The Right Coast

June 02, 2005
Made-Up Names ...
By Gail Heriot

...are not a good idea according to this study. I have some doubts about some of the conclusions the author draws from his results. But let me leave that aside. The question that interests me is why less educated parents are more likely to name their children made-up names in the first place. (And I believe that this is a characteristic less educated whites as well as blacks. The study happens to focus solely on black children).

It’s not that all made-up names are unattractive in the abstract. Some can be quite lovely. LaQuisha (the name the study's author uses as an example) may not be the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard, but it’s more pleasing to the ear than some popular traditional names that I would nevertheless prefer to have just because they are traditional.

Maybe the parents who are most likely to name their children made-up names are those who feel no connection with the past. They don’t see themselves as part of a tradition that must be upheld, built upon and refined–whether it’s a family tradition, a religious tradition or the tradition of their newly-adopted country. Making up a name is thus an expression of their lack of connection to the rest of society. If so, that's a bigger tragedy than just a few oddball names that kids make fun of the playground.