boy writing his name

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The spelling of a name is really important. Sometimes you can give the name an air of importance or an exotic touch by just changing one or two letters. You can adjust a name according to your own wishes: Cindy becomes Cindie or Cyndi, Wendy is turned into Wendi and John becomes Johnn. Some parents prefer a phonetic spelling: Clair (Claire) or Deric (Derrick). However, you can also maim a good name in this manner.

The American psychologists Mehrabian and Piercy posed the question: Do unconventionally spelled first names provoke the same responses as their traditional counterparts? (see: Mehrabian, A. & Piercy, M. (1993). Positive or negative connotations of unconventionally and conventionally spelled names. Journal of Social Psychology, 133, 445-451). They gave a group of test subjects a list with traditionally and unconventionally spelled names (Linda and Lynda, for instance) and asked them to indicate what personal traits fit the various names. The subjects had to imagine to what degree a person with that name would be successful. Would he or she be a person of principle, popular, warm, cheerful, masculine or feminine? What was the result? People whose names were spelled in an unconventional way were considered to be less successful, to have less principles and to be less popular, warm and cheerful than those with a name that was traditionally spelled. They were seen as less masculine or feminine also.

Some names are so long and complicated that children have trouble spelling their own name. If a girl’s name is Wilhelmina, for instance, her siblings might have a hard time saying her name. It’s not unlikely that this will soon turn into ‘Meen’ or ‘Mean’ and that can’t be what the goal was in choosing it in the first place.

It’s very common for brothers and sisters to come up with nicknames that might remain in use within the family for years and years. So, pick a name that’s easy to pronounce for the other kids. Also, see if the combination of the names of your children sounds good. For example, brothers named Tate and Todd might be referred to as “Tate or Todd”, and teased about “Tater Tots”, which is a popular potato fast-food product. Soon, brothers named in this manner may lose their identity and be consistently teased by children shouting: “Here comes our favorite side dish!!”

A name that’s difficult to spell can also cause problems when it comes to issuing documents.

That’s what happened to a boy from Alabama who wanted to emigrate to Australia. In the end everything turned out all right, but as a result of problems surrounding the spelling of his first name it took a lot of time and effort. What happened in this instance?

The Australian authorities didn’t accept his emigration documents because his first name was misspelled. The American embassy had put ‘Lafaet’ as his first name instead of ‘Lafayette’, (a reference to his mother’s former French life partner.) After a year of waiting and researching he finally managed to find out what was wrong and he was able to fulfill his dream after all. If only his name had been Jim…

Our advice: When it comes to a complicated and hard-to-spell name, it isn’t easy for a child to explain how it should be spelled all the time. It can be agonizing to see each new teacher struggling to write the name on the blackboard. In short: find a name for your child that you can actually spell if you hear it. That causes a lot less confusion when it comes to paperwork, too.

If you’re not sure whether a name is easy enough to spell, read out a list of names to your family or friends and ask them to spell the names. By giving them more than one name to spell, you won’t have to give away what name you’re thinking of if you don’t want to.