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Uncommon Baby Names a Growing Trend Throughout America

Audio

Aired 5/20/09

What's up will all these celebrities giving their babies unique names like Apple, Shiloh, or Bronx Mowgli? Well, it's not just a celebrity fad. We speak to psychology professor Jean Twenge about her research into the growing trend of unique baby names in America.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Sometimes it takes all the social skills you can muster just to ask a new parent one simple question. What's the baby's name? Then it's time to set your face in a pleasant expression and be prepared for anything that comes next. You could get lucky and hear a name your parents would recognize. Or, as is happening more often, you hear a combination of odd syllables that used to be a last name, or a fruit and you say, how lovely.

This trend in unusual baby names has a deeper meaning than just to confuse grade school teachers for generations to come. My guest, author and social researcher Jean Twenge says it reflects society's move away from conformity and toward individuality. Or, perhaps, more accurately, away from a shared common society and toward one in which every new baby is a potential superstar. Jean Twenge is an associate professor of psychology at SDSU and author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living In the Age of Entitlement.” Jean, welcome back.

JEAN TWENGE (Associate Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Jean, we used to think that names like Apple and Satchel were kids who were just a celebrity fad but your research paper says no. What did your study find?

TWENGE: Well, we found that those types of unique names are becoming more popular and that names that many children get are actually becoming much less common. So, just for example, back in 1946 about 5% of the baby boys born that year were named James and about 4% of the girls born that year were named Mary. Now we have different common names. We have Jacob and Emma instead, but less than one percent of children get those names. So you just have a really big cut in the number of children who get names that are popular.

CAVANAUGH: And you have a – This means you have a wide selection of names so even the popular names are not as popular as they used to be.

TWENGE: Exactly. So you have people say, wow, it’s hard to avoid the trends but, yeah, the whole point is the names that are now – they get that label of popular because they are the number one or number two names. But many, many, many fewer babies are getting that, so that – it also applies to names in the top ten for popularity and the names in the top 50 for popularity. So like back in 1950, about two-thirds of boys got a name in the top 50. A pretty big number, and now it’s only about one-third.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. So why are American parents opting for these unique names?

TWENGE: Yeah, it’s not just a curiosity, it’s part of this general social trend toward focusing on the individual and, more precisely, on uniqueness and focusing on standing out rather than fitting in. And when parents used to name a kid, they’d say, well, let’s give them a name that their grandfather had, or let’s give them a name that we’ll make sure they won’t get beat up on the playground. And now people tend to have this discussion, well, that name is too common. I don’t want to give my name the – my child the name that every other kid has. I want them to have a name that will help them stand out. And there’s advantages to that. You know, then there won’t be as many kids with the same name in the classroom but the downside is, how is the teacher going to remember all those names? The other downside is then you’re really encouraging this attitude of separateness and you have to be unique, and that is linked with narcissism, which is a pretty negative outcome.

CAVANAUGH: I’m just wondering, as a sort of offshoot to our conversation, where do these name statistics get compiled? I mean, who keeps the records?

TWENGE: Yeah, it’s the Social Security Administration. So if anybody’s interested in this, it’s really fun to play around with this on the web. You can just Google ‘Social Security Administration baby names.’ It’s the first site that’ll pop up. You can see how common your name is, how common your baby’s name, your friend’s name, your husband’s name, and you can see this trend for yourself, how many fewer babies, lower percentage, now get a name that’s common.

CAVANAUGH: Now there used to be, and perhaps there still is, there used to be a tendency of people to name their children after their, you know, themselves or their parents. Now how common is that? Is that also a trend that’s dying out?

TWENGE: Well, it’s hard to tell exactly from this data but it certainly seems that that is dying out. You look at discussion boards, say, on the internet at babycenter.com and other things like that and people will say things like, well, everybody should have their own name, and that it’s a bad thing to have the same name as someone else like your parent or your grandparent. So there does definitely seem to be a trend away from that and toward, again, standing out and being unique.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, does the name a parent chooses for a child say something about their hopes for the child?

