03/01/2013 05:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Baby Name Dangers

It took us 20 minutes to name the dog. So why has it taken weeks to come up with a name for our baby? After hours of discussion I finally realized why -- with a dog there is just one pitfall (call your dog Fenton -- or Mitzy or Floppy -- and you could end up as a viral hit on YouTube when it runs away). But with a baby, there are dozens. I took a scan of the parenting forums to see exactly what people worry about when they name their baby.

Some worries are obvious. It can't be too common (Harry, Sophia, Jacob) or too weird (Harper Seven, Bandit, Blue Ivy). Your child shouldn't have to go through its entire life repeating it (Aviva, Perseus, Apple), or spelling it (Siobhan, Khloe, Gene). It shouldn't be too showy (Maximillian, Aloysius, Persephone) or too dull (John, Ann, Robert). Some names just aren't aspirational (Candy, Bambi, Dwayne) others are too tempting for bullies (Fatty Patty, Smelly Shelley, Screwy Louie).

Will your baby's name look good on a résumé? (Alexander, Darcey, Jonathan) Or will future employers reach straight for the trash can (Kevin, Nevaeh, Darryl). Some have disastrous nicknames that school friends will uncover in a heartbeat (Helen, Bernadette, Stuart). And worst of all, there's the risk your mother-in-law objects (anything beginning with a K).

Even if you survive those pitfalls, there's one last Baby Name Danger you need to think about. Before you race to sign the Birth Certificate, you need to know that your child's name could change its future...

You're joking right?

They call it "nominative determinism" -- your name determines your fate. And the theory has been around since ancient Greece. The philosopher Jung swore by it -- arguing that Freud was obsessed with the pleasure principle because his name means "joy." It sounds crazy, and many people think it is. But psychologists do have an explanation as to how nominative determinism might work.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying that Vania Stambolova would have won the 400 meter hurdles in the London Olympics if she'd changed her name to Vania Flyover. But she might not have come last.

And would Usain Bolt be quite so unbeatable if he was called Usain Dolt? Would William Wordsworth have become a poet? Would Amy Freeze be Chief Meteorologist at Fox News? Would Lance Armstrong have felt the need to cheat if he'd been called Lance Legstrong?


You don't have too look far to find more examples. Research papers alone have hundreds. "Animal Behaviour" by Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox. "Juvenile Delinquency" by Dr. Lively and Dr. Reckless. "Effects of Parental Pressure on School Performance" by a sociologist called Mumpower. And my favorite of all, Drs J.W. Splatt and D. Weedon who published a ground-breaking paper on incontinence.

Is this all a wild coincidence? A statistical fluke? Or is there something in it? Should you name your son Denis if you want him to move to Denver and become a dentist? What about Laura for a Lawyer in LA? Well some of the more famous findings do turn out to be a bit of a myth.

According to the data, someone called George is twice as likely to move to Georgia as you'd expect. Louise is 20 percent more likely to move to Louisiana. The same goes for Florence and Florida. But for what seem like freakish coincidences, there are rational explanations. Parents in Georgia are more likely to call their children George. And so all those extra Georges could be simply moving back to their birth state.

Denis the Dentist may be a bit of myth too. There are more dentists called Denis than you'd expect. But there are also more lawyers called Denis. Probably it is just that the white middle classes who predominantly enter the professions are more likely to call their children names like Denis.

But for every myth that's busted there are more that remain unexplained. People with first names beginning with C or D do get worse GPA scores. Baseball players whose name starts with a K are more likely to strike out. You are more likely to give to a charity if it shares your initial. And hardware store owners are about 80 percent more likely to have names beginning with the letter H as compared with R. For roofers, it is exactly the reverse.

So what is going on? Psychologists call it Implicit Egotism. The idea is that we unconsciously like people, places, jobs and charities that resemble ourselves. And for smaller decisions -- like giving to charity, and which bank you use -- this may be enough to swing your decision. But for bigger things, like your career, or which state you live in, it's probably not be enough to make much of a difference.

So what name are we choosing for our baby? Well, I like visiting Florence, and my wife loves flowers, and would like a florist in the family. So we have decided to play it safe. We've gone for Flora.

Now I just hope we have a girl.