The pitfalls of offbeat baby names debunked

Guest post by Jennifer
Hello my name is
Photo by Daquella manera, used under Creative Commons license.

My daughter’s name is Ophelia. She also has two middle names plus a ridiculously difficult to pronounce Italian last name. I know what you might be thinking: THAT POOR KID. How will she ever learn to spell her name? How will she even remember all of her names? Won’t she always have to spell it for other people? Kids are going to make fun of her in school. She’ll be an outcast. What about a nickname?

I’ve heard the objections before but I’ve always loved unusual names so nay-saying never really had an impact on me. However, I have felt that if I planned to give my own child an unusual name it was my duty to really, truly examine those objections. Would giving my kid an unusual name really damage her? Would it turn her childhood into a string of memories she will eventually hope to forget? Am I being selfish and simply forcing my own contrariness on her? I considered each of these carefully and here’s what I came up with.

It’s too hard/long for a kid to learn to spell

If you’ve spent any time around young children you know that their name is their identity. I once worked with a two-year-old boy who would toddle around, repeating “I’m Toby, I’m Toby, I’m Toby,” without rest. Kids love telling people their names, learning to spell them and practice both often. So is having a long name a challenge for a child to learn? You betcha. Is that a bad thing? Hell no! Since a kid’s name means so much to them, they’re willing to work extra hard to wrap their minds around it. The diligence and repetition of learning to spell and write a long name only gives them more time practicing vital skills. My daughter has exactly 30 letters in her full name. This kid is bound to be a spelling bee champ, I just know it!

Others will have difficulty spelling or pronouncing it

In the melting pot that is this country, a huge percentage of the population has a name or names that many would consider “difficult.” In plenty of cultures long last names are the norm. In others certain letters and letter combinations have sounds that would be unrecognizable to a native English speaker. Many, if not most, people have to spell their name when giving it to someone else for the first time. Rather than being a lifelong burden, I see this as simply a fact of life. Even if my daughter’s first name was Jane, her last name would still inevitably trip people up. Most parents wouldn’t dream of giving their child an alternative last name because theirs was hard to spell. First names are no different.

They will grow up to be outcasts

I grew up with perhaps the trendiest name of the 80s: Jennifer. Jenny I got yo numba! (Tommy Tutone, anyone?) My husband, Robert (Rob) has one of the most traditional names given to boys. I’m the kid that chopped her bangs into a spiky poof the day before her fifth grade class picture. Rob’s the kid that wore Hawaiian shirts every day of his high school career. We both had incredibly “normal” names and we both were huge dorks. Just as giving your kid a common name doesn’t guarantee their adolescent popularity, neither does giving them an unusual name cement their fate as the kid who eats paste. Their identities are shaped by their names but they are not limited by them. An “Electra” can be quiet and shy. A “Dudley” can be a Romeo. A name serves as a foundation for an identity but the kid decides the rest.

By: Daniel LoboCC BY 2.0

It’s cruel/selfish for parents to give children offbeat names

As cheesy as it sounds, the names I gave my daughter are a gift. Her first middle name was given to her in honor of my dear aunt that died a year and a half before she was born. Because I knew the two of them would never meet I wanted to give her something permanent of her great-aunt’s. Her second middle name is my maiden name, a name that is now shared by my husband and myself as our own second middle names. It’s an essential part of her family tree that should be reflected in her name. While I concur that it might be selfish to want my name and my aunt’s to be carried on, I can honestly say I did not give them to O to coerce her into my own brand of eccentricity. I think this is the case for all parents, whether they choose an offbeat name or a more traditional one for their child. In naming our children we try to give them a foundation, some history and maybe a little creativity. There’s nothing selfish about that.

Comments on The pitfalls of offbeat baby names debunked

  1. My daughter is Megan, and I’ve spent the last 16 years spelling it for people. Really? It even gets mispronounced from time to time. Really?
    She’s named after my grandmother, who was Peggy, and I had no idea until months after she was born that it was so popular. (#12 in the US in 1996.) I might have picked something else if I had – although her dad would certainly have voted down anything too ‘odd’, and I really LIKE the fact that she has my Nana’s name.
    She’s currently decided that Megan is boring, so she calls herself Siobhán Willow. It suits her.

  2. My parents went and named me Wendy. I love my name but I grew up a girl named Wendy with reddish hair and freckles. It was a nightmare. There was a lot of teasing that happened, it is something I laugh about now. Just don’t EVER call me Wendy-bird.
    Once I have children I most likely will pick an unusual name, theres nothing better than being the only one with your name in your school!