TWENGE: It definitely does. I mean, names really reflect cultural traditions. It’s been true in every culture at every time and what this trend really shows about the United States today is how much we are valuing uniqueness and it really does indicate that parents’ attitudes have really shifted. It’s a really interesting indicator because I’ve done so much of this research showing, say, the personality traits, say, self esteem and narcissism have gone up but those are personality surveys. This is a behavior. This is an important decision that people are making. And that trend toward uniqueness is showing up even there.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Jean Twenge. She’s associate professor of psychology at SDSU and also author of “Generation Me” and her newest book, “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” We’re talking about unusual baby names and how popular unusual baby names seem to be in our society. And let’s hear from Dan in Point Loma. Good morning, Dan.

DAN (Caller, Point Loma): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I find this a fascinating subject, and I had two quick comments. First of all, on the personal level, I was a teacher for many years and I noticed this trend several years ago when it started and I noticed that as your commenter or your guest said that when a child is named with a very unusual name, as a teacher I often had to struggle with the parents to get their child – to get them to understand that their child was normal, that their child was not exceptional, as they would want their child to be. And they’re kind of – the child is often left struggling, dealing with extraordinary expectations that their parents may have for them that they may not be able to fulfill and not understand why. And then also, I think that on a larger scale if you look at how the public is responding to how we are trained to get out of this mess financially, we no longer have an understanding anymore of the social contract and how we are all in this together and how it ripples out. And so we get a lot of this, well, I paid my mortgage, why should I suffer…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DAN: …kind of thing and not realizing that it’s all interconnected and as it ripples out we’re slowly gaining that back. But, you know, we were very myopic in looking at how to solve this. We don’t – You know, it’s a lot of NIMBYism, not in my backyard, to try and solve this because I’m fine, I’m safe, we don’t have to worry about my neighbor or whatever until the property values start to plummet.

CAVANAUGH: Dan, there’s two great points. If I may, can – I’m going to put you on the spot. Can you remember any of those unusual child’s names that you…

DAN: Oh…

CAVANAUGH: …encountered when you were a teacher?

DAN: Portia, a lot of car names, and then Arwin, Galadrial, a lot…

TWENGE: Galadrial?

DAN: A lot of things that came out of “The Lord of the Rings” before the movies came out even. And, you know, just Star and Summer and even those were odd enough at the time for people to think, you know, this makes my child special. And when they’re not special, I mean, every child is special in their own way but they’re not going to be doctors or lawyers or whatever. And the child is often struggling with this identity that’s not them, it’s their parents pushing. It’s like helicopter parenting, they’re pushing it down on them.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Thank you so much for the call, Dan. Now all of that sound familiar to you, Jean?

TWENGE: Well, it’s a great observation on Dan’s part there because this, you know, helps answer the question. People will say to me, well, if you give your kid a unique name, does that mean that’s going to turn him into a narcissist, is that what you’re saying? No, of course not. Not just one – one thing like that won’t necessarily do that. But the attitude that goes along with that sometimes is not only am I going to give my kid this unique name which will help them be a star but that idea of favoring so much, that they are going to be the standout so that if it goes along with that parental attitude, you know, you can end up building narcissism. And, you know, on its own, names do shape identity and if it really does mean that the kid feels like they’re unique, then it could lead to that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I remember my mom pointing out, going back to something you said a minute ago, whenever she heard one of these unusual new name sort of concoction things, she would always shake her head and say, that child is going to have problems all through their life. Because her number one feeling was that a name should be as easy as possible and give you the least amount of trouble.

TWENGE: Umm-hmm. Yeah, well, there’s some research to support that and some that doesn’t so a unique name per se doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid is going to be psychologically messed up.

CAVANAUGH: Right, sure.

TWENGE: That’s what that research has shown on that. But if you have a name that you don’t like yourself and if you don’t have a name that other people like, that actually is linked to poor psychological adjustment even when you control or you match siblings, say, so you’re controlling for a parental upbringing. There is that link. You have a name that other people don’t like. That actually does seem to affect adjustment.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Let’s take another call. Seth is in San Diego. Hi, Seth.

