the idea that labels matter. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at England’s University of Hertfordshire, referred Yahoo Parenting to his book, Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things, as evidence. “Research has shown,” he writes, “that teachers award higher essay grades to children with likable names, that college students with undesirable names experience high levels of social isolation, and that people whose surnames happen to have negative connotations (such as ‘Short’, ‘Little’ or ‘Bent’) are especially likely to suffer feelings of inferiority.” And just a few months ago USA Today reported that “girls with masculine names like Morgan and Taylor were more likely to pursue advanced studies in science and math than their siblings with more feminine names like Emma or Elizabeth,” according to Northwestern University professor David Figlio’s findings in his paper, “Why Barbie Says Math Is Hard.”
A unique name, Satran tells Yahoo Parenting, is part of a whole package that parents pass on to their child. “It symbolizes their hopes and dreams for their kids,” she says. “So if you want your child to stand out from the crowd, be independent, and a real individual, a unique name is one way to show him that you value those qualities.”
It follows that parents will likely raise their kids in a way that fosters those qualities. The moms and dads who name their child one-of-a-kind monikers, she adds, are the same parents, “sending them to a nursery school that prizes creativity, or letting them dress themselves in tutus and rainbow boots each morning instead of pants and plain sneakers.”
A unique name also imparts some expectation on the child to live up to it, adds Satran. “If your name is Jezebel, people may be surprised if you’re not ultimately gorgeous and sexy. You can’t be a mousy person.”
But that doesn’t have to be a burden. “I found advantages of having an unusual name. For example, I found that women with unusual first names scored higher on a scale that assessed uniqueness,” Richard Zweigenhaft, a professor of psychology at Guilford College and author of the study, “Unusual First Names: A Positive Outlook,” tells Yahoo Parenting.
Ultimately, context is what matters the most. “If parents give their children unusual names and communicate to them that they are special, it can be a plus,” says Zweigenhaft. “If parents give their children unusual names and the message they receive is that they are weird or odd, it can be a minus.” Offering the example of upper class families giving their kids family surnames as first names (think Huntington or Grimsley), he says: “The message is clearly that the child is from a prominent family and much is expected of them. I found that such children are more likely than others to appear in Who’s Who in America.”