What’s in a Name?

Being someone whose name is butchered on more than one occasion, I can tell you a whole lot. MSNBC.com reports on some of the all time worst baby names.

Just recently, I went on a job interview where one of the interviewers made a comment that he hadn’t seen my name spelled like that before (Kaitlin) and I responded that I’d seen it all my life. He didn’t find that funny.

It does beg the question, though. How much are you rewarded or punished based on your name? My grandfather was named after the steel mill his father worked in (being child number 13, we like to joke that they just ran out of names by the time he came along). There was an article written about him in the local newspaper when he was born and he even went on to work in that mill himself, but now that that particular company has since been bought out, walking around with the name Armco just seems a bit odd.

Well, I’m sure it’s odd no matter what, but think about it like this. Let’s say a kid was named Coke after Coca-Cola, but then Coca-Cola goes out of business (hey, suspend your disbelief, this is a hypothetical). Mr. Coke Smith would then sound a bit, well, stupid. Not to mention reminiscent of drug terminology.

So, is it that because my name is a bit more on the normal side, I’m not allowed to be a bit quirky? Strangers have already placed me in a category restricted to the Micheals and Michelles of the world? If I were named Sunshine would that interviewer have been expecting someone a bit different right off the bat?

Mmm, perhaps I think about this far too much, but from my days of being a file clerk I can tell you my two favorite names: Muhammed Mohammed and Cocoa Hershey. Oh yes, they really exist. And I remember them; I appreciate those names more than the James Smith III files.

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5 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Even common names can raise eyebrows. When I was born, my mother told her father that I was going to be named James. My grandfather, a staunch German, replied “You’re naming my grandson after an English king?” “No, Pa,” she answered, “I’m naming him after St. James the apostle.” He frowned his German frown, “So, you’re naming my son after a Jew.”

  2. This is fabulous. Names intrigue me. I have had two different sets of first and middle names and three different last names.

    I like what you said about seeing your name spelled that way your entire life. Nice. Perhaps you should make up your own personal spelling of your name — something crazy like: Xrzlqu — and when someone asks you can say, “That’s Kaitlin for ‘Kaitlin.'” See? Then you could act as quirky as you like. (Of course, then, you wouldn’t have to.)

  3. Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. (I’m with you there, Kaitlin!) My parents named me Kathryn (yeah, no one gets that version right either) to call me Kate, but somewhere along the way it became Katie. That’s how I introduce myself and what most people, except my parents, call me. But around the time I turned 30 and started having to wear nametags at conferences, it began to seem like that diminutive “ie” might, well, diminish me? Or at least make me seem a bit too cute to be taken seriously. And so I’ve begun playing around with using Kate for professional purposes — except, of course, for all of my profs and peers who already know me as Katie… And to complicate matters, I’ve always thought I would publish under my full name, complete with middle initial. Issues of ethos all around. And yes, probably a few identity crises too!

  4. My friends Michael and Summer just had a baby girl pretty recently, and when I ran into him at a St. Patricks Day gathering I asked him what they named her. Michael is Irish–very–and Summer is English. I don’t know the extent of her Englishness.

    “Victoria Grace,” he said. “That way she would have one Irish and one English name.”

    “Oh, that’s a lovely name!”

    “Though I think it’s funny that when her first name is shortened it will be ‘Tory’,” he added.

  5. Similar to Jim, the nationalism in names intrigues me. When I was living in Denmark, I always introduced myself with the full name (as Katie — I mean, Kathryn — put it: Ethos All Around). But strangely, because Jensen is like Smith in Denmark (8 pages in the Copenhagen phone book), it wasn’t until they learned that my middle name was Trier that I earned any right to the honor in heritage. If I could work in the fact my Grandfather’s name was Uffe, a name so Danish the Danish don’t use it anymore, then I was truly of the motherland.

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