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. I think that Ophelia is a lovely name. For our daughter her father and I agreed on Cordelia for her first name and Loretta for her middle name. I though long and hard about her name and the order of her initials in her full name and how kids could tease her or harass her in school since I know kids can be punks. Her middle name is after her father’s grandmother whom he was really close to and her first name I got from Buffy The Vampire Slayer it was that or Drusilla but her father didn’t want Drusilla, but I also knew that it was the name of the youngest daughter of King Lear from the play by William Shakespeare, her Auntie gave her the copy of the story.

  2. I have an VERY unusual name as in, probably only one in the country. I got teased mercilessly and besides that it is very difficult for most Americans to pronounce. And you know what, I hate absolutely hate it. If it weren’t so much trouble I would probably change it. I think it is great to give your child a unique name but just because YOU LOVE their name as a parent, don’t assume they will. And don’t be offended if they decide to choose another name or nickname. No, I am not ashamed of who I am or my parents or what they chose to call me but I hate my name. And I am okay with that.

  3. I love my kids’ names, my only regret was not going a little more wild with the older ones! Fiona, Alister, and Killian are always the only ones with their names in the entire school but maybe two people ever have called their names “weird.” All three have very common middle names after family members.

    My youngest is Annora (which was supposed to be Alister’s name 13 years earlier.) His middle name would have been Skye but hers is Morrigan (we considered it as a first but it’s too close to Morgan.)
    I wanted to give her at least two middle names but while I picked the names Dad did not want any “extra” names. I would have liked to use Rowen or Bronwyn as well!

  4. I got Emerald, and my younger sister ended up with Tieryn. Now my last name (married) is White. So I have quite the colourful name. 😀 My husband and I joked about naming our kids Snow, Egg, Ivory, etc but when the time comes we’ll probably pick something that means something to us.

  5. My niece will be Iliana Marie Mackenzie Last name.
    Her grandmother insisted on Iliana Marie, but I think her parents just wanted Mackenzie in there for some reason. It’s a beautiful name, but a mouthful.

    I am not pregnant, and I don’t have plans to become so, but I plan to give my future children easy to pronounce, but not so common names. I love Henry for a boy and Saley for a girl. They could change between now and by the time I do decide I want to be a mother, but I want to stick with those two naming rules. Easy to pronounce, uncommon but not unheard of.

  6. My parents gave me an offbeat name. I hate it and always have, and as an adult I’ve given it up in favor of something people can pronounce. Yes, a lot of people have unusual names–and all of those people have to deal, every day, with other people’s ignorance. For me, it’s unacceptably exhausting to have to spell my name four times every time I meet someone, and answer a million invasive questions about why I have that name.

    I resent my parent’s decision and I am angry at them for prioritizing what I see as a selfish desire to be interesting over my future quality of life. Your child might love their name, and it might be no problem for them, but please don’t take these concerns lightly. At least give them the option of an easy nickname.

    • I think there are always two sides to everything. I have a ridiculously common and easy name (Kathryn) and I hate it, always have. I won’t change mine only because my parents would freak out. Over the years I’ve had to change my nickname 4 times so that I wasn’t called the same thing as someone else (down to the same middle name and last initial). Because my Kathryn is spelled in a slightly unusual way, I’ve had to spell it my whole life as well (my family doesn’t even spell it right sometimes :-)).

      I do agree with you on the nickname thing, I’ve gone through Kathryn, Katy, Kate, K, K., Kay and finally Kae in my 22 years.

      My almost husband and I are looking at recognizable but uncommon names for when we have kids with lots of nickname options so no one feels trapped with an awful name!

      • But I doubt nobody has ever asked a Kathryn about their family’s ethnicity, what state you’re from, if your name is made up, if it’s from a book, or a movie, or…yeah. It’s the well-meaning but personally intrusive questions that bother me the most.

        That, and people cannot pronounce my name. Their mouth contorts and they look embarrassed and helpless, and I feel bad for them. Like, every singe person I meet. No Kathryn ever has to feel bad for someone else who can’t spell their name.

        It’s just a socially humiliating experience. Not saying it’s that way for everyone, but it can be.

  7. Ophelia is beautiful and classic, though unique. We have a book about names called something like “The first gift.” My son’s name is Mordechai. We thought about nicknames, but now he’s 5.5 and nothing stuck. However, in our circles, while not common, it’s not really unique either. My older daughter’s name, Adele is much more unusual. It means a lot to me that I gave my older to kids names with strong meanings and family significance.

  8. We wanted to name our daughter Jinx but i was so nervous she would be made fun of but my husband and i both love the name and we are deff going to use it on our next girl or boy.. 😀

  9. My name is Alixandria. My family and friends called me Alix, when I wrote my name it was just Alix. In 3rd grade the class was to go up to the board and write our entire names in cursive. I replied I honestly did not know how to spell my entire 10-letter name. The teacher argued with me and the class laughed. I cried. You can put the blame on whoever you want, but at the end of the day I remember being mortified this many years later.

    So no, I will not be giving my child a “different” name. That day has left me a bit scarred.

  10. I had to talk my hubby into our daughter’s name: Ellorah. He’s not real big into “offbeat” names, but I love them. I hated being one of five Danielles in math class.

  11. Although my name is not THAT unusual, its fairly uncommon. There was still another Kathleen in my highschool class though! I have 2 middle names and a surname that is really uncommon and rhymed with ‘Audrey’, so kids made an ‘orgy’ connection and it went from there. I was the only person to ever have my name, and loved that aspect of it, but was more than happy to change my surname once I married. My grandfather is very well-known in the circles that we move in and I was forever getting ‘oh, you must be so and so’s kid’ and having assumptions made of me. I was ready to move on.

    My fairly on-beat husband and I named our daughter Aurora Eowyn. My husband loved Rory but I wanted a name that was a little more adaptable, and Eowyn is for my father Owen and I am also a giant nerd. I wanted Eowyn as the first name, but that was shot down. My father’s ‘grandfather’ name is Obi, which a lot of people think is weird, but I think is AWESOME. I’m hoping to weave a Stargate reference into our next kids name. If I manage that, I will be happy!

  12. My best friend went by a nickname and had her mother’s maiden name as a second middle name. She LOVED to show off rattling off the whole thing for others: “Sasha Alexandra H_____ C_____ G_____!” She was also the best speller in our class. Sure she was a bit of an outcast as a kid, but I highly doubt that was her name, and now she’s successfully working in middle-eastern affairs somewhere in Washington DC.

    As for me, I’ve lived my whole life having to correct people in spelling my name, even if they see it written one line above where they’re writing/typing it (You’d be surprised how ingrained “habits” of common name spellings are in society), all because my parents thought it’d be easier to spell without the silent “h” on the end. Instead of hating my name and living with a lifelong frustration, I embrace my offbeat name spelling and it’s honestly become a point of pride for me. It’s taught me to pay more attention to the spelling and pronunciation of other uncommon names, and I’ve even found myself bonding with others with uncommon names.

    When I have children of my own I fully intend to give them uncommon names or spellings because of what I’ve gotten out of my uncommon spelling. I trust they will make the most of their names as I have with mine. Besides, the only reason a kid would dislike their name is if someone in their life influenced them to have a problem with their name, and if their parents (the primary influence in most kids’ young lives) don’t like the names they’ve given their children, let’s face it there are much bigger problems to deal with.

  13. Having a really unusual first name is a huge drag. It has never been cool or fun or anything. I always felt like a weirdo, no one can spell it, everyone wants the ‘story’ with it. It’s stupid. Give your kids nice, dignified names and be done with it.

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