Baby Names That Are Too Much To Live Up To
I was looking this morning through the list of baby names that have entered the US Top 1000 since the turn of the decade — more, much more, on that later — and I was struck by how many of them overstate the case.
In early editions of our first book Beyond Jennifer & Jason, we included a list called Names That Are Too Much, or Not Enough, To Live Up To. Then somewhere along the way, we dropped it. But clearly it’s time to bring it back.
Listen, there’s something sweet about giving your child a name to live up to — a name that carries a positive image, that conveys a quality they can aspire to, that references a person they can be proud to be associated with.
But there’s a point where a name seems to seems to protest too much, as in the case of Precious. If not in toddlerhood then in adolescence, a child named Romeo may feel overwhelmed by impossible pressure to be a romantic superhero, and Patience may become determined to show you how thoroughly she refuses to live up to her name.
Names we are hearing today that may prove too much to live up to include:
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on February 5th, 2013 at 1:14 am
I adore Atlas. It’s been a fixture in my top 10 for ages. While I’m probably in the minority, I love the connection to the word “atlas” as in “map” — I love the connotations of travel, knowledge, and curiosity as well as strength. And hey, if we’re willing to wave away truly unfortunate name meanings (Cecilia anyone?) then I think we can also take the exaggeratedly exalted with a grain of salt.
That said, I think parents considering a “too much to live up to” name have to consider the irony factor, which seems like a more relevant danger when it comes to virtue names. Sure, someone who knows the mythology behind the name Atlas might get a giggle if the kid turns out to be a dweeb, but anyone can appreciate the hilarity of a kid named Merry throwing a temper tantrum in the toy store, or little Truth lying about who stole the last cookie. Names like Journey, Arcadia, and Venus don’t have much irony value at all (though the first might have associations for people my age with that godawful band — argh, now I have “Midnight Train” stuck in my head!), and actually seem far more usable to me than Fortune, Temperance, and Patience (the irony potential is strong with these three).
on February 5th, 2013 at 1:19 am
I know a sweet little Tripp, not a name I would choose but he wears it well with his very easy going personality. 🙂
on February 5th, 2013 at 1:37 am
Atlas, Bliss, and Serenity aren’t so bad. Atlas is a great name for a couple who love to travel, and Bliss could be a beautiful name for the daughter of a couple who had a difficult time conceiving a child. Serenity is also not a far stretch from the more common name Serena, so I don’t think that name would be much of a problem either.
Arcadia is really cool, though it would be more suited for a celebrity baby name rather than the daughter of a banker, even with the more conservative nickname of Cadie.
on February 5th, 2013 at 2:11 am
While I agree on some of those names, I love several of them and wouldn’t have a problem using them. Patience, Temperance, and Wilder all seem doable to me. And while Journey, Arcadia, Atlas, Harmony, and Trip might not be my cup of tea, I think they’re wearable.
on February 5th, 2013 at 2:13 am
Also, I know a kid named Justice, and he wears it well.
on February 5th, 2013 at 4:33 am
Why’s Arcadia and Halcyon on that list? They’re beautiful wearable names in my opinion.
on February 5th, 2013 at 4:40 am
I think Chastity should be added to the list. I knew of a girl with this name and still can’t understand why anyone would name a child this.
on February 5th, 2013 at 6:55 am
I know a baby Atlas and a 7 year old Halcyon. Both names are completely wearable.
on February 5th, 2013 at 6:55 am
I think this is such an interesting list! Like I’ve said, I work in schools….and I have encountered many of these names on young African American children. Once you can associate the name with a child you know, it fits…..it doesn’t seem too big any more.
I have met a boy named Sincere, and it was just perfect on him. I have also met girls named Heaven, Miracle (TONS of variations of this!), Destiny (Again, TONS of variations), and a Journey.
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:25 am
My husband feels the same about the name Magnus – just too much name to live up to. I don’t agree.
We know a 7 year old Zen and he just suits his name – I have grown to really love his name, even though I’m almost never a fan of virtue names, or names that indicate a certain physicality.
