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The Science Behind Baby Names

Kaylyn H. By Kaylyn H. Published on March 18, 2016

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By: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Choosing a baby name is a difficult decision process for parents, especially if parents have to consider a particular name for a religious reason, the desire to keep a name in the family or not knowing the sex of the child until it is born. Parents are wise to speculate which name would be perfect for their child.

Iman Saade and her husband from Lebanon had a girl, so when it came time to name her, Saade's husband had promised his mother years ago that if he had a daughter, he would name it after her.

“We named her Tahani. The other names we chose are names that are not trendy, but rather a bit traditional Arab names. We are Muslim, but were not specifically looking for a Muslim name,” says Saade.

When children grow up into young adults, the name has a way of fitting that person's behavior and personality. A name isn't just another form of identity, rather it can have profound impacts on the child in school that reverbates into adulthood, suggests a growing number of research articles.

At a young age, a name is something a child either runs away from or runs towards—particulary in the classroom. Children bear the consquences of a name that seems odd to others. Dr. David Figlio, Director of the Institute of Public Research conducts extensive research on a variety of topics such as education, healthy policy issues and policy design. Figlio has written three papers regarding the casual consequences of first names.

Figlio's first study examined if teachers treat children with names that sound like they are from a lower-educated family differently from those with names that sound like they are from a more-educated family.

“I find that teachers are less likely to think that children with low-status names are intelligent. Over time, this translates into lower performance by children with low-status names. Note that I conducted this research with pairs of siblings, so the children are from the same home. The only difference is that they have different status names,” says Figlio.

Plenty of research implies that the demographic, socio-economic status, and other details are revealed based on a person's first name. Names may even go as far to predict and affect career paths. When Figlio studied sisters who were both good at math, he found out that individuals with more linguistically feminine names such as Anasastic, Rebecca, the list goes on, were more likely to shy away from science, math and physic fields.

“Sisters with relatively feminine names were less likely to pursue advanced study in mathematics and sciences, compared to their sisters with relatively androgynous names. These results remain even when I look at girls with histories of extremely high mathematics performance,” says Figlio.

According to Figlio's 2006 study in Education Finance and Policy, naming a boy a girlie-sounding names such as Ashley, Jaimie and Shannon tend to affect their behaviors in school.

“In addition, I've looked at the effects of names on behavior and classmate performance. I've shown that boys with names typically given to girls tend to get into more trouble in school, and ultimately their classmates do worse in school as well,” says Figlio.

The options for naming a child are endless so when parents are faced with the challenge, many turn to pop culture for inspiration and online blogs and websites. Babycenter.com, the go to source for all things baby, complies the most popular baby names in each year.

In 2015, the most popular male names are as follows: Liam, Noah, Mason, Ethan, Logan, Jackson, Lucas, Jacob, James and Benjamin. For girls, the most popular names are Emma, Olivia, Ava, Sophia, Isabella, Mia, Charlotte, Amelia, Emily and Madison.

After months of research and the indecisiveness, Ola George Francis wanted a strong meaning as well as old names for her two children. For her son, she chose Carl and for her daughter she chose Sarah.

“Carl is a masculine personal name derived from the Germanic word “karl” meaning “free man.” I want him to be manly and free and to fight for his convictions. For Sarah, it is one of the oldest names, but perpetually stylish. It is a powerful name that means Lady; princess; noble lady princess of the multitude and pure and happy,” Francis says.

In the end, when parents name their child, it is a right of passage and a decision with potential impacts on a child that go past the printed birth certificate. A name is a keepsake, a tradition and most important an identity. 

Kaylyn is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to relocating back to the states, Kaylyn reported about humanitarian, social, cultural, and refugee-related issues in the Middle ... Show More

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