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What Names Tell Us

As an example, here are some common first names and the images that survey respondents associated with them. See if the traits you assign to these names are the same or different:

Trait Girls' Names
Aggressive: Lucinda, Oprah
Beautiful: Amanda, Celeste, Elizabeth, Raquel
Blond: Bani, Barbie, Bunny, Candy, Christy, Heidi, Randi, Sally, Tracy
Bright: Alana, Courtney, June
Fun-Loving: Dixie, Gerri, Joyce, Liza
Plain: Ann, Blanche, Cara, Edith, Ginny, Josephine, Karen, Mona
Foreign: Bianca, Frederica, Sasha, Sonia, Zola
Friendly: Bobbie, Carol, Gwen, Joy, Kathy, Marcie, Nancy, Sandy, Wendy

Trait Boys' Names
Athletic: Alex, Bjorn, Brett, Chuck, Jim, Kevin, Kirby
Blond: Colin, Dane, Dennis, Derek, Eric, Josh, Leif, Tab
Brainy: Edwin, Elliot
Funny: Abbott, Allen, Carson, Dudley, Edsel, Sid, Tim
Handsome: Adam, Beau, Christopher, Douglas, Keith, Lorenzo, Mitchell, Rick, Rod
Nerdy: Arnie, Clarence, Dexter, Egbert, Myron, Norman, Vern
Intelligent: Alexander, Clifford, David, Edward, John, Kenneth, Ned, Samuel, Sebastian, Tim
Rich, Wealthy: Bradley, Burke, Cameron, Chet, Colin, Dane, Frederick, Jay, Jules, Kipp, Winslow, Yale

From: The Baby Name Personality Survey by Bruce Lansky and Barry Sinrod (Meadowbrook Press, 1990).

The Oprah Phenomenon

Did you notice something else as you went through these names and the traits assigned to them? Many of the images we have of certain names are shaped by influences from mass culture –the books, magazines, and newspapers we read, the movies and television shows we love to watch. Elizabeth Taylor and Raquel Welch are two legendary beauties. Dixie Carter sure seemed like fun as one of the Sugarbaker sisters on Designing Women. Was there ever a dowdier character than Edith Bunker on All in the Family?

The image for Oprah, one of the more uncommon female names, is almost entirely based on our impressions of one person – Oprah Winfrey – who was characterized by respondents to Lansky's survey as aggressive, opinionated, flamboyant, bright, and sensitive. If there wasn't a media star named Oprah, the images this name conjures up would probably be vastly different, if we had them at all.

Name Dropping

Chandler, Phoebe, Daphne – they're all names that are popular on television today and they're making their way up the most popular baby-name lists as well. If any of them appeal to you, keep in mind that vogue or pop names rarely remain in favor for long. Always choose a name because you like it, not just because it's popular.

Bjorn Borg, Brett Favre, and George Brett either are or were top athletes. Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Johnny Carson, and Dudley Moore are all talented comedians. But then there's Edsel. I've never met a funny Edsel, but maybe the name itself is funny enough to have that trait associated with it. And there's Arnie in the nerd category. The only Arnies I can think of are golfer Arnold Palmer and Arnold Becker, the character that actor Corbin Bernsen played on L.A. Law. Neither seem terribly nerdy to me. Maybe the survey respondents had other Arnies in mind, or they thought that golf was a nerdy game.

Clearly, the images associated with certain names can have a significant impact on the one you choose for your baby, which is the main reason why such names as Adolf and Cain are almost never given anymore, and why you probably won't see a great numbers of Monicas, Kenneths, or Lindas entering pre-school in the next few years (William is one of those perennially popular names that always ranks in the top 100, but it could take a dip).

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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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