SETH (Caller, San Diego): Hi. How’s it going? Thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, thank you.

SETH: Two things. I mean, I get the, I guess, you know, you guys know a lot more about the research and that sort of thing. But I just kind of take a little issue with the notion that just the naming itself can really overwhelm perhaps a proper upbringing. But what I really called about is that we named my daughter Patterson…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

SETH: …which was the last name of her birth mother so it’s a little bit unusual but at the same time I think we did it for a very honorable and respectful reason.

CAVANAUGH: Right. She’s an adopted child?

SETH: That’s correct.

CAVANAUGH: And do you call her Pat?

SETH: We don’t, we call her Patterson.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Interesting.

SETH: We’re trying to steer people clear of calling her Patty or Pat or anything like that.

CAVANAUGH: Because Patterson is more unique?

SETH: We like – I don’t know that it’s because it’s more unique. We like the – we like the full name. A lot of – She’s only one year old right now, so she, you know, she doesn’t have a lot of friends who call her by a nickname.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

SETH: And we assume that her nickname is going to come along. Whatever it is is going to be developed outside of our control, so we’re not so concerned about that. But we just call her Patterson.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it. And so that was a name given to the child to honor her birth mother.

TWENGE: Umm-hmm. You know what that reminds me of, my co-author on “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Keith Campbell, his oldest daughter is named McKinley, obviously very unusual. So when we had this discussion about unusual names, I’m like, hey, Keith, wait a second, you named your kid something unusual. And he said, yes, but it’s a family name. And I think that’s a – that the same example that the caller had, that it’s a name that’s – it is unusual but it’s chosen to honor a family member and, thus, arguably, that can create connections. So if it’s done in that way, you may still have the uniqueness element but you also do have that element of connection to another person. So, you know, I think you can debate this. It’s an interesting debate to have but I think you can make the argument that you get a little bit of a pass when it’s a family name.

CAVANAUGH: Well, using last names as first names as common practice in a certain social strata in this country for a long time.

TWENGE: Right, and that’s trickled down. So, I mean, that’s what you see a lot of times. You see, you know, the upper class trends end up trickling down, the celebrity trends of giving the strange names. But most kids who are receiving what used to be a last name as a first name, it’s not a family name. They’re just like, well, I just – There’s nobody in their family named Kennedy or nobody in their family named Connor, they just like the name. And it’s a little unusual and fits this trend and that’s often the reason, and not necessarily a family connection.

CAVANAUGH: That’s really interesting. Okay, we have another caller on the line. Zoe in Oceanside. Good morning, Zoe.

ZOE (Caller, Oceanside): Oh, hello there. How are you today?

CAVANAUGH: Just fine.

ZOE: As you can tell, I kind of – I have a unique name. Now it’s kind of more popular…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ZOE: …than it used to be but…

CAVANAUGH: And do you like your name?

ZOE: I love my name.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ZOE: In my youth, I didn’t like it quite as much because I got made fun of a lot and there really weren’t any Zoes around. And now there tends to be a lot more. But I also, because of the uniqueness of my name, wanted to name my son something unique as well and his name is Esio, and I feel that we gained, well, that I gained from it. I don’t know if he’s gained from it yet, he’s pretty young.

CAVANAUGH: And how is it that you spell that?

ZOE: His or mine?

CAVANAUGH: His.

ZOE: It’s E-s-i-o.

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

ZOE: With an accent over the ‘e.’ It’s actually Italian. It’s my – Both our names are – have history behind them. That’s my father-in-law’s name. And my name was my great grandmother’s name.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see, so it’s sort of a family name.

ZOE: Yes, it is.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.

ZOE: It is. But I don’t know, I think that – I think that giving a child a unique name can help with them being unique themselves.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I appreciate the call, Zoe, but I have to tell you it’s not as unique as all that because we have a Zoe in Lakeside on the line. Hi, Zoe, how are you?

