Give your children meaningful names
I’ve recently been walking through the streets of a few cities in Italy – Florence, Siena and Rome – spontaneously visiting museums, cathedrals and literally any building I was permitted to enter.
There are small churches and pizzettas across this beautiful country that are full of art: paintings, statues and architecture, all depicting figures or time periods of great cultural importance. Engaging with these inanimate objects, which somehow seemed full of life, felt as if I was having an intimate conversation with the past.
This sentiment, of communion with times and people from the past, is well captured by Scottish sculptor, Alexander Stoddart who, in a recent talk at Ralston College, underlined the role of culture as communion with the dead, meaning that through these works of art, those who lived long before us, as well as their values and ways of life, are brought to us in the present so we can learn from them and take what is necessary as we move forward.
Among these works of art, in Chiesa di San Salvatore al Monte, on the left as you enter through the main door, in a separated prayer room, there are two statues of Saint Francis of Assisi and of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saints of my names. Beneath their statues, there was a little description of their lives and deeds.
Due to my religious education, I was already familiar with how they lived: simply, in communion with nature and God. Saint Francis of Assisi was the founder of the Franciscans (in 1209), a group of men who lived by one main rule: “to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps”. This meant turning away from the ephemeral pleasures of wealth, luxury and pretty much most of what mortal life can offer, and choosing nothing more than the necessary for survival. Saint Anthony of Padua was also part of the Franciscan Order.
However,a refresher was a welcomed reminder that rebellion against a world built by men for men in favour of the transcendental connection with the infinite, which is how I choose to see the ethos of the Franciscan Order, is not a new or lost path.
In fact, it is perhaps what we, as a society, are missing today: the connection with that which transcends us and what we build or produce. This is what I always admired about men and women of devotion to a greater idea (such as God): their courage to do so in the first place. Money and security are powerful. But saying “no” to them is even more powerful.
Nevertheless, seeing these two statues was also the moment in which I realised that my names have meaning which goes beyond my own person, which relates to people and events that lived and happened many centuries before the world I was born in even existed. My names traversed centuries to reach me in January of 1992, carrying with them part of human history. I know this becasue my parents specifically named me after these two saints, and not because the words “Francisc” and “Anton” sounded nice.
This realisation made me think of the importance of our names in relationship to our personalities and even our fate.
Why Names Matter
In ancient times, Romans had the expression nomen est omen, or “name is destiny.” There is some thruth in this. For example, it is an established fact that the world does make assumptions about us based on our names. Psychologist Dr. Martin Ford of George Mason University stated in an article for The Week: “Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person”.
The New Yorker, in a 2013 article, collected a wide range of research that showed how our names and society interact: from hiring opportunities to financial success, links between what names people carry and their socio-economic position have been found by sociologists.
Moreover, having a common name or a unique one does affect one psychology in different ways. One of these impacts is whether we like our name or not. A study from the University of Michigan found that people who do not like their (first) names have poor psychological adjustment.
“[…] what many parents might not fully realise […] is that the choice they make over their children’s names could play a part in shaping how others see their child and therefore ultimately the kind of person their child becomes”, explained a recent article by the BBC.
Although it may be important for financial and professional success, how the world around us perceives us through our names should be largely irrelevant to us as individuals.
As psychologist Carl Jung wrote: “If man cannot exist without society, neither can he exist without oxygen, water, albumen, fat, and so forth. Like these, society is of the necessary conditions of his existence. It would be ludicrous to claim that man lives in order to breathe air. It is equally ludicrous to maintain that the individual exists for society. “Society” is nothing more than a term, a concept for the symbiosis of a group of human beings. A concept is not a carrier of life. The sole and natural carrier of life is the individual, and that is so throughout nature”.
Therefore, it is at the individual level, i.e. for ourselves, that our names should matter most. “It is through our names that we first place ourselves in the world. Our names, being the gift of others, must be made our own”, wrote American author Ralph Ellison. In other words, our actions, emotions, thoughts and everything else that makes us who we are stand behind our name, while also being influenced by it.
Gordon Allport, an American psychologist, described our names as the most important anchor point of identity. Consequently, names shouldn’t be given after a browse through a “names book” one picks up at a book store or randomly at a gas station that just so happens to sell “literature”. Names should be carefully thought to have some inherent meaning behind them: they should tell a story of how and why that person carries that name.
When someone is given a name, the person or persons who give that name must feel the energy of that child and call him / her accordingly. This means that, as long as the name fits the energy of the child, it is not important if the name is common or not. Rather, what it will matter is that the child’s self fits the name and vice versa.
This also implies that men and women shouldn’t carry pointless monikers that belong to things, like brands. Names should give those who carry them a reason to be more than one is: to aspire to something beyond themselves. Names are not empty words, sounds we make to refer to a sentient body that is one of millions: it is the banner of our personality.
It may not seem like much but naming your child with a name that has a story that inspires, a name which fits their energy, words that carry history or call to aspirations beyond the here and now may be one of the best psychological resources to go about in life.