I have one of the most common names there is — Sarah. Everyone knows a Sarah or five. It’s one of the female names that are timeless, like Elizabeth or Anna. Names go in and out of style, but there are always those few that hover near the top of the list no matter what. Of course that goes for boy names, as well — how many Johns, Christophers, or Michaels do you know?
I was named after my grandmother, and despite having one of the most common names of all time, it’s never bothered me. I like the name Sarah. And while I’ve had close friends named Sarah, distinguishing us hasn’t really been too much of a problem. One of us will go by our last name, or we’ll add an adjective to our names — I’m the short Sarah. It’s annoying occasionally, but it’s more often funny.
But while having a common name doesn’t bother me as a Sarah, it bothers me as a learner of other people’s names. My fiance and I just moved to a new city, and at his job, he works closely with a group of four other men. One of them has the same name as his brother, and since I’ve never met the coworker, I always end up thinking my fiance is talking about his brother. But he usually is not. It’s confusing. And I can’t tell you how many Samanthas, Rachels, and Emilys I know. Having to add descriptors to a few like-named people is fine. But having to do it for everyone gets exhausting.
When I was in middle school, I wrote a lot of stories for fun. At that time, it was popular for parents to name their kids something normal, but spell it really weirdly. I liked that trend, so I ended up with a bunch of characters named Emaleigh, Haeli, or Lorynn. (I also only did it for girls.) Looking back, I seriously cringe at that. Thank goodness that stage happened before the appropriate kid-bearing age.
But while I scoff at that attempt at uniqueness, the idea of having more unique names appeals to me now. Why do we use the same names over and over, when there are literally millions of words we could be using instead? Does the world really need another Sarah? Wouldn’t that hypothetical person be the same with the name Juniper or Desdemona?
Names do have an effect on us, of course. I’ve read before that children named Joseph Allen III, for example, think better of themselves than children named Joseph Allen Jr. (One gives a sense of a whole identity while the other makes one feel like a mere shadow or copy of their parent.) Names that are traditionally non-white get turned down more for job interviews. And people with names like Storm or Ocean might be less likely to be taken seriously (even though people don’t usually name themselves, so it’s not their fault…but I’m getting off topic). Naming a child is an important task, and one that should not be taken lightly. Parents know this, and know that there are many factors to take into consideration, so more common names are often the safest options for multiple reasons.
But you don’t have to sound like a hippie to pick a more unique name. There are plenty of “normal” names below the #100 mark on popularity lists that work just as well as the more popular ones. Parents could decide on a meaning first, and then search for names based on that. They can search cross-culturally and cross-religiously. I’ve even seen ancient place names listed as possibilities on baby name sites, and not all of them were that weird.
There’s an infinite world of possible names out there. Giving people more unique names will definitely make them more memorable, and it may even make the world a better place — if a kid has an uncommon name, who’s to say it won’t give them uncommon confidence?
Realistically speaking, I know it won’t happen that way. Humans are creatures of habit, and that won’t change. I also don’t really want kids of my own, so unless I change my mind, I can’t even do anything to make my dream world of unique names a reality. Until then, you can call me Arazou Kaegan — it means wishful thinker.