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Family Talk: Child's name might influence path

What you name your children might influence them. Or, they decide to make their own paths. [PHOTO BY SIRI STAFFORD, THINKSTOCK]
What you name your children might influence them. Or, they decide to make their own paths. [PHOTO BY SIRI STAFFORD, THINKSTOCK]

My parents made a deal when it came to naming their children. With my sister, their first child, my mom got to decide her first name, and dad got to decide her middle name. 

They flipped it when I was born a few years later. Dad decided my first name of James, after his deceased brother, and mom decided my middle name, Ted, which was my dad’s nickname. On the whole, it seemed like an eminently fair way to decide kids’ names.

This was long before the era when parents invented names or chose letters at random from a Scrabble box. No one named their kids “Lux” or “Messiah” in the years after Word War II. Standard fare was Bob, Diane, Henry or Lillian. Good solid names you could pronounce and spell. 

I always felt my name gave me something to live up to, carrying on the tradition of my uncle and my dad. It gave me inner motivation to do my best. More often than not, a child’s name does impact his or her life in numerous ways, according to Science Focus, the online home of BBC Focus Magazine. Here are just a few examples:

•Whether a name sounds boyish or girly can affect success at school, according to David Figlio, a professor of economics at Northwestern University. His work has shown that boys with names that could also be girls’ names tend to misbehave and become disruptive as soon as they hit high school.

•A study of psychiatric records found that those with unusual names were more likely to be diagnosed psychotic, while recent research has shown that boys with the least popular names are more likely to commit crime.

•According to psychologist Dr. Brett Pelham, an analyst for statistics firm Gallup, people have a tendency to follow professions that resemble their first names, meaning that lawyers called Laura and dentists named Dennis are especially common.

Then there’s the case of two brothers named “Winner” and “Loser.” One became a star student and athlete, going on to college before becoming a highly decorated police detective. The other took up a life of crime, with 31 arrests before finally being sent to jail. But in this family, Winner was the loser and Loser was the winner. Asked to explain his success compared to his brother’s fate, Loser said, “I just decided to go a different way, right from the start.”

A similar thing happened to the family with three sisters named Kimberly, Robin and Marijuana Pepsi Jackson. Just like Loser, Marijuana Pepsi made something of her life, earning a master’s degree in education.

The lesson here is clear. Parents need to give careful thought to the names they choose for their children and not just pick them out of a Scrabble box. Your name can affect your life trajectory. Sometimes making life easier, but sometimes challenging you to overcome. The good news for each of us is, regardless of our name, we can choose our own path and, by God’s grace, decide to be a winner.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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