Children Will Grow Into Their Names…Unless They Don’t
One bit of naming advice that I see thrown around a lot is that once the baby is born no one will be able to imagine him or her with any other name than the one that was given to him. That children will always “grow” into their names even if there are times when they dislike it.
Yeah, well, that didn’t happen with me. And it wasn’t a disaster.
You’ve probably guessed that Isadora Vega is not my given name. I’ve been going by nicknames and aliases all my life, so that at one point or another my friends will ask me what my full name is. I remember when I told one of my best friends my real name, and her reaction was similar to everyone else’s:
Snort. “That’s not you.”
“Why is it not me?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it’s just…not.”
My friend and I often commiserate on this subject. She also has an extremely common first name from the 1980’s followed by a middle name that is a French surname. Plus she’s adopted from Korea, so her sense of disconnection from her name is understandable. But what happened to me?
My name was my mother’s pick. Christina was also the name of one of the eight foster children that my Grandmother helped raise. She was just a baby at the time and my mother loved having a little sister. When she became pregnant she remembered the first Christina, and wanted to have that type of “little sister/best friend” bond with me. The Patrice part comes from her favorite cousin Patricia who died before I was born. Why am I not named Patricia? Because then you would have been Christina Patricia, and “that’s just stupid,” according to Mother.
Did I mention that my parents also had my nickname picked out as well? They had every intention of calling me Christy. Somewhere in my parents’ house there is a trunk full of monogrammed crap with the name “Christy” on it.
And then I was born.
As the months went on, it became all too clear that I would never be a Christy. Christy is a bubbly, social, “everybody’s best friend” kind of name, in my opinion. Knowing my parents, that’s probably what they were going for. But I was never everybody’s best friend. I was the weird kid who never talked, living inside her own head even as a baby. So a different nickname was picked (by my grandfather, to my father’s annoyance at the time) and life went on. But I never liked my given name. Nor was I ever particularly interested in being my mother’s “little sister” for all of my life.
But my parents didn’t do anything that they shouldn’t have done. My parents were a young and conventional couple who picked a name that had meaning to them and saw no issue with giving their daughter a name that four other babies had in their neighborhood. They had no idea that a bohemian, artsy Wiccan was going to sprout forth from their collective DNA. There was never anything wrong with the name Christina Patrice, it just never worked for me.
I bring this up because I see a lot of, “I really love the name Galaxy for my son, but what if he doesn’t have the personality to carry it?” Well, then he doesn’t have the personality to carry it. He can always go by Gale. Or by his middle name. Or say his name is Robert. The boy will probably think that not liking your name is normal. And then, when he’s an adult and has fully developed his identity he can decide that his name doesn’t match that identity and change it. In fact, I think more parents would be saner if they just assumed that their children will change their names when they’re adults.
When we pick names we dream about the children that we would like to have, but there’s really no way of knowing who they’re going to be. Some people see that as a reason to stick with traditional names and, naturally, I disagree. I see that as a reason to stop obsessing over whether or not the name will “fit” the child to the point that you veto what makes your heart sing.
I can’t be the only one who has had an experience like this. Have you felt disconnected from your given name? Or are you worried about you’re child “growing into” her name?
Isadora Vega has been blogging about names of Witchy and Pagan interest on Bewitching Names for several years. She is not an expert in names, but her lifelong name geekitude and passion for rarities makes writing about this topic a treat. She is currently based in the Pacific Northwest.
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on May 22nd, 2013 at 11:11 pm
It’s interesting to hear your perspective of feeling like you don’t fit your name, because it seems like of all the people I know who changed their names, most were born with more unusual names, then changed them to ones more popular or conventional. Elora became Zee, Daphyn became Michelle, and Alistair became James. As a name nerd, I always thought this was kind of a shame. But I guess if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. “Assume your kid will change his or her name” is excellent advice, and ones all parents should keep in mind, but especially those of us around here who expect, and name, a Hazel and end up getting say, an Ashley instead.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 2:03 am
I have a friend who hated her given name (Wanda) and has elected to go by another name of her choosing. She hasn’t made it official, but her chosen name (Kora) is lovely and suits her nicely.
