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Baby Name Angst: Will My Child Resent Her Name When She's An Adult?

10/04/2015 09:49 | Updated 09 June 2015

Will my child resent her name as an adult?

I would say this of course but my two-year-old daughter is gorgeous, bright, and the owner of a smile that melts hearts at 200 paces. She is, in my opinion, a perfect Poppy.

And the other day an acquaintance who is now destined never to make the status of friend agreed that Poppy was, indeed, well named - for now.

"But," she added, "it's not really a name for a grown-up." I was rather taken aback, and not only because of the insensitive nature of the comment. I started thinking that maybe she was right. Maybe Poppy is a brilliant name for a carefree young girl, but not much of an asset for a 30-year-old woman struggling to carve out a career in some cut throat company.

When I flicked through my - admittedly limited - mental rollerdeck of female businesswomen, politicians, scientists and so on, a Poppy wasn't among them.

Have we hamstrung our little girl with a name that will still be marking her out as a little girl decades down the line?

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I may be over thinking all this and Poppy - our future world leader - will be just fine. But I'm also acutely aware of the influence names can have.

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I'm a Hugh, which, though not unheard of, did mark me out as something slightly exotic in my urban northern comprehensive (I was the only Hugh in my junior school, comprehensive school and sixth form). At 13, I didn't want to be marked out for anything.

Hugh made me feel a bit self-conscious , and more than once during my teenage years I let a mishear ("Nice to meet you Stu") go uncorrected.

I'm fine with it now, and in more recent times it may even have helped my cause. I have a slightly old-fashioned, dependable sort of name, and there can't be many criminals called Hugh. It's certainly not going to put a potential employer off.

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Do names have that sort of power? Mounting evidence suggests they do.

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In May, a study was published which found that we tend to look more favourably on people with easily pronounceable names.

This had nothing to do with familiarity or perceived ethnic background. It's simply that we are psychologically primed to like things that are easy.

Other studies have found that, for example, people with 'white-sounding' names were more successful in job applications than those with 'black sounding' names. There's clearly an element of subconscious racism going on, but it does suggest that the name you choose for your child has some bearing on their future prospects.

So far, so good for Poppy. But psychologists have also noted a phenomenon called nominative determinism, which means career choice can be subtly influenced by our names.

So Poppy might be a florist - Usain Bolt is a sprinter, after all - but it's more likely that if her name does nudge her in any direction it may be towards a career where she won't be judged negatively because of it.

So there might be slightly less chance she'll go into merchant banking than if her name was Alex, and bang goes my retirement home in Tuscany.

In fact, the idea that 'girly' names push their owners in a certain direction is pretty well documented. US economist David Figlio has shown that, even among high school girls who are good at maths, those with more feminine sounding names are more likely to choose humanities at University.

Subconsciously, and at least to some extent, we stereotype by names. Teachers look at their registers before term starts and think they know who will spend most time on the naughty spot and who will be good at art.

Employers look at the names on the list and then conduct interviews with half an idea of who they think would be best for the job.

It can all become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If people treat children differently depending on their names, in the end the children adopt the characteristics their names seem to imply.

None of this is set in stone and in many cases the effects are quite slight. If Poppy showed a talent for engineering, our support and encouragement could probably overcome any disadvantage that having a 'girly' name might give her.

But worries remain. Before a real talent for anything is discernible, are we more likely to assume Poppy will be better at painting pictures than making models? Thinking about it now, she does do a lot of painting...

So it's a bit of a minefield, though at least there's some comfort to be had from knowing that we're not the only ones retrospectively questioning our choice. A study of a thousand parents published earlier this year found that 54 percent had come to regret the name they chose for their son or daughter.

We have no regrets over our son's name. Luca was chosen because it's simple and different without trying too hard. It also reflects his Italian heritage. If there's anything in nominative determinism it also means that, like the Lucas who have turned out for Juventus and AC Milan over the years, he'll be a great footballer. So we might pencil in that Tuscan villa after all.

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