During his campaign for the White House in 2008, US President Barack Hussein Obama remarked at a formal dinner that he got his middle name from somebody who clearly never thought he’d run for President.
He was obviously joking but all good humour does have a basis in reality.
And in post 9/11 America, the first black man to run for President probably wasn’t going to get a helping hand from having a middle name that most of us associate with an Iraqi dictator.
Aside from physical appearance, a person’s name is usually the first piece of information we receive about them. And despite being something that most of us have no control over, our brains use names to help form that initial impression.
In other words – we judge. Perhaps it’s unfair, perhaps it’s unkind, perhaps it’s even unconscious – but it’s a judgement nonetheless.
Imagine your firm is hiring an accountant and you have two CVs in front of you – one from Brittany and one from Judith. Fess up – wouldn’t you be walking into that interview thinking Judith was the lady for the job? Just between us, doesn’t Judith sound more like a top accountant?
Last year I went on a date with a boy called Adrian. When I called my best friend to announce this development and plot my outfit, she physically shuddered and said “nope, I call veto – ‘Adrians’ are gross.” (For the record, I personally am not an Adrian-ist. All of the Adrians I know are really quite lovely.)
But do these judgements have any rational basis? After all – we don’t write our own birth certificates. Our parents do. So when you’re forming that judgement about someone based on their name, you’re actually forming an impression about the kind of person their parents wanted them to be – not who they themselves are today or dream of being tomorrow.
My grandmother went to great lengths trying to convince my mother to name me Fatima (pronounced ‘Far-tim-ah’). My mother – a primary school teacher who knew the sort of relentless teasing I would suffer in the school yard for having the word ‘fart’ in my name – went with Jamila instead.
Caitlin Moran, author of the brilliant book “How to be a Woman” revealed in a BBC interview recently that her first name used to be Catherine. When asked about the reason for the change she said:
“I was going through a phase of reading every single book in the library and I had read all the ones that had sex in them and all the ones that were funny and then I got around to the freaky ones.
And one of the freaky books was about numerology which is where each of the letters in your name has a number and you add it all up and it tells you what your destiny is.
And the destiny of being Catherine with a “C” Moran, was quite poor. Whereas, once I worked out what the destiny of someone named Caitlin Moran was, it was great!”
Without lapsing into a stoush over numerology methodology – do you think a name determines a future? Can changing names change destinies? Would it change yours?
Celebrities certainly think so.
Do you think hundreds of thousands would have flocked to cinemas around the world to watch ‘My Week with Marilyn’ last month if Marilyn Monroe had stuck with the name her mother gave her – Norma?
Would Lady Gaga have more Twitter followers than any other person in the world if she’d remained Stefanie Germanotta?
Superman definitely wouldn’t be where he is today if he’d tried to save all those damsels in distress with the name Clark Kent. Or the name Adrian. (Kidding!)
Everyone’s name tells a story.
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What’s the story behind your name? Has your name played a role in shaping your life? Do you think changing your name can change your future?