My first name is very popular (Jennifer), and I struggled with it for many years. I tried out Michelle/Shelly, but that never fit, either. Sometimes I go by one of two names I chose for gaming, and they both fit me well. However, I made peace with my given name a long time ago and am just as happy being a Jennifer now as either of those.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 2:09 am
I can totally relate to this! My name is Kirstin…a very 90s name. To me its the name of a snobby and ditzy cheerleader who has 5000 friends both on and off Facebook. Ha! I’m nothing like that. I’m an introverted, shy but stubborn history geek who is mature for my age. I would gladly go by one of my middle names but both are my grandmas names: Elaine and Della and while I like Della, I don’t like Elaine. And while I would like to go by Della, I feel like it would offend my dads part of the family since that grandma died. Probably for the best anyways since Della doesn’t really fit me either. I’m more of a Branwen, Azalea, Xanthe, Rosamund, etc. However I would feel bad by going by a different name, not because anyone would object but because I feel like I would be abandoning a part of me… I don’t know, I’m only 15 so I guess I have time to think about it. 🙂
on May 23rd, 2013 at 5:21 am
Isadora, I love this essay – thanks so much for sharing it!
on May 23rd, 2013 at 6:13 am
Great post, Isadora. It made me wonder how many of us who write about names had a similar formative experience. Linda’s written here about changing her name as a child….twice. And I always wanted to change mine — instead of the delicate, serious Pamela, I wanted to be named something popular and bouncy like Christy or Susie because I thought the name would confer those qualities on me.
Anyway, thank you, lovely.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 6:28 am
Thank you Isadora, that’s an amazing post. I’m in the middle of re-doing my daughter’s name and this blog post feels like a positive energy boost for me to choose the right name for her, even though most people think the names I want will be difficult for her to carry. If she doesn’t want to be a Venus or Pandora when she’s grown up, she can change it! That’s the attitude to go in with. A name can be wrong no matter if it’s an unusual one or a regular one like Jane or Robert. Thanks again for a great post!!
on May 23rd, 2013 at 8:54 am
My parents were really upset when I (legally) ditched “Sherry” for “Mia” when I was 21. I was born in 1971, so Sherry was a pretty common name when I was growing up. There’s nothing really wrong with the name except that I hate it for *me*. I also had one of those throw-away middle names that were so wildly popular at the time. (Was there any way I could avoid being a Sherry Ann or a Sherry Lynn? I was the former, and I knew a couple of people with the latter. Do you know how many girls named “Jennifer Lynn” were in my graduating class? It was the default name for that year or something.) I spent a lot of my childhood wondering what it would be like to be named Angelica or Evadne.
And I get exactly the same reaction when I tell people what my birth name was: “You are SOOOOO not a Sherry. Really? Sherry? Not you.”
My mom got all smug when I named my daughter “Calypso”, sure that nobody could wear that name. She asked how I’d feel if she grew up and changed it. I can honestly say I’d be ok with it. Except that Calypso is the age I was when I changed my name now, and she loves it. She *is* Calypso. How popular or unusual a name is has nothing to do with whether or not it fits the person wearing it.
Another daughter of mine goes by her middle name (Rowan) because it fits her better than her girlier first name (Lilia). That’s fine with me. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if she decided to go by Dorcas. I love my kids’ names, but I don’t have to live with them. My philosophy of names is this: your name is whatever YOU say it is. You’re never stuck with a name that doesn’t fit. And change it when you change. Why not?
on May 23rd, 2013 at 9:50 am
Thanks for this post, very interesting food for thought. Aged 4, I decided that my middle name would fit me better than my first name, and have gone by it ever since. My first name isn’t bad (it’s more common in the generation above me, but of course I didn’t know that at the time), but it just wasn’t me any more. I think of it in a similar way to my baby teeth: it worked well when I was small, but as I got older I replaced it with something that worked better.
I was lucky that my parents (as far as I can remember) were surprised, but very supportive in explaining to relatives, teachers, etc., until I could do so myself.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 10:11 am
This is funny because I have an aunt who is a Patricia Christina, and she goes by Christine. My grandmother was born in Germany, and didn’t have an excellent track record on the naming front. For instance, my mother has two middle names, and none of her other four siblings do, to my knowledge.
