Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Choosing a Baby Name- Part 2

In my last post, Choosing a Baby Name- Part 1, I told the story of how my son was named Edwin Michael Sowul. I explained our thought process over weeks and months until the day of his birth, and cited many reasons for choosing that exact name, including multiple family ties and letter symmetry. In short, I thought my husband and I had come to this major decision for our son completely on our own. It turns out, however, that I was somewhat wrong about that. Societal norms played a role as well.

The Freakonomics podcast last week was on whether a person's name has any bearing on the direction of her life. It had several segments stemming off the original chapter on names in the Freakonomics book. I'm not going to get into every segment, as it was quite a long podcast. The one that intrigued me most posited that certain types of parents choose certain names for their children, and their choices say more about the parents than about the children themselves. 

The researcher they interviewed on this subject claimed that parents proud of their intellect and erudite tastes tend to name their children in a way that sends a signal to other parents of the same type, such as choosing an obscure name from an obscure novel by J.D. Salinger.

In a similar vein, more down-to-earth people tend to name their children simple, traditional, American names. Girls' names are often popular and feminine; boys names are short and have strong consonant sounds. 

Based on this research and on the usual political values of intellectual vs. down-to-earth people, the researcher concluded that in general, liberals tend to choose more unique names, while conservatives choose more traditional names. In addition, liberals choose softer-sounding names for their boys, while conservatives go for harder consonant sounds.

Here's why I found this interesting. We named our son Edwin. Clearly, this is a liberal name. It's softer-sounding and more unique. This makes sense. My husband and I are both very liberal. We're those annoying snobs who watch Jon Stewart religiously, only read the New York Times, and yell at the TV when FOX news is on. (Well, I do that last one. My husband can control himself better.)

The funny thing is, our runner-up name, and the boy name I've loved since well before I was even married, is Jack. By the guidelines above, Jack is clearly a conservative name. It's short, has a hard consonant sound, and is very popular right now (Jack/Jackson was the second most popular name in 2012.)

So the question is, if we'd gone with Jack Sowul, would that have said something different about us? Would people have assumed us to be more traditional, conservative people? Does the fact that we chose Edwin instead tell the world that we're intellectual, liberal snobs? And does it even matter?

What do you think your name says about your parents? If you have children, what do their names say about you?

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