    • I get insanely jealous when I meet other Auroras, with the exception of meeting Princess Aurora at Disney, whom I was named after. It was something I never had to deal with growing up, and it happens rarely, but when it does, I seethe. =D

      • I’m the same way with Valerie. It’s not so uncommon that people don’t know it, but I never had to deal with another one in my school, and I loved that. I have a “You stole my name! Go pick another name!” reaction whenever I see another Valerie.

  3. We are expecting a baby in a few weeks. if it’s a girl she’ll be named Emmalyn Dahlia. Everyone I’ve told that to so far has needed me to repeat it at least 3 times. We figure if it bugs her when she’s older, she can introduce herself as Emma.

    If it’s a boy, he’ll be Jasper Corbitt. Jasper is from my family and Corbit from my husbands, and they both go back 3 or 4 generations. I didn’t think it was strange, but the Corbitt has gotten some odd looks.

  4. My boyfriend and I named out daughter Dexee (was going to be Dexter is the baby was a boy, but we had a girl and weren’t too keen on Dextra so Dexee it was). I actually got a nasty anonymous message telling me that her name was going to f*** her up, that people would have to ask her to pronounce it her entire life and that she would be the laughing stock of her school! I was like…Whaaaaaat??? We live outside of D.C….huge melting pot…I have a friend named Nazia…and other than accidentally calling her Dixie, how many ways are there to pronounce D-E-X-E-E. Well that turned into a rant. Anyway, people are funny. Offbeat names are awesome!

  5. I’m also a Jennifer an wanted something different for my kids. So I now have a Josephine Alexandria Anne (nickname Jo) and a Henrietta Elizabeth Pearl (nickname Henetta; cause thats how her 2 year old sister says it). The middle names are fairly common- but are after family members an the first names are hopefully somewhat original, so they at least don’t have 5 or 6 with the same name in their class anyway.

  6. I had an usual name thats now become quite popular… Except I was named after my grandfather. And it was spelt “Alana”, and pronounced uh-lar-nuh, everyone wanted to spell it Allannah and pronounce it ah-lah-nah. Then there was being called Banana… And my last name WAS terrible. Lets just say that I was once told my first name should have been Headeth so that I would be listed in the school directory as dick head.

    The second I turned 18 I changed my name. I still have to correct people on how to spell and pronounce it, but I finally feel like my name is MY NAME, rather than what people call me. And I get told a lot what a lovely name it is :3

    Theres really no predicting how a name will turn out. Worst comes to worst, the kid changes their name, and hey, maybe youll find out that it suits them perfectly! My mother was sad that I was changing my name but she agrees that my new name is vastly more me than Alana ever was.

    (I also changed my middle name to her maiden name, and chose a whole new surname for myself. It gets a bit confusing to explain that my parents and I all have different names, but MY name is perfect for me now and I love it. )

    • I’ve mentioned this on another name post, and I’ll mention it again: I have a very unique name, which I love. My sister has a very unique name, which she hates, and her daughter has a very plain name, which she hates and plans on changing. I knew a girl in college who, when she was a child, was so upset over her birth name that her mother legally changed it when she was seven. There’s really no way to predict how your child is going to react to their name, whether it’s normal or offbeat.

  7. I had an usual name thats now become quite popular… Except I was named after my grandfather. And it was spelt “Alana”, and pronounced uh-lar-nuh, everyone wanted to spell it Allannah and pronounce it ah-lah-nah. Then there was being called Banana… And my last name WAS terrible. Lets just say that I was once told my first name should have been Headeth so that I would be listed in the school directory as dick head.

    The second I turned 18 I changed my name. I still have to correct people on how to spell and pronounce it, but I finally feel like my name is MY NAME, rather than what people call me. And I get told a lot what a lovely name it is :3

    Theres really no predicting how a name will turn out. Worst comes to worst, the kid changes their name, and hey, maybe youll find out that it suits them perfectly! My mother was sad that I was changing my name but she agrees that my new name is vastly more me than Alana ever was.

  8. as a person who has a very unusual name, “ambra” which is very uncommon in america. I hated having this name as a child. i’ve gotten used to it as an adult but it sucks not having anyone ever pronounce your name right. even worse was my maiden last name, which i won’t divulge here, but it’s very long and french. my family pronounces it untraditionally, so no one ever stood a chance at pronouncing it right on the first try. I will tell you, with some embarrassment, that I did not know how to spell my last name until i was about nine. just some things to think about.

    I really don’t enjoy having a name that no one has ever heard. everyone grows into their name, but I would really think about all these things. as a child, my name was a great source of insecurity

  9. Even simple last names pose problems. My last name is New, a bonafide real word in the English language and I’m constantly spelling it for people. It’s just too simple.

      • My last name is the word “English” and people ask if it’s with an “I” – so strange. It’s also confusing when traveling.

    • My last name used to be Hill. And I had to spell it every single time. I also have a really common first name, which I also always had to spell. Its less annoying to have to spell your last name for people when it is actually hard to spell!

