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People turn to consultants to help name their kids

Britney and Tiffany are out. Celtic names, like Logan, are in.

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It's not just children's names that people are taking a deeper interest in. It's also their own. Former teacher Mary Ann Korwitts, of Chicago, was 30 before deciding that she just wasn't a Mary Ann, which conferred to her a prim and retiring image. She tweaked her name to Maryanna, feels that her life has been enhanced considerably as a result, and now works as a nameologist helping others to do the same.

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"There's a real awakening to what names do. People understand there's a secret quality to names – they play a role in shaping our personalities," she explains. "As people go through different stages of life, they reconsider, like I did. People would shorten my name to Mary, which never felt right – I was dramatically shy when I was younger and couldn't say two words to anybody. After I changed my name, my life changed dramatically."

Her three children all adjusted their names, too, either for the way they looked or how they sounded. Oldest daughter Katherine was a Katie until fifth grade when she decided it looked too "harsh" and softened the spelling to Kaytey, then at college to Kayte for a more "responsible" look.

Middle daughter Maria felt that her name came with psychological baggage – "it's a name that brings a lot of emotion and a lot of difficulty in relationships," Ms. Korwitts reasons, so when she reached high school she reinvented herself as Moneca.

Meanwhile, son Jae decided that his name looked unbalanced with just three letters, so he added one more to make Jaeh.

"Just as the way a person dresses and grooms themselves can affect how they are perceived socially, their name has a very similar impact," notes Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of "The Baby Name Report Card." "The reaction your name prompts from other people can help form your personality."

In studies, he asked people to ponder lists of names and award each a score in five set categories: ethical/caring, popular/fun, successful, masculine/feminine, and overall attractiveness. The results helped him to produce a comprehensive profile of the kind of positive or negative impression each name conveys.

For example, Chad scored consistently high in all categories, while Bud ranked low – including a zero in the "successful" category. Chads are more likely to have a secure self-image, be regarded more positively by others, and be treated well at school and work than Buds, Dr. Mehrabian concluded. And names with gravitas, such as Katherine and Alexander, are more likely to be considered corporate high-fliers than Fifi, Brandy, or Dixie.

"Maybe parents are taking naming more seriously, but then there are those who mistakenly have this idea that they have to assign a unique name to their child and are spending a lot of time and effort hunting down or creating one, when research shows that less common names have less impact," says the professor.

The worst names he has encountered include Fayle, Farm, and Latrina for girls, and Cobra, Jane, and Swindle for boys – "equivalent in intensity to the effects of dressing a boy in girls' clothing, or dying a child's hair blue or pink," he states in his findings.

As Alfie ventures into the world, his name may raise eyebrows in America. It does not feature anywhere in the top 1,000 names compiled by the US Social Security Administration, and few appear to have heard of it since the 1966 film of the same name, in which Michael Caine plays a roguish ladies' man.

But in Britain, where we are from, it was the 16th most popular boys name last year and has more innocent connotations. Alfie, a derivation of Alfred, means "one who counsels the elves."

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