Why It’s Awesome (and Helpful!) to Have a Unique Name

(Photo: Yahoo Health/iStock)

Kim and Kanye may have opted not to go with another compass direction when naming their highly anticipated second child (sorry, Easton-worshiping Twitterverse), but that doesn’t mean that their bouncing baby boy, Saint West, was given anything less than a truly unique moniker.

They’re not alone: Earlier this year, Mad Men actress Jessica Paré and her rocker boyfriend, John Kastner, named their newborn son Blues Anthony. New Girl star Zooey Deschanel and husband Jacob Pechenik named their first child Elsie Otter. Actor Jason Lee’s son is named Pilot Inspektor, comedian Penn Jillette’s daughter is Moxie CrimeFighter, and Gwen Stefani and her former husband Gavin Rossdale named their youngest son Apollo Bowie Flynn, after a god and a rock star (or a rock god, depending on whom you ask). And of course, back in 2004, Gwyneth Paltrow arguably kicked off the whole unusual-naming trend with one-of-a-kind daughter Apple, telling Oprah at the time that “it sounded so sweet and it conjured such a lovely picture for me — you know, apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome and it’s biblical — and I just thought it sounded so lovely and … clean! And I just thought, ‘Perfect!’”

But unique names are not just a habit of Hollywood. Nowadays, one-of-a-kind monikers are not only the provenance of the rich and famous, but also the proud choice of an increasing number of moms and dads from all walks of life who are opting for previously unheard of names for their next of kin. In fact, according to BabyCenter’s annual baby-naming survey, released just this week, 43 percent of parents reported liking unusual names. Names making the “most unusual” list for 2015 include some clearly inspired by the movies — like Swayze and Orson — and fashion — like Armani, while others take their cues from yoga — like Drishti — and math — like Pi.

And sure, some of these unusual names are difficult to spell and pronounce. Young Drishti — along with young ArantxaPerpetua, and Eustace — is likely going to have to walk many a new acquaintance through how to pronounce, let alone spell, her name as she gets older.

But here’s the thing about names — generally, we don’t get to choose ‘em. If you’ve been named something that’s more off-the-beaten-path, then you know the struggle that is buying a pre-printed personalized keychain from an amusement park, or ordering coffee at Starbucks. But having a unique name isn’t all mispronunciations and double-takes; there are some legitimate perks, too. Here are five of the one-of-a-kind benefits to that one-of-a-kind name. 

It is entirely too easy to forget the name of a new acquaintance the mere moment after you are introduced. Experts say this is because names are, generally, rather meaningless; the more pathways back to a memory you have, the easier it becomes to retrieve that memory, and this just doesn’t often happen naturally with names. (Unless, of course, your name is Saint West. With a pathway leading straight back to Yeezus, no one is forgetting that.)

Unique names are “often easier for people to remember, and so they are likely to remember your name when they meet you for the first time (or at least remember that you had an unusual name),” University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Arthur Markman, PhD, tells Yahoo Health.

And whether you’re trying to make an impression on a potential love interest at the bar or a potential professional connection at a networking event, having a name that jogs the memory can only help. (Also a plus? When someone you’ve met only briefly does remember you after the fact, you’ll be wonderfully simple to find — and contact — online. But more on that later…)

The more unusual your name, the more likely you are to see and interact with the world differently. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that begins with an unusual name and ultimately leads to unconventional or creative thinking,” Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at New York University who has studied how names can affect the way people are perceived, told Yahoo Parenting earlier this year. All of which is just logical: When you grow up with a name that nobody else around you has, you become used to, and thus less afraid of, deviating from the norm.

“I think it’s more that having an unusual name interacts with people’s personality,” adds Markman. “If you are more extroverted, then having an unusual name calls attention to yourself in ways you might enjoy. If you are an introvert, then the unusual name may bring you unwanted attention.” Either way, an unusual name can be a trigger that serves to accentuate previously existing parts of someone’s persona — meaning that if you are already drawn toward creative practices, having an unusual name will only serve to encourage that inclination. 

According to many experts, our identity is thought to be partly shaped by the way we are treated by other people. It’s a concept psychologists call the “looking-glass self,” whose main principle dictates that people shape their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them. Thus, a unique name has the potential to color our development, intrinsically causing us to become unique individuals who grow to embody our names. 

“People are very sensitive to how others treat them,” Alter explained to Yahoo Parenting. “If they treat you as though you’re different, whether because of your name or some other characteristic, in time you’ll come to feel that this difference is real. It’s possible that perceiving yourself as different might liberate you to behave and think differently from other people.” 

On the flip side of the coin, Markman points out, are creative people who adopt names for themselves that are unconventional. “The causation there goes in the direction from creativity to the unusual name,” he explains. But while in these instances, the creativity inspired the name, rather than the other way around, the end result is still a uniquely named individual who is his or herself unique — further reinforcing the general public’s perception that someone with a one-of-a-kind name is one of a kind. 

No parent wants to saddle their child with a name that begs for playground teasing. But what if that playful attention (assuming it doesn’t venture into bullying territory) has an upside? 

“As a child, an unusual name can lead to a certain amount of taunting, and so you have to learn to deal with having fun poked at you earlier than people whose names are common,” Markman explains. Even in adults, “people often have a little discomfort with things that are unfamiliar. So, people may approach you at first with some caution under the assumption that your strange name signals something else strange about you.” 

Learning how to respond to these kind of potentially negative preconceived notions with levity at a young age can only benefit you socially in the long run. Because, as the Love & Logic Institute says, “the trick to ‘teaseproofing’ a youngster is giving him/her the skills to be able to handle teasing,” not trying to shelter them from it. In fact, a University of California, Berkeley, study on adult teasing found that “playful humiliations” like crude nicknames ultimately led to individuals becoming better friends — perhaps because said individuals ended up bonding over a shared laugh.

Go ahead, Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette, set up that news alert. Chances are, unlike in the case of Sophia Smith, all of those hits are likely to actually be about you. And the same goes for social media: Eager parents everywhere may be preemptively securing Twitter and Instagram account names for their newborn offspring, but when your name is the definition of outside-the-box, that kind of advanced planning is just unnecessary. 

As people with unique names get older and begin maintaining personal finances and pursuing professional careers, their unusual monikers also make it easier to monitor their online identities and quickly become aware of any attempted identity theft. (Considering 2.7 million people had their identities stolen in 2014, we’ll take all the help there that we can get.)

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