What's in a Name? Only Everything!

Amy Rees
June 4, 2008

So what is in a name, exactly? If a rose can do it, then your little one by any other name would surely also smell as sweet. But no other name could possibly suit him, could it? Whether you knew instantly or agonized for months, you picked a name and now just these few years in, it is inextricably part of your darling's being, herself, her way.

And it's also his favorite word. Her favorite answer. It starts with his favorite letter, naturally. She refers to herself in the third person just to hear more of that lovely name tripping off her lips (Bo Jackson-style, if you will). Her siblings and friends attempt it, sometimes mangle it, and maybe you all adopt that version too. Perhaps schoolmates match it, adding a first initial of a last name to the concept. Call 'em "sweetie" as much as you wish, but to preschoolers, a name is all.

Meanings -- You do remember all the research you did about the meanings of that name, right? Have you remembered to tell the owner of that name? Oh, do so immediately.

Popularity Lists -- Have you been hearing that name a lot at the playground these days? We are always curious to watch the official name trends from the Social Security records. It's also funny to try to find names of certain generations -- try looking up your mom's name or the names from the year you were born.

Nickname or Full Name -- For all the agonizing that parents do about whether they like the nickname or the full name, they often fail to consider this: she will call herself what she will. Or he'll answer only to what his brother calls him. His name becomes official at preschool, nickname and all, often. You might have another chance at kindergarten registration or maybe not. Don't forget, however, to teach your child to identify her whole name, if she only hears it out loud when you are furious with her.

Seeing Your Name in Lights -- Or at least in print. Names are often the key preschoolers use to making the alphabet a useful part of their lives. First it's a song, then it's a tool. And it's a tool that spells their names! That's like putting a big "Mine!" sticker on the world. Big stuff, the written name. As soon as your child can recognize some letters, make sure you point out his name when you see it (on mail, in his room, Sharpied on his windbreaker, spelled by the magnets on the fridge). And yes, remember to spell both the full name and the nickname, if you expect him to go by both.

Little Johnny Hancock -- When we parents were young, children were exposed to writing only well after reading was mastered. Our own kids are the beneficiaries of some new developmental theory. It seems that children actually write before they read, so often very young preschoolers are writing (or pre-writing, some people call it) long before they understand the alphabet or sounding out or reading. Kids who can't yet draw recognizable figures can still sign their masterpieces. Or other kids still take things in the order that we were expected to, putting all that pencil-pushing off until little hands are stronger and more ready. But if your little one is interested, write some letters -- starting, of course, with her name -- and let her trace them herself. First he'll master one letter, then another, then a whole word (again, the name), then maybe another family member's name. Keep these early signatures -- she just might be famous someday, and of all people, you certainly knew her when!

Recognizing Friends' Names -- Looking for some other letters to add into the repertoire? Start with preschool friends' names. Or neighbors' names. Or cousins' names. As much as they love to see their own names, they dearly love seeing the names of their peers too. And soon enough, you won't be able to spell out words in front of them. And they'll be reading your mail. Sigh.

Personalized books -- We live in a monogrammed jungle, so it's likely that your little one is plenty used to seeing his name stitched on things. If you have an Olivia or a George (curious or otherwise), your child's bookshelves may seem monogrammed too. But still, you must see these absolutely darling personalized books featuring your child's name.

Better known as the best name in the whole world. At least for her.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I agree about the importance of kids seeing their name in lights...I was at a restaurant with my four-year-old daughter this weekend...When the credit card bill came, the little sweetie wanted to sign her name...All the work on getting her to write her own name seems to be paying off...I just hope she still wants to pick up the check once in a while when I am retired.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    When my husband and I were looking for a name for our son we received some very good advice from the person doing ultrasound. She said to have each parent make a list of 25 names away from each other. Then come together and compare lists. That will give you a starting point. We had been struggling with giving our son a family name that had been used about 3 times, a unique name that I thought would be to far out there, and names that were trendy. My husband and I tried it and we had only one match - it's the name of our son.

    over a year ago


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