What’s in a name?

October 13, 2007 at 3:00 am 6 comments

Baby Peem Have you ever really thought about your first name? Have you ever wondered what it meant? Was your name plucked out of a 1001 Baby Names book? My first name is Kim – not Kimberly, Kimber or Kimble. When I was growing up, Kim was a pretty unusual name to have. My friends had names like Jessica, Susan, Karen, Helen, Lisa or Penny. I always liked my name but, as with most kids, I was landed with a couple of nicknames – Kimbies (presumably after the nappy brand) and Kimba (presumably due to Simba). I certainly didn’t like the Kimbies business, so I chucked a hissy fit in high school and for 3 years changed my name to Victoria, which is my middle name. But I ended up not liking the shortening of this to Vicki (or worse, Vicks) so it was back to Kim by the time I hit University.

I still like my name and am secretly pleased that it’s not that popular (at least in Australia). It doesn’t even rank in a list of the top 1,000 baby names I looked at. And this list shows the popularity of Kim as a name in countries around the world – certainly Kim is not up there as a favourite. A few years back, I was being introduced at a conference in Thailand by someone who hadn’t yet met me and was referred to as “Mr Kim”. Kim, of course, is a popular Asian surname (mainly Korean) and I’m sometimes asked when in Asia why I have this name as a Westerner.

So what’s in a name? How does our name define our identity? When I asked my mother why I was called Kim she told me it wasn’t her choice. It was my grandmother’s and my father’s selection. My grandmother said she’d always loved Kipling’s book, Kim, and my father said I was named after Kim Novak, the Hollywood actress. Personally, I preferred the latter explanation rather than being named after a male character in an essentially male novel of colonial India. My mother was going to land me with these names: Brydie, Blanche, Brittany, Bethany or Bridget (clearly, there was a thing going on with Bs). I simply cannot imagine myself as, for example, a Blanche – it changes the whole way I think about myself. I’d imagine being much older, a smoker (which I’m not), a fragile, troubled, emotional personality (sorry to any Blanches reading this post). I’m probably being influenced by Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire or Blanche in The Golden Girls.

I like Kim because (IMHO) it’s a strong name, short and punchy. It’s a no nonsense kind of name. Apparently, it’s of Anglo-Saxon origin and means variously: chief, ruler, precious metal, gold. Okay I can deal with all those meanings especially the gold part! And my name is declining in popularity from its starting base as not so popular anyway – so that makes me even more unique. Check out this table I found of the popularity trend for Kim – since 1993 it seems Kim has slipped off the radar.

I’ve always been fascinated by the names given to African-American children – Delroy, Jermaine, Tyjon, Latreese, Larhonda, Chantoya – to name a few I’ve heard. Much more exotic than plain old Kim. But if you happen to live in Africa, you might just be called Passion, Givethanks, Honour, Trust or even Knowledge. Although I work in KM, not sure I’d want to be lumbered with the moniker Knowledge. There is a trend towards Anglicising names, but the African tradition is to choose names that convey a special meaning, whereas Western names are usually chosen because they’re trendy or remind us of celebrities.

If a Sotho-speaking girl becomes pregnant before marriage, her unhappy parents may name the baby Question or Answer — an answer to the question of why their daughter was behaving so strangely before the pregnancy became known. Zimbabwean children carry names like Wedding, Funeral, Everloving, Passion and Anywhere. And a cafe worker in Harare is called Consider Enough because he is the last of 13 children and his mother thought…consider that enough! Never Trust a Woman is a baby named by his father who was off fighting in the Congo and when he returned home to Bulawayo, his wife presented him with a baby that he hadn’t fathered.

According to my Thai friend, Lalida, things can get a bit complicated when choosing a name for a Thai baby. Parents will consult a monk or astrologer so that they pick an auspicious name that will bring good fortune to the child. And the day the baby is born is taken into account – certain letters and vowels are avoided – so for example if the baby was born on a Monday, no vowels are used in the name. You can read about the complicated process of choosing a Thai name over at Thai Blogs.com. I don’t how I’d feel about being given a Thai nickname though. Popular ones are Pig, Crab and Fat. But increasingly the English language is influencing Thai culture and now you can find nicknames like Seven (as in 7-Eleven). One child was named Bonus because he was born on Chinese New Year and his father received a bonus from his company.

Intrigued, I found the list of popular baby names for 2006 from the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages:

Given Name Number of Babies Registered
Chloe 519
Charlotte 488
Ella 475
Emily 474
Olivia 465
Jessica 440
Isabella 415
Mia 394
Sophie 383
Sienna 332
Given Name Number of Babies Registered
Jack 720
Joshua 660
William 625
Lachlan 605
Thomas 569
James 531
Daniel 457
Noah 413
Ryan 408
Ethan 404

I suspect that Sienna has crept into the list due to the UK actress, Sienna Miller. And the boys’ list shows a strong liking for Biblical names.

So…..what is the meaning of your name and how does it define your identity? if you could change it, would you? And to what?

Inspiration: International Herald Tribune

Entry filed under: Reflections.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Devin  |  October 13, 2007 at 3:22 am

    I have to agree. Growing up, I hated my name because it was different. Not only was I the only Devin in the class, but no one had ever heard of it before, and kids don’t like things they don’t know. I swore to my mother that when I turned 18 I would have it changed to my middle name (Michael – much more normal). Now that I’ve graduated college and have had a chance to know who I am, I feel that my name had something to do with getting me here. I always realized the importance of standing out and being memorable – with a name like Devin and red hair to go with it, you couldn’t forget me if you tried. I’m convinced that this has helped shape my personality in a way I couldn’t have ever appreciated when I was a kid.

    I plan to give unusual names to my kids. I think there’s a subconscious effect on someone that spends their life thinking, “I’m just another Michael”.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 13, 2007 at 3:59 am

    I think there’s been some research on the subliminal effects of names on personality, mental image of oneself etc. I’ll try to dig it out.

  • 3. probabilityzero  |  October 13, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Very interesting stuff. I remember a book I read a while ago called “Freakanomics” or something. It had a whole section on the effects of naming and trends in new children’s names.

  • 4. Andrew Mitchell  |  October 15, 2007 at 12:41 am


    A minor correction. “Kimba” almost certainly came from the animated TV series Kimba the White Lion produced in the 1960s. “Simba” was the name of Disney’s 1990’s Lion King movie which drew heavily on Kimba.

    I loved Kimba as a kid growing up in country Victoria (thank god for the ABC). Kimba’s still popular with my kids and others that I know.

    Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimba_the_White_Lion for more details on Kimba.


  • 5. thinkingshift  |  October 15, 2007 at 1:53 am

    mmmm…think you’re right Andrew and thx! I too remember Kimba the White Lion, but I have to confess to a sad lacking – I’ve never seen the Lion King. Simba, Kimba – better than Kimbies!

  • 6. Andrew Mitchell  |  October 15, 2007 at 3:39 am

    I don’t think missing the Lion Kings a bad thing. It may be generational thing but I haven’t met anyone who remembers Kimba and also has a high regard for the Lion King.


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