      • I agree… sort of. My maiden name is pretty unusual, so I would say it, then spell it. Then launch into a five minute conversation because the person would say “that’s odd, how do you pronounce that?” And even with a concise explanation, people would still be unable to pronounce it, all the while I’m trying to steer them back to business… man, I’ve wasted so much time explaining how to pronounce that name.

  10. I’ve got an very unique first name, one that’s so rare and so easily identifies me that I must use a pseudonym on the internet if I have any hope of anonymity. I know exactly one other person with my name, and that’s the person I was named after. Do people mispronounce or misspell my name? Sure. Do I care? Nope.

    I also happen to work in a school. I see kids with all sorts of names every single day. We’ve got a diverse group of kids. Some have names traditional to their ethnic group which are rare in the US. Others have typical names but with weird spellings. There are kids who have words for names.

    You know what I’ve learned? People care and they don’t. When you first here your friend is name his newborn girl “Ever” or that your sister has picked “Camdyn” for a boy you may think that’s silly. But if that same “Ever” or “Camdyn” is your friend, coworker, or relative that’s just their name. You don’t judge your friends about their names, so why judge them about their kids’ names?

  11. I have an unusual name that is really well known and heard but not used. What to know what it is? Tabitha. Only now there seems to be more and more Tabithas around but growing up I was the only one except for the girl in bewitched (and i’ve still not actually met another, but some friends know another). I get called Tab by everyone though.

    When it came time to name my son, I tried to follow the same rule – Unusual but Not. So he got Griffin, which is not that common as a first name in australia but seen around as a last name or company/street etc.

    Edited to add: He gets called Griff by everyone (a nice easy nickname was part of the name criteria since my nickname has become my name in a way)

  12. I don’t like my first name, not because it’s so common, but because of my abusive mother. I can’t hear it without thinking that I’m in trouble, so everyone just refers to me as ‘Mish’, ‘Mishi’ or ‘Mishka’. My partner tends to go by the nickname his late cousin gave him when they were kids, it’s even his gamer tag.
    We named our daughters after female characters that we like and gave them fairly normal middle names just in case. Our eldest is Jadzia (ST:DS9) and our youngest is Kaylee (Firefly/Serenity). Their names suit them and their personalities, which is exactly what we wanted.

    The only problems that we’ve had are mispronuniciations (mainly as Jezeniah or Jaziah and Kylie), but the girls aren’t bothered by them. They just smile and say their names again.

  13. I have the unusual first name of Tunuviel. I had my share of teasing as a kid but never about my name. I always like the way my name segment apart. The biggest bummer when I was young was never being able to buy the “personalized” things in the store.
    Since I’m named after a Tolkien character but am not a Tolkien fan the only really irritating thing is getting trapped in countless conversations with hardcore Tolkien geeks who want to tell me all about my namesake and all the other characters associated with her.
    I’m a drama teacher now and my students always call me by my first name and never bat an eyelash.

  14. Surprised there are no “Megan”s yet. There were 6 in my kindergarten class. I’ve switched to Meg because there seems to be less. I’m giving up my last name, White, and I wish I could give it to my child as a middle name, but I’ve always struggled with it sounding racist. At the park, etc, it’s always sounded wrong shouting “where are the white kids at?” and “time to go, white kids!”

    also, yes, I go by Meg White. no, I cannot drum. but on the plus side, you can’t find me on google. 🙂

  15. We had similar issues with names when deciding what my youngest should be named. We had a girl name picked out, Elodie, and my husband let the name slip at a company party only to be berated by some random chick about how he shouldn’t consider naming our child a name that is similar to a more popular name. He came home with doubts about our awesome name and I told him that EVERY name is annoying. His name is Nick and I asked him how many times he has been asked to repeat his name or have it misspelled. All the time. And the whole nickname thing is lame. My name is Marissa and there is no legit nickname. I’ve had some people try to shorten it to Mar, Mari, Issa, Mariss…. but all were forced. We ended up having a boy and we picked his name after my water broke and we were at the hospital. His name is Ivan Ferris. Ivan was our winner on our geeky spreadsheet voting thing and Ferris is from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… hubby’s fave movie.

    My older son is Mateo Archer. I picked Mateo from a baby name book and it turns out that my great-great grandfather was named Timateo. AND if he hates it later, he can go by Matt… no biggie. His middle name is Archer because he is a Sagittarius. I’m not into astrology, but he was 2 days old with no middle name and it sounded awesome and I love it. Today he is a kindergartener and a handful of kids have trouble saying his name or they call him Matato or Tomato or Potato, but he doesn’t really care. He likes his name. 🙂

  16. I grew up surrounded by forest, pitchulli, aurora, hopi, echo, neon, and sisters named maryjane and poppy.
    My name is Anna. Plane jane name, extrordinary life and personality, just saying.

