Informative, and General Reading
Every Tom, Dick and Harry Seems to Be Named Michael
by Bruce Lansky
These days, it seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Michael. Of course, years ago, the names Tom, Dick and Harry were probably as popular as Michael is now, which is why that trio of names is often used in the same way as John Q. Public or Joe Blow.
Why is Michael such a popular name? And why are some names popular at all?
One might conjecture that expectant parents read birth announcements in the newspaper and pick the most common names in the hope that their children will be popular. But I don't think that's a satisfactory explanation.
I studied the results of a large-sample survey that was conducted to discover what people think of more than 1,500 common names. I noticed an interesting pattern: Many of the most popular boys' names convey an extremely positive impression. Specifically, they create the feeling that boys with those names are likely to have a number of positive attributes.
Here are attributes that survey respondents connected with popular boys' names:
Daniel: good-looking, strong, all-American Boy Scout, athletic, brave, kind, friendly, trustworthy, well-bred, intelligent, easygoing
David: strong, handsome, intelligent, friendly, good-humored, dependable
Michael: strong, handsome, smart, successful, hardworking, easygoing
Steve: good guy, strong, good looking, humorous, friendly, lots of fun
By contrast: many names – including Tom, Dick and Harry – send mixed messages:
Tom: confident, likeable, down-to-earth, but average
Dick: either fun-loving, friendly and easygoing or vulgar, cocky and opinionated
Harry: blue collar and either friendly, funny and happy-go-lucky or serious and bad-tempered
Given a choice between names that suggest many positive attributes and names that suggest both positive and negative attributes, it is no wonder that so many parents choose names that project the most positive images.
Of course, there are problems with selecting an extremely popular name for your baby boy. When he goes to school, there may be several children named Michael, David and Daniel in his class. He may believe that the name is not uniquely his, but that he shares the name with a great many boys – some of whom are sitting so close they can copy his test answers.
But if you stray from a multiple-positive name ever so slightly, here's what can happen:
Change Daniel to Dane, and you get a tall, lanky, athletic Scandinavian or a self-assured, rich snob.
Change David to Davis, and you get a quiet, formal, upper-class bore or a cocky, mischievous kid.
Change Michael to Mickey, and you get a cute but silly, lighthearted, fun boy.
Change Steve to Stevie, and you get a quiet, withdrawn momma's boy.
In short, small changes can produce large differences in the way a name comes across. Sensing that, parents who want a name that gives off good vibes wind up picking the most popular names.
I challenge you to find positive names that every Tom, Dick and Harry won't share with your son. I suggest that you test the names you are considering with friends who are likely to be sensitive to the impression each name gives off. Or look for a baby-name book that discusses the subjective impressions of names.
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My advice to parents. Pick a name that will give your child a head start in life - a name your child will feel good about that will make a positive impression on others.
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Bruce Lansky is the No. 1 author of baby-name books. He has co-authored "The Baby Name Survey Book"
(Meadowbrook Press, $9.00; www.meadowbrookpress.com), which discusses the subjective impression of names.