Grace – I know three and none are particularly graceful in that slight, princessy way. They are all tomboys who love to rumble and play hard! I love them but find their name at odds with who they are.
Willow – well I love this name, but it lends itself to a slim physique
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:57 am
This is true with a lot of virtue names, especially ones with religious connotations like Faith. I was looking through old yearbooks and there was a boy named Messiah, which I think is up there with Precious and Legend. Was his sister Hallelujah?
Rebel and Noble should also be up there. I agree that Chastity should be on it, too. Chance is also a name that seems like a dog’s name and is too much for a kid to have. And while I love Story and Fable, it would be ironic if they hated reading.
Many Puritan virtue names are too much to live up to. Mercy, Pleasant, Prudence, Modesty, Fidelity, Obedience, Promise…
Some of the ironic factor is good in stories, though. Clarity has a speech problem, Chastity is the opposite of her name, Remember can’t remember anything, and Rebel is the sweetest kid on the block.
on February 5th, 2013 at 8:31 am
A couple of those, MAYBE – but I fail to see how giving inspiration (or maybe aspirations?) is a bad thing or too much to live up to? I don’t think people use these names because they expect their child to become “legendary” or live a life of “temperance” – they are nice sentiments that the child can pull inspiration from as they older. Yes, some of them are over the top – and some of them are just plain bad – but things like Harmony, Glory, Bliss, and Patience have been used in one form or another for a long time. (Why is Glory too much but Gloria would be ok?)
on February 5th, 2013 at 8:43 am
You’re all right, of course, and there’s a big range in these names — Arcadia, Patience, Justice are much more wearable choices than Messiah or Miracle. Yet all these names do place an expectation on a child that he or she may rise to meet, or rebel against, or find too weighty.
on February 5th, 2013 at 8:57 am
Is Trip/Tripp popular as a given name? I know several people called Trip and in each case the person is actually named something like Robert Earl Swenson III. The Trip is shorthand for triple.
on February 5th, 2013 at 9:37 am
There are a few names on this list I don’t agree with being to weighty: Serenity, Atlas, Temperence, Arcadia, Bliss, Romeo and etc. My daughter was still born and we named her Serenity because she will always be at peace. It is a name we considered using before we lost her. I sometimes joked that we would have a daughter named Serenity and she will turn out to be a hyper-active brat. I realized that there are some names that might not match a person’s personality, but ultimately a person makes the name. You could still have a little boy named Atlas who is small and quiet, but who will have other strengths. A lot of commonly used names aspire to great things. They might not seem as weighty because they aren’t word names or virtue names, but they are still weighty. Ultimately, a person makes their name, the name doesn’t make them. I will admit though that most of these names on this list I would never use such as Messiah, Legend, Fortune, Prince and etc.
on February 5th, 2013 at 10:02 am
I like a few of these, Halcyon is a guilty pleasure for me. But I like Patience and Wilder. Both as middle names honestly, but they just sound nice! I am leaning toward “pay” names, ie Payton. I guess I just like the sound more than the meaning. And Wilder… it feels like such a surname to me – which I like – and less like an expectation. But now that you bring it up I can kinda see an expectation. A little bit <3
Even though I don't love it, I imagine Atlas could be such a cool boys name! I suppose he could be a strong Atlas, but I can really imagine a smart, geeky Atlas more so. So cute <3
I feel like these ones are too much of an expectation though: Fortune, Infinity, Karma, Legend, Messiah, Miracle, Obedience, Princeton, Romeo, Sincere, Star, Temperance, Treasure, Trust, Truth
I feel like Bliss, Destiny, Glory, Harmony, Heaven, Journey, Justice, King, Merry, Prince, and Serentity are becoming more mainstream – or already are.
