The Importance of Anthony Weiner, Lance Armstrong, Britney Spears and the Names of Your High School Classmates

I’ve seen Anthony Weiner on the news, recently, dithering about how he “no longer” engages in sexting—except on a few recent occasions. There goes the name Anthony! Same thing happened when Britney Spears famously decided panties were optional for barhopping photo ops and Lindsey Lohan’s police mug shot became a staple in celebrity gossip columns. The use of those names for new babies has dwindled. And when Lance Armstrong was outed as a serial liar, if the name Lance had any luster, it was lost.

So much for names of people you see on TV. What about people you know? I’ve known a few girls/women with birds’ names. Larks and Wrens I knew tended to be “wee sleekit cowring timorous beasties.” But girls and women named Robin I knew were “early birds who caught lots of worms.” In schools I visit girls named Brie are often cute, blonde, attractive and bright. Just saw a photo in today’s NY Times showing an attractive, blonde author named Brie Somethingorother, which confirms the “picture” I have in my head about Brie.

I used to think that the “impressions” which mattered most could be measured using responses to questions like these (asked of 50 to 100 people about each name): What comes to mind when you hear the name Brie (for example)? What does Brie look like? What is her personality like? What famous namesakes with that name come to mind?

But when I ask people those questions in person, some have pictures in their heads shaped by famous namesakes like Britney Spears or Lance Armstrong. But some picture a girl named Lindsey or Brie or Samantha whom they know now or knew as kids. I used to think: I wish they’d forget about those old friends or classmates. Now I realize that people should “believe” their own eyes about namesakes they have known and namesakes they have seen on TV or read about in history books.

I would never have mentioned Reno and Geo on a list of cool names if I didn’t know great guys with both names. In fact, Reno and Geo are nicknames for a doctor named Steve and an arbitrage trader named George. The fact that their friends and family call them Reno and Geo and that they are bright, successful and warm people who answer to those names is evidence that they like their nicknames, refer to themselves as Reno and Geo and that those names seem to be “working” well for them. That’s pretty strong evidence to support the idea that parents should consider Reno and Geo for children (unless the gambling image of the Nevada town or the clunky image of the Geo car nix those names for you).

I still suggest that parents test names they are considering on friends. It’s worth asking friends what comes to mind when they hear the names you are considering in addition to asking “Which of the names on my list do you like most?” It doesn’t matter if your friends are thinking about famous namesakes or thinking of current friends or old classmates with those names which shape their impressions.

You’re looking for a name that will be a plus your child—put his or her “best foot forward.” So, however your friends form their impressions of the names on your list—you’ll want to know what they picture or think—before making your final choice.

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