The Name Game

What’s in a name? It may be more than most people realize!

Dec 05, 2011 | By Stephanie Kraus
CAMILLE TOKERUD—GETTY IMAGES

This month, a website for parents released its list of the 100 most popular baby names for 2011. Sophia and Aiden held the number one spot for girls’ and boys’ names for the second year in a row. With 4 million babies born in the U.S. each year, parents may be finding it harder to think of unique names for their children. Many are looking for a name special enough to stand out, but not considered too strange.

Scientific research proves that names can help shape a person’s life. David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University, in Illinois, has studied the effect of names on children. Figlio said parents are doing the right thing by carefully choosing names.

“Name your kids what you love, but be aware there are consequences," Figlio told TIME. “Is a name 
a guaranteed ladder to success? Of course not. But can a name make your life a little bit easier? For sure.”

Alphabet Trends

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that some teachers treat children whose names have certain letter combinations differently. Unfairly, it can make a child less likely to be recognized as “gifted” and more likely to perform poorly on tests.

Names can even help predict future jobs. Figlio studied sisters who were both good at math. He found that girls with more feminine-sounding names were more likely to stay away from math and science. Instead, they preferred subjects like English.

Initial Link

In 2006, experts looked at the link between last names and a child’s success in school. Researchers found that people whose initials came earlier in the alphabet were more likely to teach at good universities and even win Nobel prizes!

Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire, in England, said we’re used to thinking of things at the top of a list as winners. “So it’s possible [that people whose last names began with] As and Bs got more attention from the teacher,“ Wiseman told Focus Magazine. It’s also possible that those kids behaved better because they were seated towards the front of the classroom. That made the students pay more attention so they got better grades.

Google It!

Many parents are now using the Internet to search baby names they are considering. A web search can tell parents if there is a celebrity—or a criminal—with the name they are thinking of. A survey on one website found that 64 percent of parents surveyed had Googled their baby’s name before choosing it. Maybe even 'Google' itself will become a popular baby name soon!