The Implications of a Name- What baby books won’t tell you


My goal for this paper was to investigate identity and belonging through a very specific lense: names given during childhood. I am proud of the ways I incorporated both given names as well as other forms of naming. I would have liked to work more on my conclusion as this is an area I always struggle in.

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I often hear people predict, “You look like a [name]” and guess something scarily accurate. During childhood, many children craft their appearances and personalities to resemble people with their same name, identifying with that group and subconsciously conforming to match it. The names we are given dictate our identity starting the day we are born. They present us with shoes to fill, or to defy; they offer a personality (e.g., unique, traditional) to take on. However, these names are only the first step. Our parents label us with these names likely as a mere suggestion of the person we should be, but as we grow, our communities and societal influences begin to use names as restrictive measures. Children’s development of feelings of identity and belonging stem directly from these labels.

Given names are the first label one is awarded and a lifelong one at that, offering a persona for the child to take on. They are similar to visual first impressions and for this reason, they carry a strong associative power. One article notes this trend, “When a new person introduces himself to you (let's call him "Spencer"), your first instinct is to assemble a rough mental sketch of everyone you have ever known named Spencer… You subconsciously judge this new Spencer, at least a little, based on all the other Spencers you have ever known” (Hedrick). People create some expectations for others based on their name prior to any interaction with them or other information concerning them, thus enforcing the external influence a given name has on identity.

Names have drastic effects on internal views of identity as children learn to build their identity based on their names. Naming trends vary, with many parents handing down a relative’s name and tacking on “Jr,” while others try to find the most unique name possible for their child, and with many variations in between. Whether they choose to name their child with a numerical suffix or an uncommon name, both are encouraging their child to lead a certain type of life. Being named after one’s father or another family member gives a child a standard to meet, but some learn to instead challenge the notion that they should be another “chip off the old block.” Familial connotations, religious connotations, gendered implications, as well as having a name with no connections, affects where a child feels they belong or do not belong.

Aside from given names, children are further labeled as they grow and learn in a community or school context, quickly learning behaviors that are labeled masculine or feminine, intelligent or stupid. Children are given names associated with their gender and their perceived capability early on, and these names become who they are as it is easier for them to give in to societal pressures than to defy them in their early childhood.

As for gendered labels, girls and boys find themselves restricted by the implications that the words girl or boy come with. Girls are taught to be “girly” which in many contexts means submissive and shallow, while boys are taught to be violent, stoic, and powerful to fulfill the notion that “boys will be boys.” In the case of boy’s learned identities based on their labels, it has become an issue that boys go through this “shame-hardening process” (Velasquez-Manoff) because it creates a destructive culture of hypermasculinity. One researcher mentions that men are not inherently bad, that their power complex derives from their interpretation of being male from childhood norms, explaining, “They’re ‘over conforming’ to common, if exaggerated, notions of masculinity. They’re doing a five-star rendition of what they think manhood requires” (Velasquez-Manoff).

Children are also affected by the names of intelligence parameters bestowed to them in early childhood. When given the label of “smart” or “dumb,” children take the label to heart and follow the norms associated with them as they do with gendered labels. One woman, Amy Cuddy, shared her testimony in her TED Talk, describing a traumatic car accident that resulted in her being withdrawn from college and her IQ dropping two standard deviations. She stated, “I had identified with being smart, and I had been called gifted as a child,” (Cuddy) so it was very difficult for her to understand who she was without her “core identity.” Due to the names she was given in childhood, she struggled with recovery as she no longer followed what society said was accepted or expected from her and had to essentially create herself over.

Effects of naming are not strictly positive or negative. People often feel connected with their given names as they remind them of their families. Gendered labels can be empowering when used correctly, and positive reinforcement through intellectual labels can build confidence in children. The issue is the misuse or abuse of labels: when these names take over a child’s identity in a negative sense. Children often have very little control over how these labels shape them and similarly minimal recognition of their influence. However, in adulthood, some have taken to renaming themselves as a form of rebirth, properly addressing themselves to match who they are. They change their names in defiance of the restrictions that their names implied to embrace their true identity (e.g., references to countries of origin, variations of words that resonate with them) and have ownership over themselves.

Works Cited

Cuddy, Amy. “Your body language may shape who you are.” TED. TEDGlobal 2012, 6 Mar.

2018, Edinburgh,

Dahl, Melissa. “Junior status: Sharing dad's name a mixed bag.”,

NBCUniversal News Group, 19 June 2009, -name-mixed-bag/#.Wp3xwOinHrd.

Hedrick, Michael. “How our names shape our identity.” The Idea Factory , The Week, 15

Sept. 2013,

Velasquez-Manoff, Moises. “Real Men Get Rejected, Too.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 24 Feb. 2018,