  17. As someone who has both an unusual first name (for where I am at least) and a very hard to spell/pronounce last name I can say it can actually be pretty hard for a kid. My first name is Sheena, and while this seems pretty straight forward I spent my young life clarifying my name.( I still do in fact, I have picked up using the phrase “As in Sheena of the Jungle, or Sheena Easton, or Sheena is a Punk Rocker” but that is neither here nor there.) Combine constantly having to tell people that no, my name is not Gina, or Tina, and does not shorten to Sheeny, with a horrifically French last name with two silent S’s and as an introverted, kinda quiet child… I Hated it. I wanted so badly to be named something easier. Now that I am older I love my name. My name is totally awesome. But I suppose a thought to keep in mind that while we are naming our children, it is the kids that will have to bear the brunt of matters, not us. And while the teasing really does seem to be a bit of a myth, the problems that can accompany a unique name are a possibility.

    • While I can understand your point, I think there’s only so much we can try to predict about our kids. How were my parents to know that by giving me one of the most popular names of the decade that they would be condemning me to feel unoriginal? How were they to know that despite how very ordinary a name it was, other kids would still find a way to morph it into an insult? True, a child with an unsual name could grow to resent it like you did. Or it could be a huge source of pride for them. There’s no way to know so a parent simply has to make the judgement call. That being said I don’t think the odds of giving your kid a name they will love are any higher if you choose a more “normal” name.

      Oh and if it makes you feel any better, I have named Sheenagh. Same pronunciation as Sheena. See, could be worse 🙂

  18. Both our kids will have to spend time spelling out their names if for no other reason than my husband’s surname seems to be hard for people to spell (although it seems pretty obvious how to spell it to me!). And our son definitely… his first name is after a Lithuanian great-grandfather, and as far as we know, no one else ever had this name, and his middle name is after another great-grandfather, this time Hungarian. But we just call him Ziggy. 🙂

  19. As a super hippie my dad fought hard to name me Storm, my mom said no way lets name her Courtney. She seriously regrets that choice to this day! Apparently Storm would have fit my childhood attitude perfectly. She is now totally on board with the names picked out for upcoming baby. Hendrix for a boy, or Jona Marley for a girl (short for Jonathan, not pronounced Jonah). Not sure if Jona Marley will be first name or first and middle…

  20. My doctor phoned to give me blood test results- of tests I didn’t have done, one being a positive pregnancy test- Another Lauren with the same last name at the same surgery. I must say I have enjoyed buying odd items with my name on it: key chains, toothbrushes and such but a slightly more unique name would be better

  21. I grew up with a fairly unusual name for the time, Alexia . But when I got to the sixth grade there was another girl in my class named Alexia. So to cut down on confusion I always went be my nickname Ali. There are some friends and even relatives that only know me as Ali. When I grew up and started working I went back to calling myself Alexia. So when I met my husband he knew me as Alexia and refuses to call me Ali. I think unique names are a gift. They give character and flavor to those who are gifted with them. I have two daughters now with very unique names, ones you won’t find in baby books and are hard pressed to find the meaning of – Cedella and Isora. Cedella can’t quite say her name yet so she calls herself Ella. Isora is just a couple months old but so far we call her either Izzie or Zorie. When they are old enough to ask I will tell them why we gave them these names and hope that they love them. If not they can go by their middle names Michelle and Rose.

  22. We decided to name our son Cailan, we’re both big gamer nuts and loved the name when we heard it (Dragon Age: Origins, though watching King Cailan get all smushed is a little sad now). Plus it’s apparently Gaelic, which my Irish boyfriend loves.

    But oh man, have we gotten crap for it. It’s WAY TOO GIRLY. Because every “unisex” name eventually turns into a girl’s name only.

  23. My formal name is Elizabeth, but I’ve always been Betsy. My parents decided on that one before I was born. My grandma thought I should be Beth and gave us things that said “Beth” on them, but my parents held strong, and I’m glad. I had a lot of “Betsy Wetsy” as a kid, especially from my brother. Now the only problem is people don’t hear me right and call me Becky all the time. But other than that I love my name and almost never come across other people named Betsy. I like that it’s unusual, but easy to pronounce and spell and sounds (to me anyway) a bit old fashioned and domestic. I’ve been told it fits me very well.

    • I’m Becky and I get Betsy all the time! I even get called Betty a surprising amount… and tell me, how many 20-something Bettys do you know?

  24. I LOVE my weird name! I’m Miacoda (my-a-co-da) and my middle name is White fawn. It leads to a lot of funny conversations when i meet new people. lol I also convinced my husband weird names are great so our daughter is Sohaleia Elm. 🙂

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