I’m a Sarah, and no one except my mother has thought of that name fitting me. My father lengthens it by adding a name onto it (and wanted to call me Jessica), and I’ve gotten into conversations with people renaming me in real life. My bf insists on a nickname as well.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 11:01 am
What? “Saner that parents assume their children will change their names as adults.” Um no. What? This post really sent me down the rabit hole to a world where up is down and left is right. I guess that’s because I am of the normal mindset that I cannot imagine life as someone with another name. My name is a big part of my personality of what makes me who I am. But to think of someone not feeling like that is really sad, I feel bad for Isadora. I still cannot see how someone could grow up distasting their own name. My two aunt have uncommon names and my mother a very common name and they all just “fit” their names perfectly.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 11:46 am
Where I come from, we believe that parents have a special level of divine prophecy when naming a child. Sometimes the significance of the name isn’t discovered until the child has grown up and matured into an adult. Only under very unique and trying circumstances is a name officially changed, and this is with the consent and guidance of a religious leader. Granted, a child or parent can always choose to call the child (or adult?) by their middle name, but it’s still their name from the beginning.
When it’s so easy for a person to change his or her name, it seems that the naming process isn’t as significant to begin with…
on May 23rd, 2013 at 12:02 pm
I don’t think it is especially “normal” to not imagine what another name might feel like. I kind of thought that everyone played with both their name and their identity. This idea of a static identity is really strange to me. I can’t imagine it. But that’s the thing– none of us know what it is like to live in someone else’s skin.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 12:08 pm
@flamingo: Most non-word names (names like James rather than Liberty) don’t really have any obvious meaning in English, so in some sense, there’s no significance there to discover later. (Just because we know what a name means etymologically doesn’t mean that the name is actually meaningful in any real way now.)
Some cultures EXPECT names to change, fwiw.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 12:09 pm
My name is always spelled incorrectly and confused for other names like Gwyneth or Gladys, but I would never change my name. It is a gift from my parents and I was named after someone who is special to them. I honestly don’t know why people are allowed to change their names. Some people legally change their names to something totally ridiculous like Superman. The only person that I know that legally changed her name, changed it to something that her parent’s nicknamed her. She never went by her birth name anyway. My future children had better not change their name! I am going to put a lot of thought into it and it would just be a slap in the face. I agree with flamingo. What is the point of giving our children names at birth then? Maybe they should just be A, B and C and then choose their own name when they are older.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 12:30 pm
The fact that names can be changed so easily is probably why the US has no naming laws and everything is possible. In some (maybe even most or all) countries in Europe changing you name is hard. You’d have to go to court and have a bloody good reason to change it. Here, if a name doesn’t fit, you’d just have to live with it.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 1:18 pm
Great post. I have always hated my name, Bridget, but I must admit it suits me so I don’t change it. It has always irked me that my mother takes ownership of this part of “me” to the point that she gets offended when I mention not liking it. This is especially ironic because SHE hates her name, one of many 1950s Deborahs, and selected “Bridget” as a uniqueness antidote to Deborah’s ubiquity.
Having said that, my dislike of my name led to my name obsession; everything from my car to my purses have proper names. I’m overwhelmed by the laborious and careful choosing of a child’s name now that I’m pregnant and faced with my own opportunity to “right the wrong” of Bridget. But who knows if my little Lulu or Lennox or Brick or Alair will ever like his/her name. I just know that if I pick wrong, I’ll suck up any offense I feel and encourage them to select something that makes them happy.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 1:40 pm
People always tell me I seem like a Candice, Brittany, or Leslie. But my name is Kaprice…. (My mom spelled it with a K in case my name wasn’t “unique” enough.) But I think I’ve grown into it. I hated it when I was younger because of the Capri Sun teasing but now I always get compliments on it. 🙂
on May 23rd, 2013 at 2:55 pm
My name is Siobhan, which fits me perfectly. But I live in the US so people are always getting my name wrong. When I was little I always really wanted to change my name so that people could say. I actually tried to change it to Fay, my middle name once. But now I realize that it is a part of me, and even though I have to explain it to people a lot it is actually a good thing because I am proud of my Irish heritag and I woulnt change it for the world.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 2:56 pm
My name is almost always mispronounced, I frequently get Star Wars jokes, and both my parents readily admit it was a compromise neither was crazy about…but I love it anyway. That said, my kid is definitely getting a phonetically spelled name with a rich history that I absolutely love. I can’t predict how they’ll feel about their name when they’re old enough to have an opinion, but at least they’ll be spared the frustration of constantly correcting people on spelling/pronunciation and I’ll be able to justify my choice to them.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 3:05 pm
I’m a Shelby born in the 90’s, so for a long time I disliked it. I didn’t actually know any other Shelbys growing up, but still that rhythm of two syllables, ends in a ee sound was common. I’ve grown to appreciate and embrace my name now though. However, I think it’s quite strange to change your name when you don’t have a specific other name to pick. I can understand changing to a nickname that you’ve always used, or something like that, but just picking a name that “fits better?” Who’s to say how it will fit you in a few years? A few decades? It seems like an exercise in futility to me.
