Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thinking Far Down the Road

I was assembling a mailing today, and scanning the list of names, I was struck by how distinct they were in terms of gender. Granted, these mailings go to people who are from a much older generation (aged 70+), but it was interesting to see that the women had definitely "female" names, while the males had "male" names. Women were Edith, Eleanor, Jeanette, Nancy; Men were Frank, Robert, Marvin, or Harry.

Today's names are blurring these distinctions. Think of popular names today, like Taylor and Dakota. There are many names that at first glance won't tell you the sex of the owner. But they will give you a pre-conceived notion of the person.

This page gives a really good run down of all the different ways that we stereotype by name, including the infamous blind resume study of "black" names vs. "white" names.

Anyhow, I was thinking of this because of... well. First I was reading about Working Mother Magazine's 100 most "Mom-Friendly" places to work. And then I was thinking about how, in my career plan, I pretty much need to decide to have a baby in the next four years--if I decide I want one. Which put me down the usual path of "if I had a baby, what would I name it?"

Nate and I have one agreed name for an imaginary future baby boy: Charles Augustus. It was the name of my great-great-grandfather, and we like it for its sentimental value, its regal nature, its ability to have multiple nicknames if desired.

For a girl, the middle name will most definitely be Esther, after Nate's sainted grandmother. But there is no imaginarily set-in-stone first name for a girl. And after thinking about gender discrimination, and the bias against types of names, I've decided I would want a gender neutral name for a girl. Not Taylor or Dakota. But a name that wouldn't automatically give away that the owner was a female. (One name I am very fond of is the name of a co-worker's daughter: Denley.)

I'd want her to have a name that, should she submit a resume to a job, she wouldn't get the gender check right away. A future employer would have to judge her on her accomplishments, rather than her ovaries.

Often I have regrets about my name being what it is. It's short, and can seem a little brash. It's a dart of harsh consonants and a long sharp vowel. It's an aggressive name. Not even Shakespeare was kind to my name. And I'm sure that I'm judged by it on paper as a shrew sometimes. I would hope to keep any imaginary daughters from that same first impression.

1 responses:

WorkingDefinition said...

I understand your qualms about your name. Matt strikes me as rather harsh sounding as well, as if one was clearing one's throat. Should I ever enter the esteemed profession of law, I fully intend to change my name to J. Hunter Hollingsworth VIII. In addition to the alliteration, it conjures up images of old money, Gatsby style class; traits any reasonable individual would want in his/her $500/hr. lawyer.... right?

While Kate may not be the most melodic name, rest assured that you do it more justice than a quick reading may allow.

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