Raven-Symoné recently stirred up controversy while co-hosting on The View, discussing this study, which found that “males with ‘black-sounding’ names are more likely to be perceived as physically larger and more violent than men with ‘white-sounding’ names.” According to researchers, many Americans form opinions about people just by reading their names.
As parents, these studies need to be considered when we choose names for our children because in our culture, names say a lot about a person. While you may consider Symoné’s comments inappropriate, the reality of her statement still stands. What you choose to say about your children at birth will be a reflection they carry with them for the rest of their lives. This decision is not something to be taken lightly; rather, parents need to consider several important things when choosing a child’s name:
1. Does that name have profanity, a medical term, or anything else awkward attached to it?
Snopes.com offers up a list of names of this nature. While Snopes indicates that many of these names are urban legends that were used as racist propaganda, I personally know of women who have chosen many of these names. Here are few examples from Snopes:
Something about naming a baby after a sexually transmitted disease or his first bowel movement should seem like a no-brainer, but this is something that is happening—for real. Hospital posters provide too much fodder for postpartum women, I suppose.
2. Will everyone have to ask how to pronounce the name?
There is nothing worse than sitting through the first day of school with a difficult-to-pronounce name. The thought of listening to every teacher butcher your name is a headache for some students. We never dreamed that choosing to give our son the name of an Old Testament Bible prophet—one for which an entire book of the Bible is named—would give our son so much grief in this area. Spend serious time thinking through what you will be doing to your child with a hard-to-pronounce name.
3. Are you spelling it that way just to be different?
Consider that your child will never have a personalized sticker book or keychain (arguably the best souvenirs a child can find!). Making up elaborate spellings of the name “Caitlin” may seem unique and fun at the time, but I assure you, this list of 155 ways to spell that name will cause a lot of teachers to spend hours of their lives making sure they spell your child’s name correctly—when they could be spending that time helping your child learn! You will have plenty of opportunities to make statements as you parent your child for the next 18 years. Sticking your kid with a name that is different for no reason is something he will have to live with the rest of his life.
4. Is the name something that appears on your grocery list?
Our Snopes list provides some examples of Supermarket Sweep names:
Orange Jello (or-AN-juh-lo)
Lemon Jello (le-MON-juh-lo)
These are not names of people, they are products you can purchase at the corner market. Please also refrain from toilet paper, deodorant, or any products you can purchase at Walmart.
5. Are you giving your child that name as a joke?
Seymour Butts, Ben Dover, the lawyer who names his daughter Sue…these all ran their course in the fifth grade joke books we read. No need to perpetuate this childhood immaturity with your child’s forever title in life.
6. Did you make it up?
Seriously now, did you? Obviously all names were at one point a made-up name, but in the year 2015 A.D. there should be PLENTY of options in existence from which you can choose. Go buy a baby name book and start rifling through the pages — there has to be something there for you.
7. Are you honoring a family name well?
My father and father-in-law have the middle names of Forest and Francis, respectively. They both hate these names. My grandfather hated his name all of his life, so when he joined the military at age eighteen, he changed it. At that point in our history, there had been nothing officially documented with his first name “Leroy” on it, so he changed his first name to “Lee” and middle name to “Roy” because he liked that better. So, when we found out we were having a boy, choosing a family name was not an option for us. We did, however, choose a name with a similar meaning as my father’s, honoring our family in that way. Would the original So-and-So the First think the name needed to last until the sixth generation or is it time to move on?
8. Do they really need that many middle names?
This will be controversial, but please hear me out. Unless your last name is something common like “Smith” or “Jones,” history will probably not need two or more middle names to decipher your kiddo from everyone else. If you cannot decide which name to use because you like too many names, get a dog. Or a goldfish. Do not give your poor 8-pound baby more names than she has pounds.
What you write on your child’s birth certificate will be something he or she has to live with forever (unless he has the time and money to go through the legal process to change her name). While Raven-Symoné has been given a world of grief for saying she would not hire someone with a “ghetto sounding name,” she still makes a valid point. The names we give to our children make a statement about them. We can tell the world that we really loved lemon Jello or we can tell the world that we put a little more effort into this important decision. Will you join me and choose the latter?