on May 23rd, 2013 at 4:16 pm
I think names should be unique to each person, but not weirdly so. I mean, if you live in Los Angeles or London, then maybe Lotus and Rebel are great names – but if you live in (say) Texas or Yorkshire, then maybe Polly and Samuel would be better. Your name kind of has to fit where you live, to a certain extent!
Also, there being 10 kids in one class with the same name(s) is not fun! In my nephew’s class there are…
2 Alexanders (Alex and Alexander)
1 Alexandra (Alex)
1 Alexa (Alex)
It must be so annoying to be in the classroom and for the teacher to say,
“What’s the answer to question 4, Alex?” Reply: “Em, which Alex, Miss Brown?”
Anyway, that’s what I think!
I say go with a name which is neither too plain nor too unusual, (Allegra, Sebastian) or go with a fairly common first name and an unusual middle name, (Rose Anastasia, Daniel Crow) or a unique name which has a more everyday nickname, if that’s what the child wants (Seraphina – Sarah, or Benoit – Ben). Then the kids can decide whether they like the unique or the plainer aspect of their name, themselves. 🙂
on May 23rd, 2013 at 4:26 pm
I’m one of the five girls named Reine born in the same year I was. My parents say it ‘Rainy’, as in the weather. I have never liked. It’s not me. I can remember announcing to my parents, at age seven, that I was going to change my name when I turned eighteen. My mom laughed and said I would ‘grow to love it’.
Fast forward eight years, and nearly every time someone says my name I think, Geez, I wish people wouldn’t call me that.
It doesn’t fit me. I’m a book lover, writer and video gamer. People call me an ‘old soul’, and my hippy-esque name doesn’t suit me. Something more professional or timeless is what I’ve been told by people.
Lucy, Lucinda or Elizabeth are the names my family is finally considering changing my name to. We all love the meanings, and I would go by either Lucy or Libba (depending on my choice).
on May 23rd, 2013 at 7:58 pm
I disagree…I know about 5 Emilys….each of whom are so different. And yet Emily suits each of them just fine.
I think that kids don’t grow into names….they take the name and make it their own and ascribe the identity that suits them. Well most people anyway
There are of course, like you say, people who never like/identify with their names….and to those people I say change it and give yourself the identity you want!
on May 23rd, 2013 at 8:16 pm
Mipsy it’s funny you say that, I know a Jennifer Lynn too! Calypso, Rowan, and Lilia are all some of my favorites as well 🙂
I think even if YOU feel like you never grew into your name, other people will get used to it. For example, I knew a little, quiet nice girl that I saw every week on a sports team but never knew we name. I thought it was Maggie or Lily or something to match a very typical all American girl, but when I asked her, her name was Bleue. I thought it was alittle weird at first since it totally doesn’t match her personality, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did change her name to something less forward though, she seemed a bit uncomfortable with having to explain herself.
on May 24th, 2013 at 12:30 am
I did change my name, but I kept my given as my middle. I love my name, and I liked my given name, but it wasn’t MY name. It’s taken nigh on ten years, but even the people who knew me as a toddler call me Brigid now. They say it suits me better.
on May 24th, 2013 at 6:48 am
It’s nice to hear a perspective like yours, Isadora. It does show you that no name is truly “safe.” Although if I am lucky enough to have children, I can’t help but hope they love their name after how much thought and care I have put into the process! You really can’t know until it happens to you, so thanks for sharing your story.
on May 24th, 2013 at 8:29 pm
A little random, but I just realized something…
When I was little, I had an imaginary friend named “Christy”. I had best friends named Christy all through elementary and middle school, and I always had classmates named Christy. Do you know I don’t even know a Christy anymore?
