Let’s stop being judgmental about what other people call their kids

Photography: Jenna Young

By Lauren Keenan of Modern Mothercraft

Imagine a world where people who liked chocolate ice-cream assumed those who preferred strawberry were more likely to be criminals.  A world where people who liked mint were considered more likely to fail at school, but pistachio made you lawyer material. No? That sounds silly, right? Most of us simply accept that different people have different tastes, and move on. Why, then, do we throw judgment like that around when it comes to naming our children?

I used to have so many secret judgmental thoughts about what other people called their kids, I’m lucky the judgey-pants didn’t give me a permanent wedgie.

“You called them what?” I’d think.

“You used what spelling? Isn’t that far too modern/trendy/weird/popular/boring? What are you thinking?”

At some point, though, it dawned on me that I was at the receiving end of as much judgment as I dished out. My daughter has a top-10 name often considered ‘too popular’. Worse still: a name that is ‘common’, as if we are a family of medieval noble-folk seeking to distinguish ourselves from the common peasant farmers from yonder fields. In contrast, my son’s name is so unusual 95% of people we meet have never heard it before. If I’m to believe everything people say on the subject, my daughter will go through life resenting that she is one of a dozen girls in her year with her name, and my son will never get job interviews. Apparently I’ve also committed a cardinal sin by using both alliteration and a middle name that is technically a “nickname” rather than a “real name”. I realised that I was the judgee as much as the judge, saw how ridiculous it all was, and decided to discard my judgey-pants for good.

Since seeing the light and reforming my judgmental ways, I’ve become even more aware of how mean some people can be about names. When we judge other people’s naming choices, what we’re really saying is “everyone should be like me”. Or, we see other, different naming choices as some sort of criticism of our own decisions. Which is silly. If you like strawberry ice-cream and I like chocolate, it isn’t personal. It just means we have different tastes.

There are also nasty undercurrents to the judgment that are often thinly-veiled racism or class-ism. If someone thinks non-English names sound ‘weird’ and other names sound ‘poor’, that’s saying more about them than the kid with the name. I don’t deny that some studies show certain names are more likely to lead to certain life outcomes, or that having a CopKillaz and a Princess Posey Face will possibly hurt their career prospects. But, these names are outliers. Naming your daughter Tallulah Does the Hula from Hawaii isn’t the same as naming your child something starting with ‘k’. Besides, there are a myriad of things which predict a child’s outcomes: a child’s primary attachments, parental marital status and education levels, number of siblings, number of books read to the child to name a few. In the complex quagmire that is child development, a child’s name is only one small part of what may or may not determine what sort of adult they become.

When we meet new adults, unless a name is particularly unusual we don’t give much thought to their names. It’s not like, when introduced to a Marlene, my first thought is “I don’t think we can be friends, because I know what all Marlenes are like. That’s a naughty name. If your name was Magda on the other hand, I’d totally give you the time of day. That’s a good name for a lawyer or doctor.”

Why, then, do we make these judgments about children? All children are different, and have many different facets to their personalities and identities. It’s unfair to make a set of assumptions about a person based on a few syllables, and we adults ought to take the lead here. So, let’s stop the judgment, and respect other people’s naming decisions a little bit more. Or, at the very least, be more consistent with the judgment and start getting into a tizzy about people who chose a different flavour of ice cream to you.

Lauren is a Wellington mother of two. She blogs at Modern Mothercraft, where she applies a 1945 handbook on motherhood to parenting in the modern day, as well as writing about other topical issues.

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