ZOE (Caller, Lakeside): I’m doing very well. It’s very interesting that – Yeah, it’s – it’s – It was a difficult name to grow up with because there wasn’t any other Zoes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, there’s one in Oceanside.

ZOE: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And my comment is that, you know, it’s far more familiar in Europe than it is here in America and I hear more Zoes on dogs and cats than I do on humans.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, did you have a lot of mispronunciation of your name as you were growing up?

ZOE: A lot of people called me Zo…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ZOE: …and that’s actually what I went by. Then I changed to Zo Ann, and then after the age of 30 I went back to Zoe.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

ZOE: And that’s who I am now.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thanks so much for the call. I really appreciate it. So two unique names. I – Was coincidence that they both had the same unique name, and different histories of them, Jean, and how they shaped their lives.

TWENGE: Yeah, and they’re right. Zoe has become more popular so it shows that you can have names that used to be unique then will come in but, yeah, even the common names have fewer kids with them. The issue of Europe is an interesting one. In Germany, parents have to select children’s names off of a list. They’re actually not allowed to make up names or give their child the unique name because the government has actually mandated that children have names off of a culturally defined list.

CAVANAUGH: I am shocked. I had never heard of that. So they – you basically can’t be, you know, some sort of Jonbenet thing with a combination of your parents’ names or anything like that?

TWENGE: Yeah, and, you know, I think that actually really shows the advantages and the disadvantages. I mean, any cultural trend is going to have that, including this one. And the advantage of having that is everybody knows how to spell people’s names, they know how to pronounce people’s names. They can hold parents back from the impulse of giving their kid a really stupid name in the heat of the moment, maybe. But then on the other hand, you know, Americans, when they hear this, are appalled by this. How dare they tell, you know, the government tell me what to name my child because that goes against our idea of freedom and individuality.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very surprising. My guest is Jean Twenge, associate professor of psychology at SDSU, the author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” We’re talking about some research that Jean has done into names, baby names, unusual baby names, and how that trend to name babies unusual and different sounding names is continuing in the United States. Tell us, again, the most popular names now on the list.

TWENGE: Okay, so for 2008, the most popular names for boys were Jacob, Michael, and Ethan. And for girls, were Emma, Isabella, and Emily. And what we find in the study is that only less than one percent of babies get that top name now. And it used to be more than five percent of babies, say, back in 1950 got the most common name for their time. So in 1950, that would have been names like James or Linda.

CAVANAUGH: Now, of course, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the names you just mentioned. You have to go down further in the list to see…

TWENGE: Exactly. Right.

CAVANAUGH: …to see some of those. And I did look at that list and some of them are – Although, some of them are unusual but I must say to make it on the list they’re not that unusual. You…

TWENGE: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: You have names like Chloe and Destiny and…

TWENGE: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …things like that. But – Brianna.

TWENGE: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: There’s a lot of Briannas.

TWENGE: Right. So, I mean, if – When you think about it, you can kind of think about it in terms of fashion. So, you know, there have always been trends in, say, women’s skirt lengths.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TWENGE: The difference is now you can wear any skirt length you want, and it’s the same type of trend here. The names go in and out of fashion but that fewer people are following the fashions and that more people – there’s more spread. There’s more people who are going off-list.

CAVANAUGH: And, also, the spellings of the names are – have changed.

TWENGE: Yeah, so sometimes a child now will get a fairly common name like Kevin but then you’ll spell it with a ‘y’ at the end. Or you’ll spell Amy differently. I mean, there’s all kinds of different funky spellings that are now popular…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Right.

TWENGE: …with the idea that the parents say, well, I like this name but it’s too common so I’m going to change the spelling. You know, years ago nobody would’ve ever said, oh, I don’t want to give a child a name because it’s too common.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

TWENGE: And that’s now the thinking in changing the spelling.

CAVANAUGH: That, in particular, seems a little bit of a burden to give a child because they will have to be spelling their names all their lives.

