I have an interesting perspective on names, as do my colleagues: we see hundreds of them every year; thousands in the span of a teaching career. I have found that it was especially difficult for my teacher friends and I to name our babies, as every suggestion our spouses offered was met with a, “taught one of those…and one of those…and seven of those.” On the flip side, we know what happens to children with overly-creative names: people can’t spell them, can’t remember them, and can’t pronounce them correctly. We’ve struggled with unique spellings, pronunciations which do not fit the spellings, and multiples of popular names on rosters. Heck, during my time as an inner-city teacher, I had some students who couldn’t even spell their own names correctly. One relatively bright high school student actually asked me how to spell her middle name, since her mother obviously invented it in the hospital after eating Alphabet Cereal for breakfast. From a teacher’s mouth to your ears, here are some suggestions to consider as you’re flipping through the fifteen baby-name books you ordered from Amazon in a hormonal shopping frenzy:
- Make sure your child’s name is spelled how it’s pronounced.
There is nothing so frustrating for the child – or the teacher, for that matter – when her name is butchered on the first day of school. As an educated educator, I abide by the rules of language. If your daughter’s name ends in –ia, then that’s how I’m going to pronounce it. If you want the last sound of her name to be –a, omit the i or I will say it. We spend a lot of time reading your child’s name on paper before we ever meet her, and we probably already have a pronunciation ingrained in our minds before the first day of school. You know what they say: habits die hard. Two weeks of calling your child the wrong name in our heads is going to translate to several weeks of calling your child the wrong name in our classroom.
2. Consider all possible mispronunciations before committing to that name.
I once had a student named Asara. When engaging in point one above, I would hear the name Ass-arrr-ah in my head. That’s what I called her on the first day of school as I took roll. It wasn’t until the embarrassed girl raised her hand to correct me that I learned her name was pronounced A-sarah. Guess what? The damage had been done. The other kids called her Ass for weeks and weeks. It created extra work for me to manage my classroom and eliminate the bullying, and I cannot imagine how humiliated and hurt this child was.
3. Picture how that name will look on his desk name plate.
All parents have high hopes and expectations for their child’s future; and why shouldn’t they? Every baby is an empty vessel which can be filled with knowledge, dreams, and aspirations. Don’t sabotage your child’s future by giving him a name that will potentially limit him. (If you haven’t read Freakonomics yet, do so. There’s a fantastic study where they sent out 2000 identical resumes. One thousand had an ethnic name on them, the other thousand had a mainstream American name like Michael. Guess which group received the most call-backs?) Picture your child’s name in different scenarios: uttered at the beginning of the evening news, or on a bench plate under her seat in a courtroom. Does the name fit the roll? “Hi, this is ABC Nightly News, and I’m Javarious’ta Smith” doesn’t have the same ring as “…and I’m Alexander Smith.” Will your daughter be taken seriously as police chief with the name Pippy? “Sargent Pippy Williams, reporting for duty.” It doesn’t hold the same gravity as “Sargent Samantha Smith.”
4. Don’t be a slave to trends.
I’m fortunate that my name became popular at the end of the 90s and beginning of the millennium. As a result, I never had to be “Violet W.” at school; I was simply “Violet.” On the other hand, all of the Ashleys and Tiffanies and Jessicas had to go by a last initial; not just with the teachers, but with their friends as well. I would ask Daisy, “Did you see the horrific haircut Ashley got?” to which she would reply, “Which Ashley?” I know that many of these names are lovely, elegant, and sound beautiful on the lips, but is that worth condemning your child to a lifetime of initials? During my first year teaching, one of my classes had four Dylans in it. Four. I had Dylan T, Dylan M, and two Dylan D’s. Think about the confusion that would cause all of us.
Me: And what was the theme of the short story?
Students Raise Hands
Me: Yes, Dylan?
Four Students: Which one?
It also allowed for serious error when the kid would forget to put his last name on his essay, and I wound up playing guessing games as to which Dylan received the A and which Dylan received the D. When I inevitably messed that up and gave the wrong student the wrong grade, the parents were livid (and rightly so.) Please, prevent this kind of chaos by selecting a name you DON’T see on every parenting message board across the internet. I’m sorry to inform you, but your child will have 6 Keegans in his class, 13 Makenzies, 9 Makaylas, and 18 Jaydens/Aidens/Cadens in his class. Good luck keeping that birthday party list in order!
Emma, Olivia, Aiden, Keegan, and Dylan are beautiful names, and if that is what you choose for your baby, I’m sure it will fit him/her well. We’re not trying to discourage you from naming your child something meaningful and special. All we want you to do is consider this baby’s name from a variety of angles. Remember that this baby will be an adult someday; an adult who will have to wear this name for the rest of his/her life. An adult who will have to print this name on a diploma (or four, hopefully), a business card, and a wedding invitation. Give your child a name that s/he will be proud to wear; one that will fit every phase of life, not just infancy.