I wonder what happened to them all…
on May 30th, 2013 at 11:53 pm
This is a very interesting perspective… My daughter is almost 2 years old, and I still keep wondering wheather I gave her the right name. Her name is Raphaelle, btw. What’s even crazier is that I keep asking her if she likes it 🙂 For years and years I thought that if I ever had a little girl, I would name her Annabel, and then I came across Numberology of Names. Ever since then I can’t appreciate the name for what it is but have a need to claculate what personality traits it brings forth. This has been both a blessing and a curse… a blessing b/c perhaps I can give my child a better life by selecting a blaanced name, and a curse that I need to live with the name that I probably wouldn’t have picked…
on June 1st, 2013 at 1:28 am
I’ve never felt disconnected from my given name – which is, by the way, Daniela – so unfortunately I cannot understand your feelings. I love my name and feel honored to own it. As a medical student, in my psychoanalysis classes, I’ve studied that people who dislike and/or feel disconnected from their given names usually have issues not solved with their parents. Of course, I am not familiar with you, nor have I the right to analyze you, but from what you’ve told in this article, it’s clear that the relationship your parents, specially your mother, wanted to have with you it’s completely different from what you desired, and thus, the freudian theory I’ve mentioned could make sense in this case.
Anyway, people have freedom to change their names, and there’s nothing wrong in doing so.
on June 30th, 2013 at 11:51 pm
I fit my name. I’m Erin; not Hannah, not Shy and definitely not Samantha. Just Erin. I cannot imagine being a Samantha.
I don’t wonder if my kids will fit their names. I plan on rather normal first names with more fantastic middles. If one is too much or not enough there’s another option.
But I can see the opposite side. My SIL is technically Hazel Lucille. At five she likes to be the center of attention and can be a drama queen. Hazel is too quiet for her, she’s a Lucy through and through. Her sister is different, Edie is a little spitfire and can carry Edith well.
on February 3rd, 2015 at 11:37 pm
My name is Grace and there was a time when I was in about third grade that I hated it. It felt way too quiet for me. At the time, I wanted to start going by my middle name Elizabeth. However, there were already two Elizabeth’s in my dance class and one of them was my cousin, so I didn’t do anything about it. Now, I like my name, since I am pretty quiet. I think it helps that I have a pretty strong last name. Once, in middle school, I tacked my then boyfriend’s last name on and the result did not sound like the kind of person I wanted to be. That’s not why we broke up, but still.
Interestingly enough, another of my ex’s went from using his middle name to using his first name, and now his sister has gone from using her first name to using her middle name. I’m tempted to ask what their little brother’s middle name so in 20 years or so I’ll recognize him.
on April 29th, 2017 at 1:35 pm
I’ve gone by a nickname my whole life. My parents certainly weren’t expecting me to be the fifth person with the name in my grade, or having it misspelled and mispronounced. I’ve never felt like my name fit. An Alyssa (or Alissa in my case) is the typical every girl. So to have a bohemian/gothic Wiccan carry that name is wierd. Yet nobody seems to Agree.
on May 1st, 2017 at 5:57 pm
My username here references my surname, but I’m Julia Cook (I share my name with a children’s book author).
I’ve never really felt like a Julia or a Cook. I used a different surname in school (which meant “nobility” and if I had a patronymic surname it would have referred to a specific flower). Julia was my great great grandmother, and my (very unique) middle was actually someone else’s name as well.
I’m also pagan, and am looking for a Craft name, so I’m spending a bunch of time on here and a couple numerology sites right now. xD
My nicknames through life have been Jula, Julz, and (currently) Juju. Nothing feels right, and I’m nearing thirty. @.@
on May 23rd, 2018 at 10:25 pm
I stumbled upon this article because I named my daughter Isadora. I kind of feel “honored” that you have chosen that as your alias. I chose it because of its sonority, meaning, being pronounceable in different languages and relative uniqueness (although not unheard of). My stepkids wanted to call her Izzy but I shut that down – she is 7 months old now and no nicknames (except for Isadorable, lol). I am not a big fan of nicknames when they “take over” the person’s given name. Anyways, I got off topic. Interesting POV in this article!
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