TWENGE: Right, and it can get mispronounced. Like I saw in a baby book once, they’re talking about if you’re going to spell Alice ‘A-l-l-y-s’ that they’re going to get called Allies.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that’s true. But then again, more people have these strange-spelling names, maybe there won’t be a common spelling anymore.

TWENGE: That could happen. That could happen.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s go to the phones now. John is in El Cajon. John, that’s a non-unusual name. John, good morning.

JOHN (Caller, El Cajon): Yeah, this isn’t to do with my name, it’s my son’s name. And I thought it might have some relationship with cross cultural also. He was born in Japan and I, at the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give him the name, follow my name like my grandfather and my father and everybody else had. So I gave him the name of Zen, and his middle name was Zen. And then I – I went down to the – Well, I went down to the office to register his birth…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JOHN: …and I – in Japan, and I thought, well, I’m going to put a question mark after his first name, Zen?, and then the middle name, I thought I’d put Zen exclamation point.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

JOHN: And they did that. They put it on his birth certificate like that. So he was called Zen. Well, when I went to get his passport for the United States, it was supposed to be very – See, Japan was liberal enough to accept that.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

JOHN: But when I went to like the U.S. Consulate and tried to get his passport, they wouldn’t accept the exclamation point and question mark. So…

CAVANAUGH: So he’s just Zen Zen to the U.S. passport service?

JOHN: Yeah, his name is Zen Zen and actually what that means is I don’t really know, or I don’t know about this, and in Japanese. It means a lot of things actually. You could – there’s a lot of translations into different meanings but one of them is that, that you don’t really know what – what to say. And I told – Well, I told him when he gets to be 13 of age then he can choose his own name, whatever he wishes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, John, thank you for that story. I appreciate it. Zen Zen without the exclamation point. Well, I mean, that brings me to a larger point and that is the influence of different ethnicities on names. And I would imagine that since there’s more of a celebration of different cultures now, there are more ethnic names.

TWENGE: Yes, so that’s a question I get a lot. A lot of people ask me, you know, specifically, they’ll say, well, may – you know, how do you know that this trend isn’t caused by, say, there being more Latinos? We – Actually, we did a couple of things to look at that. First, we controlled for immigration. Well, this names data goes all the way back to 1890 and there were actually more immigrants in the country then than there are now, so that’s one indication it’s not immigration. And we threw that into the equation and it didn’t really change anything. Then we also looked at the trends in the six states in the U.S. that have the lowest population percentage of Latinos, and the same trend showed up. So even in a state like Maine, it’s about 96% white, you still see this same trend toward more unique names. So it doesn’t seem to be, at least in the way we looked at it, with Latinos, that doesn’t seem to be what’s driving the trend. But other people say, well, perhaps it’s the idea of wanting to honor some kind of other ethnic identity, see, even if you’re white then you want to honor your Italian heritage or your Irish heritage. And actually I think that’s part and parcel of the same type of trend because, say, back in the early 1900s you did have Giovanni and Seamus running around…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TWENGE: …but there was also the idea that it’s a melting pot and you’re supposed to fit in and so you’re going to want to give your kid a more English or American name. And now the idea that you have – you want to have this more ethnic identity then to honor that instead of going for the melting pot. It’s the same trend, wanting to stand out rather than fit in.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get in a few more callers. Lots of people want to join our conversation. And let’s go to Leonedes in Coronado. I’m hoping I pronounced that correctly. Leonedes?

LEONEDES (Caller, Coronado): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi.

LEONEDES: Yeah, as you can see, my name is a little unusual. And growing up, I hated my name. When the teacher would call the roll and she would say my name and all the other students would look around and see like who – who is Leonedes, you know. And I had a – I think I was traumatized…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

LEONEDES: …as a child growing up and I hated my name. But at one point when I was a teenager, I realized what it meant and it means ‘a dancing lion’ and I thought it was pretty cool. But I never really used that that name – even now I don’t – They call me Leo. But we just had a daughter and me and the mom, we had a name conflict because she wanted to name her Ava and I wanted it to be Eva with an ‘e.’

