Children’s Names

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Elon Musk and wife Claire Boucher – you called your child what??? Maybe they were drugged when they had the christening since their baby boy is named X Æ A-12. Claire Boucher thankfully broke down the eccentric moniker for fans and explained its meaning down to the last letter.

Apparently, "X" stands for "the unknown variable." Meanwhile, "Æ" is the Elven spelling of AI, which is shorthand for artificial intelligence and translates to "love" in several languages, such as Japanese. The 32-year-old star then shared that a part of her son's name is a reference to the couple's favourite aircraft. "A-12 = precursor to SR-17 (our favourite aircraft). No weapons, no defences, just speed. Great in battle, but non-violent," she added.

Well thank heavens she explained that because it will make calling the child’s name in class that much easier! Has anyone thought of the impact on the child when he is older? 

Many years ago in our children’s philosophy class, we used to discuss whether names gave rise to the emergence of personalities. One question asked the children to discuss who would be the smarter of the two girls in an imaginary class - Judith or Bamby. Without exception, every child who, over the years was asked this question, said that Judith would be smarter. One can only imagine the impact this would have on the self-concept of a ‘Bamby’ who was perceived by his or her peers to be less smart because of her name. The children’s philosophy class focussed on how names can shape who we are and who we become. The kids (probably rightly) used to suggest that the imaginary Bamby would be treated differently by most people as they would perceive her as less smart. This would flow into unconscious bias and lead to fewer opportunities etc. 

I met my new neighbour in November and their children. The child’s name was Orgi. (That’s with a hard ‘g’). Obviously, the kid may get called Orcs (the fictional humanoid characters from Lord of the Rings) or more likely ‘Orgy’. How will this play out for him as he grows up? A colleague teaches a child named Banjo and let’s not forget the ‘celebrities’ kids’ names - Camera; Muziq; Moxie; Ocean etc etc. Some governments even ban names. (The NZ government was relaxed about the name ‘Number 16 Bus Shelter’ but drew the line at ‘Yeah Detroit’. I am still imagining a teacher marking the class register or asking: “Number 16 Bus Shelter - have you done your homework?”

Many studies have been done on the effects of people with unusual names. In one study, men with unusual names were more likely to have failed higher study or to have exhibited symptoms of psychological neurosis than those with more common names. The Mikes were adjusted, but the Berriens were having trouble. A rare name, the professors surmised, had a negative psychological effect on its bearer.

Generally, the names given to children express the desires and showiness of the parent. A child born has no say in the name she inherits and yet, it can shape her existence profoundly.

Maria Konnikova in an article in The New Yorker tells us that ‘researchers have continued to study the effects of names, and, in the decades after a seminal 1948 study, similar findings have been widely reproduced. Some recent research suggests that names can influence choice of profession, where we live, whom we marry, the grades we earn, the stocks we invest in, whether we’re accepted to a school or are hired for a particular job, and the quality of our work in a group setting.

Our names can even determine whether we give money to disaster victims: if we share an initial with the name of a hurricane, according to one study, we are far more likely to donate to relief funds after it hits. There has been a few studies done which de-emphasise the relationship between a name and one’s character but generally, it is recognised that our names send signals about who we are and where we come from. 

Authors Ephrat Livni & Cassie Werber (August 10, 2017) wrote an interesting article in Quartz magazine titled: ‘The name you’re given as a child might affect the shape of your face’. 

The US fictitious resume study is a case in point where ‘black-sounding’ names compared to ‘white-sounding’ names were less likely to get a call back once they submitted their resume. Similarly, in Sweden, immigrants who changed their ethnic name origin to a Swedish-sounding name were more likely earn substantially more money. This is a controversial area of research and quite debatable, but I can’t help feeling that our names truly matter. Some names seem to be no more than jumbled Scrabble letters whilst others are rich in epistemological/anthroponomastical meaning. 

Suffice to say, I am glad we all work in a Jewish school where names are inclined to be ‘normal’ or at least not Elon Musk outrageous. 

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