What's in a name?
Article first published online: 21 DEC 2009
© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 Paediatrics and Child Health Division (Royal Australasian College of Physicians)
Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health
Volume 45, Issue 12, page 691, December 2009
How to Cite
Isaacs, D. (2009), What's in a name?. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 45: 691. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2009.01631.x
- Issue published online: 21 DEC 2009
- Article first published online: 21 DEC 2009
- Accepted for publication 2 March 2009.
My brother's first three girlfriends were all called Sue, which just happens to be our mother's name. The three Sues varied greatly in height and were known as Little Sue, Big Sue and, well, just Sue. I know a family in which the names of first serious boyfriends and girlfriends coincide with the names of members of the immediate family with a regularity that defies chance. Is it simply that the names of their children are common in the circle in which their children mix? My brother and my mother are psychoanalysts, and tell me Freud would not let them off so lightly. I speculate that the choice of partners with familiar family names is an emotional security blanket for the adolescent and that their first boyfriends and girlfriends are effectively transitional objects. My secretary thinks we are all just weird. Incidentally, a friend in a steady, same-sex relationship told me that he and his partner had the same unusual first names. Even Freud might have been lost for words. I wait with bated breath to see if our readers can contribute data to confirm or refute my hypothesis about their children's choices of partners with familiar names.
See related article by Willis et al. on pp. 711–14.
Choosing a common name for one's child may be protective. A recent US study examined the relationship between first names and juvenile delinquency by comparing the names of convicted juvenile offenders with the first names of the local population.1 The authors found that juvenile delinquents had very different first names from the rest of the population and that unpopular names were correlated with juvenile delinquency for both blacks and whites. The thesis is that unusual names may leave the child vulnerable to being teased. The authors do not tell us any of the unpopular names associated with being criminals, although I am happy to report that David was quoted as one of the most popular names.
In general paediatrics, my colleagues recognise certain names and particularly unusual spellings of names as being heart-sink names. Any child presenting to the Emergency Department with the name of Charlene or Dwayne or Jayden or Shane or Tayla or Wayne is likely to need a lengthy admission involving social workers. One colleague thinks that the amount of trouble caused is proportional to the number of a's and y's in a child's name. Unusual children's names may or may not bode trouble, but they certainly spark interest. We recently admitted a little girl called Porsha. I complimented the parents on naming their daughter after a character from a Shakespeare play. ‘Oh no’, they said, ‘She's called after the car’. I decided not to discuss the spelling. Another colleague has a patient called Telecaster after the famous Fender guitar. His brother is called Stradicaster (another Fender guitar, of course). Yet another colleague was told a child's name was what sounded like Absody. ‘How do you spell it?’ she asked. ‘Abcde, of course’.
[ Sculpture on the Rocks, Sydney, 2008. ]
Is there data to support such theories? Interestingly, the Johnny Cash song, ‘A boy called Sue’, about a cowboy who keeps getting into fights because his parents called him Sue, may have a modicum of veracity. In one study, boys with names commonly given to girls were more likely to be suspended from school.2 In this issue, Frank Willis and colleagues have put some added science into onomatology or onomastics as they tell us the study of names is called.3 They provide evidence that children attending the Emergency Department who have a highly unusual name or are named after pop culture, an Old Testament character or have a first name that could be a surname are significantly more likely to be admitted to hospital.
We look forward to receiving a deluge of letters about children's names (permission needed for extreme examples, please) and will publish the best ones.