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What Names Tell Us

Over the course of 20 years as a journalist and author, I've conducted thousands of interviews with people I've never met before, much less seen. From the beginning, I often found myself anticipating what the interview would be like based on the names of my interviewees and on my past experiences with people who had the same names. I expected anyone named Beth to be attractive, friendly, and smart; Carols to be quick and outgoing with mile-a-minute mouths. If your name was Bill, I figured you would be fun to talk to and pretty intelligent. Same thing for guys named Tom. I'd groan at the thought of interviewing anyone named Skip, Eliot, or Sandy, expecting them to be goofballs or airheads; Candi, spelled in any of its various forms, would evoke a similar response.

Name Dropping

While it's true that opinions of others are often based on their names, there's really no consensus on what these opinions are. If you are leaning toward a name that you love, don't discard it if someone else – say, your best friend – doesn't like it. If your feeling about the name is positive, chances are it will be fine for your baby.

Names do conjure up certain images and stereotypes, there's no doubt about it. One of my best friends in junior high and high school was a perky blond named Randi who was also one of the sweetest people on earth. I still think of her when I hear the name. Interestingly, most of the women named Randi that I've met since then have been a lot like her. Beth was another childhood friend, and the aforementioned attributes were just some of the reasons why she was the most popular girl in school. Her name remains at the top of my all-time favorites list to this day. Other names and images came from books I've read or movies and television shows that I've watched.

A Good First Impression…Or Not?

More often than not, the first impressions we have of people are strongly influenced by what their names are. I don't think I'll ever meet someone named Beth without thinking positive thoughts. But what if I met someone with all the traits of a Beth who had a different name, one with which I didn't have a positive association? Would I write her off or think negatively of her before she even had a chance to prove me wrong? If Beth were Bertha or even Bessie, would she have been homecoming queen?

Over the years, a number of studies have been done on the correlation between names and images. One of the more recent was conducted by Bruce Lansky, one of North America's leading authors of baby-name books. He commissioned a survey that polled more than 75,000 parents to determine what they believed the most common images were of 1,400 popular names. In The Baby Name Personality Survey, published in 1990, Lansky presented the results of his study, and while he says it's dangerous to jump to conclusions on any name, he also found an amazing level of agreement about what people say they think of when they hear certain names.

More on: Choosing a Name

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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