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

LEONEDES: And she – and we would say, well – She wanted to spell it with an ‘a’ and I would say, well, I’m Mexican so my side of the family’s going to say Ahh-va. You know, that doesn’t make any sense. And then – and she would say, well, my – I’m white and my half is going to say Eee-va, you know, so we went back and forth and I won in the end and we named her Eva Catherine so it’s still Hispanic and English.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

LEONEDES: But we didn’t want her – I didn’t want her to grow up, you know, feeling like that she didn’t like her name so we tried to make it kind of nice.

CAVANAUGH: It’s very nice. Thank you so much for the call. And let us talk now to Lisa in Encinitas. Good morning, Lisa.

LISA (Caller, Encinitas): Hi. Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Just fine.

LISA: Well, obviously my name is very common and that was probably one of the reasons why I wanted to have a child with an unusual name. My – I named my daughter Onyx and I don’t hear that name very much. I mean, when I used to go out as a kid, I’d be introducing, you know, myself and everybody else that I was hanging out with was also named Lisa.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

LISA: And so when I named my daughter Onyx, I wanted something, you know, a little bit more unusual because I didn’t want her to go through the same of, hi, I’m Onyx and this is my friend Onyx and my other friend Onyx, which is quite often what I’ve done.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Thank you so much for the call. And that’s basically sort of what you’re talking about, is that people want something very distinct, not just pretty, not just, you know, not what their name is, but very distinct for their children’s names.

TWENGE: Yeah, just much, much more common now for people to try to choose a name that they’ve never met anybody with that name.

CAVANAUGH: And one of the things that people might say is that this is because of the internet because people are seeing, I don’t know, getting much more information about names than ever before. Did you find that that had any impact?

TWENGE: Well, certainly people do look up things, names, on the internet now but this trend can be traced all the way back to 1890…

CAVANAUGH: I see.

TWENGE: …and so we know that the internet wasn’t around then. And the biggest amount of change, the trend, you know, away from common names and toward more unique names, really got rolling in the ‘90s. That was the decade with the largest change. And, of course, the internet wasn’t commonly used until the late ‘90s and the Social Security Administration database didn’t go online until well into this decade. So it’s clearly not just that people know what the more popular names are because this trend has been in place for so long.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s go to the phones again, and Betty is in Coronado. Good morning, Betty.

BETTY (Caller, Coronado): Hi, there.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

BETTY: My name, obviously, I hated it growing up because it was an old lady’s name.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

BETTY: And now I love it because it’s just so fun. And people have no idea – When I say Betty, they have no – They’ve never heard it, they have no idea how to spell it. It’s very interesting. Younger people try to say Betty like Betty Boop and then they kind of get it. But I was calling, I think it’s wonderful, you know, that – I think it’s a terrific trend to have unique names. I like the saying that, you know, a child doesn’t know the difference between a flower and a weed until they’re taught. So I think having unique names is a fabulous trend. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having to spell your name. You know, I had to spell my last name growing up, it’s, you know, whatever. But I was calling about my daughter whose given name is – was Rachel. And now she has changed her name about – something about eight and nine, she wanted to be called Gemini.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting.

BETTY: And we – She went by it and has grown into it and that is now her legal name. We had it changed.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that. That’s a twist of this. And I’m wondering, you know, if we’re going to see, if I may be so bold as to take Betty’s scenario and flip it around. Kids who are called Gemini changing their names when they’re 13, 14, 15 years old back to Rachel.

TWENGE: Yeah, and that’s certainly – It’s a possibility if they really hate the unique name and nobody else likes it and so on and it’s spelled all the time and they don’t like it. It’s also interesting, I mean, you know, I think 30 years ago if a nine year old had said, mom and dad, I want to change my name, let’s go to the courthouse, the parents just would’ve laughed. And now parents are much more likely to say, sure, if that’s what you want to be called, let’s go change it. I think that’s another cultural change.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. John is in Imperial Valley. Good morning, John.

JOHN (Caller, Imperial Valley): Morning.

CAVANAUGH: Hi. What – How can we help you?

