Babies’ names affect their lives

Studies show unique names and surnames can affect children psychologically.


Illustration by Trevor Lunde/THE CHIMES

Samantha Gassaway, Writer

Kids can be cruel, but unique names do not justify the teasing children often endure.

Choosing a name for a child is an enormous task, and making it work well with the family surname is often the largest struggle. Newlywed Biola couples starting a family have an enormous arsenal of names to work with, but the question remains of how their choice will come with nicknames, teasing, expectations and significance.


As I grew up with Gassaway as a surname, it was easy to become frustrated with my parents and with every teacher who said it aloud. I am often tempted to replace my last name with other relatives’ surnames as well as contort its pronunciation in any way to avoid the inevitable flatulence jokes. People do not easily forget Gassaway, but it is not a name I identify with. While my name has helped people remember me, the reputation built from it can last as long as the name does.

Psychologist Richard L. Zweigenhaft’s article in volume 110 of The Journal of Social Psychology, “The Psychological Impact of Names,” illuminates the effect unusual names have on people. The study used the California Psychological Inventory testing statistic, in which subjects are shown their capabilities in dealing with people and managing their own lives. More often than not, people who were given unconventional names surprisingly scored higher on the test.


James Petitfils, assistant professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in Talbot School of Theology, spoke on the effects he experienced growing up with a unique surname, often confused and mispronounced as “pedophiles.”

“Public school was great until high school. Because the specific mispronunciation of my last name, no one really used language like that as kids, but once I got to high school, and people would yell across campus… then it was a little more of a challenge,” Petitfils said with a laugh.

Choosing a name that flows with the family surname can be a battle; in response to this, many couples decide on traditional biblical names such as John or Sarah. However, the expectations that go with these names as well as their commonality in any classroom can be damaging to individual identity and unique spelling can frustrate parents later in the child’s life.


Bestowing a child with a virtuous name, such as Faith or Destiny, before their birth or maturation can cause the child to be held to a standard fitting to the virtue. Likewise, naming the child after a popular Bible character can pressure the child into behaving as virtuously as the character did.

Petitfils advises newlywed Biolans to choose names for their future children thoughtfully.

“I think you need to think about your child, but long term…When you’re in first grade, everyone wants to have the popular names, you want to have the same name that every kid does. But when you’re in high school, it’s kind of nice to have a cool name,” Petitfils said.

When naming their newborn, newlyweds must consider the implications to their family names as well as the expectations placed on the child. If you put a lot of thought into the name of your child, they will surely be thankful later in life.


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