Trip(p) / Venus seem like awkward names.. like Trip might be a clutz and that would be embarrassing. And Venus makes me think of ladies shave products :/
Zen could be kinda cool 🙂
on February 5th, 2013 at 10:16 am
King is one of my favorite names! Though, I can see how it could be a burden.
on February 5th, 2013 at 11:34 am
How about Moses or Jesús?
on February 5th, 2013 at 11:36 am
I also know of brothers named Righteous
and Destined (his middle name One..no joke)
author in writing Said
on February 5th, 2013 at 12:59 pm
I think Arcadia is brilliant and Halcyon is one of my favorite names, so I’ll have to disagree with you there. I think virtue names: Tempereance, Constance, Justice, are streamlined enough to be gotten away with today while Legend, Messiah and the like are too much.
on February 5th, 2013 at 4:52 pm
Atlas tops my boy list, so I disagree.
on February 5th, 2013 at 5:40 pm
Perhaps Angel? Certainly it’s open to irony!
on February 5th, 2013 at 5:56 pm
Arcadia and Halcyon are two of my favorites! Most of these names are nms but the majority are wearable, despite the possibility of irony. I think that a lot of hero names like Atticus or Monroe could fit in here because it would be -almost as unfortunate if Atticus was an unintelligent coward as it would be if patience could never wait or chastity was promiscuous.
on February 5th, 2013 at 6:54 pm
I work in a school and we’ve had students named Precious, Destiny, Journey, Serenity, and (my favorite) Messiah. Also lots of Angels 🙂 Out of all of them, I think Destiny is the most name-like. I don’t see how that or Journey is too much to live up to. Not all destinies or journeys are things to brag about!
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:11 pm
I think that some of the names on the list are stretches for the “to much to live up to” category. If you add Arcadia (Greek = region offering peace and contentment) shouldn’t you also be adding Irene (Greek = peace) to that list? I agree with names like Precious and Romeo but shouldn’t you also include Angelica, Duke, Jesus, and Ophelia? (Some of which are also on my favorites list as a few of you know).
Honestly though, not one of your better blogs.
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:13 pm
There’s a movie where the main character’s name is Handsome. It worked (for me at least!) in the movie but would anyone use it in real life?
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:29 pm
I really like Atlas and Wilder, and Journey is a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t think any of them are too much to live up to.
I know a boy named Noble, and he’s never felt any pressure to “live up to” his name, as far as I know. My name means pure, and I’ve never felt any pressure to live up to it either, nor guilt for probably not suiting that definition to a tee.
Names like Princess, Precious, Messiah, Jermajesty, et c. I agree with. Also something like Romeo/Casanova would be unfortunate for the geeky boy who can’t get a girlfriend, but I think many of the names on this list are usable.
on February 5th, 2013 at 7:38 pm
I actually have a friend named Harmony and she wears it well. She does get a few weird glances now and then when people hear her name though.
on February 5th, 2013 at 9:07 pm
I love virtue names so I would use a lot of these at least for mn.
Also the name Hero seems a bit much to me even though it has the familiar Shakespearean play on it’s side.
on February 5th, 2013 at 10:17 pm
I don’t think the names listed in this post are any more grandiose, or any more difficult to live up to (and many in fact seem more reasonable) than, say, Grace, Verity, Joy, Felicity, Constance, Mercy, Blythe, Clemency, Faith, Chastity, Amity, Aria, Gaia, Haven, Bella, Charity, Poet, Phoenix, Story, Blaze, Maximus, Odin, Nehemiah, Beckham, Solomon, Atticus, or Orion.
There’s one big difference between those two lists of names.
Serenity’s ‘too much’, and on this list. Grace, apparently, is an acceptable name, despite also being quite a lot to live up to and certainly something that can be unintentionally ironic for the bearer. Both are in the top 100 names for the whole US. Serenity also happens to be in the Top 10 for Black girls born in NYC in 2011.
“Too Much” is definitely a judgement call, and probably a fair one in the case of a number of surprisingly popular names. The problem with the list presented in this blog post is that it skews more towards being a really uncomfortable insight into this site’s prejudices than it does towards a valuable insight into those names which are ‘Too Much’.