JOHN: I – There’s a problem with having a real common name.

CAVANAUGH: Like John?

JOHN: I got a – I went to renew my driver’s license and I couldn’t renew my driver’s license because there was a warrant for me for jaywalking in Stockton, California. I’ve never been to Stockton. So I had to fax a copy of a time card to them in Stockton to get it taken off my record.

CAVANAUGH: I…

JOHN: And then just recently I had a credit card company say that I’d filed bankruptcy and notified the credit reporting agency and so that was a mess. It took a couple weeks to clean up. I think that naming – naming a child with a different than a real common name gives them some type of identity.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, John. I’m going to have to stop it there because we are swiftly running out of time. But if John’s name had been Jackson with an ‘x’ he probably wouldn’t have run into that problem of having such a similar name and having a warrant issued.

TWENGE: Yeah, so if you have a common last name that that…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

TWENGE: …and then you also have a common first name, those types of problems happen. But there’s advantages and disadvantages to both unique and common names.

CAVANAUGH: Now I want to let everyone know we’re not going to be able to hear from Uri or Shams or Katya or Cheri who are on the line and I appreciate their calls but it gives us some sort of sense that what you’re talking about is really true. Jean, and I can’t let you go without you sharing with us, you not only have a – I think it is a two-year-old but you have a baby on the way, so what’s your baby’s name and what names are under consideration?

TWENGE: Okay, so my two-year-old is Kathryn, and we call her Kate, so that’s a fairly common name. And I’m having another girl so and we’re debating right now what to name her, which is a really tough decision. More than likely we’re going to go for something relatively common.

CAVANAUGH: Relatively common because of this study or because you actually like that idea?

TWENGE: You know, I think it’s some of both. I actually got the idea for doing this study when we were trying to name our two-year-old and I went and, you know, looked online and noticed that the common names were declining, which was a shock to me because there’s so many advantages to people being – I have a completely unpronounceable and unspellable last name so I know this experience and I wouldn’t want my kid to have to try to run around with such an unusual first name.

CAVANAUGH: So Elizabeth, Mary…

TWENGE: Those all sound nice. Sarah, Emily, all common, all under consideration.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today. This is a great topic. Thank you. I’ve been speaking with Jean Twenge, associate professor of psychology at SDSU and author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” And I want to thank everyone once again for calling in and sharing their stories with us on These Days.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Mom2Two'

Mom2Two | May 27, 2009 at 2:14 p.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

Our daughter has a slightly unusual name, but nothing like Apple, etc. It's my grandmother's name, so it was not chosen to be different. It's actually a pretty traditional ritual. Still... Sometimes I wish we had picked a name that is more common. Most days we end up correcting people who say it or spell it incorrectly.

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Avatar for user 'kcouch83'

kcouch83 | July 3, 2009 at 3:47 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Our daughter's name is actually common. The only thing we did differently, is the spelling of it. Her name is JEWELLIANA. Pronounced, Julianna. Still, we also have to correct a lot of people when they try to say her name. And most people would not even know how to begin spelling it. But, I love that her name is different, yet common. You see, my great grandmother's name was JEWELL. And I had always told her that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her after her. And that's the reason we spelled it the way we did.

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Avatar for user 'afkgmom3'

afkgmom3 | July 7, 2009 at 6:13 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

My grandson has a very unusual first name...he is 6 now and it seems to fit him very well! I was against it in the beginning but...like all things related to your grandchildren...you love 'em anyway!!!
His name is Fox

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Avatar for user 'jkarolus'

jkarolus | November 12, 2009 at 10:45 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

I am the 3rd of 4 children: Laura, Frank, Christopher, and I am Janna (pronounced John-na). It was an adaptation my Filipino mother came up with. It was tough as a child to get people to pronounce and/or spell it correctly but that goal of creating or guiding the personality of your child towards uniqueness definitely worked for me. Since I could talk I would correct people on the pronunciation or spelling with confidence as I was not going to have my very special name misinterpreted. I love my name and what it has done for me.

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