The link to the NYC data is here- the url is huge so I tiny’d it- http://tinyurl.com/d2h2nu2
on February 5th, 2013 at 10:41 pm
My grandmother’s name was Precious. She never went by it, instead to go by her middle name and used it as her professional name. I’ve always loved it, but it isn’t something just any little girl can have and as a woman, its hard to distance yourself from its “cutsey” sound. My husband’s younger half brother has a cousin named Princess, and she really is nothing like her namesake.
on February 5th, 2013 at 10:54 pm
I have to agree with maple_blythe that this list shows a cultural/racial bias to some extent. It’s not that you’ve claimed that this is a comprehensive list or anything, but it does seem to skew slightly towards names that are more prevalent among African Americans than among white Americans. Worth pondering your choices, anyway.
Some other names I would add to the list:
Maverick (I would so love to meet a bookish, reserved Maverick!)
Other god and goddess names like Thor, Isis and even Athena strike me as a bit too lofty, though I like Thora and the French and Italian versions of Hercules (Hercule and Ercole, respectively).
I also think that people who are very obviously named for a famous athlete or entertainer must suffer from some kind of complex about it – it’s unlikely that they’ll be as successful as the person they were named for, at least not in that same field, so when the inevitable comparisons are made they always come up short.
on February 6th, 2013 at 1:20 am
I’ve heard of a Perfect, and met a Princess. I think those are wayyyyy over the top. Perfect is obviously impossible to live up to, and could lead to opposite actions later on. And Princess is just too obvious. Why not got with the cute Sarah and keep the meaning?
on February 6th, 2013 at 4:57 am
I think the common factor with these names is that they have a positive meaning in English. It could be argued that nearly all names have a positive meaning in their language of origin, be it Hebrew, Latin, Irish etc. Looking through the meanings of names, a large proportion of male names mean brave, courageous and so on, while female names very ofen mean beautiful.
My son is friends with a little boy called Sonice (pron. So nice). The meaning suits him down to the ground.
My DP is studying Irish literature and there is a student called Ulysses in one of his lectures. Looks like he is following the path his parents imagined for him when he was born!
on February 6th, 2013 at 9:29 am
I agree with these. Although Glory doesn’t really call up the word “glory” to me right away. In fact, it has a homey, humble feel to me that is the opposite of what it means.
Definitely on board with most of these though.
on March 18th, 2013 at 8:13 pm
I know a boy named Journey His brother’s name is Thilas. Like Vilas but with a th.
on April 21st, 2013 at 4:07 pm
Another name I think belongs there: Queen. It feels like pressure would be put on the child to maintain a queenlike status, and with children, that can be difficult. Peer pressure may be another roadblock.
on June 26th, 2013 at 8:41 pm
My son’s middle name is Wilder. It’s a family name, so I guess it IS a lot to live up to 🙂 I dislike most virtue names, but grandiose names are kind of a guilty pleasure. Like, I love Halcyon, but would be more inclined to use it as a middle name, like I decided to use Wilder as a mn. I think that’s the place for really thought-provoking, POW names.
on October 19th, 2013 at 5:20 pm
One of my twin’s name is Atlas the other is Aries. They are both sweet, even tempered little boys. They live up to their names quite well.
I think, as with every name, the name becomes the childs. A person wears their name forever, they define the name, not the other way around.
on January 27th, 2014 at 11:54 pm
not on the list but Epiphany is a name I have heard of more than a few times this last year. At no time was it spelled that way however, it’s one of those names that seems to cry out for ‘creative’ spellings. Aupifany was one spelling.
I really don’t like any of the names on the list, not even in theory. Too much like the hippie names of the ’60’s. And Precious reminds me of that creature in Lord of the Rings…”Preciousssssss”
on January 8th, 2019 at 9:26 pm
Destiny is stunning. I totally love it.
on January 8th, 2019 at 9:29 pm
One of our cockatiels is Dignity. That could totally be a human name, or at least, middle name. Our bird’s nicknames are Digs and Diggi.
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