July 24, 2008

Changing your name -- a free facelift?

Names go through cycles of fashion, as Stanley Lieberson shows in A Matter of Taste, a must-read book for anyone interested in cultural change. Unfortunately, that means that your name can quickly become out-of-date, as mine has, I was disappointed to learn. It peaked in popularity right around the time of my birth and has declined (although not plummeted) since, even if it's not obscure today. "Although," "even if" -- who am I kidding, I've never met a pimpleface with my name.

Every time I meet a high school girl at the teen dance club or the mall, or sit down with a college girl at the campus dining hall, my babyface and slender frame keep her from wondering how old I am. (Well, not so much at the teen dance club -- I get asked how old I am about one time each night, but they don't suspect I'm 27, more like 22, which is still old enough to them.) Still, once she learns my name, that will knock against the unconscious histogram she has of her male peers' names. She may not even be aware of just what is arousing her suspicion; she will just get the feeling that I'm older than I appear.

So is it worth it to change your name in order to appear younger -- not out of vanity, but just to go undetected more easily? I can understand the respect that is paid to family names, but there's nothing sacred about your given name. And given how quickly it can go out of fashion, it's like having to wear the clothing that was stylish in your birth year for the rest of your life -- no thank you. Sure, I could just keep my name and lie when I'm around youngsters, but lying is hard to get away with over the long-haul, and I could never allow them to meet anyone who knew my current name.

I know, you can barely contain your curiosity -- just what ludicrously nouveau name would I adorn myself with from here on, or at least until it too stops being stylish five years from now? Easy choice: "Dylan." Its popularity peaked in the late '80s or early '90s, so it would sound completely ordinary to a girl born then. Use this tool and type in "Dylan" with "boys" checked to see. (And if you want to feel really old, go ahead and type in your own name.) Importantly, it doesn't sound too upper-crusty (like "Preston") or too trailer parkish (like "Jayden"), so it should have wide appeal. To be fair, though, all of these names are too new and stupid-sounding for me to know much about which class they're most popular in.

Want to update your own name, or at least see what funny names kids these days have? Here's a list of the most popular names in the 1990s, although be sure to cross-check with the tool above to see whether its popularity is increasing or decreasing. For example, "Michael" and "Jessica" are the most popular, but Michael peaked in the 1960s and Jessica in the '80s, and both have been declining ever since. "Tyler" (boy) and "Taylor" (girl), while less frequent, are still near the top in popularity but are also at their peak in the 1990s.

I'm not gonna lie: my brain releases a little packet of endorphins every time I learn a teenage darling's name. It's not only their skinny jeans and ballet flats that set them apart. Just knowing that her name is Sophia, Chloe, or Madeline -- or, yes, even questionable ones like Hailey, Kailey, and Bailey -- you can rest assured that she has many estrogen-filled years ahead of her. And imagine the bragging rights when you introduce your girl to friends and colleagues: "I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Zoe." Sure, they'll be able to tell that she's a young 'un by looks alone, but her name will lodge itself deeper into their brain. "Wait, did he say her name was Zoe?"

Use this info to playfully tease older women you want. Never ask her name first: when she asks you, you have a clear indicator of interest. But before she can respond, interrupt her: "Wait, let me guess... you look like your name would be... Rose!" Say this playfully, with a joking look. You must hit her insecurities about age if you want an older woman -- or so they say, I don't bother. Right after she feels the sting, say you're just kidding while elbowing her, and then guess a more appropriate name like "Christine" or "Kelly."

I think this would also work if you started out guessing an impossibly young name like "Riley," just to highlight how not young she is. She would probably respond, "Riley? Do I look like I'm 20 years old?" And boom, once she hears herself say that, her self-esteem will melt into a puddle and she won't be able to put up much resistance. This approach has the added benefit of not being overtly insulting like guessing "Rose" does, so there's no way she could get angry with you.

26 comments:

  1. The book Freakonomics has some interesting stuff about the evolution of names. One thing that stuck out is the way new names often start out among the upper crust and soon go down the socioeconomic scale. For instance, when Madison came into use 25 years ago it probably was bestowed most frequently in upscale "executive" suburbs, while today it's a popular choice in trailer camps.

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  2. Like everything else I've heard about that book, that's not true. Lieberson again is the source to consult.

    There's some very weak pattern for some names to start at the top and then catch on among the classes below. Again, it's very weak and the lag is only a couple years.

    Thus, it likely means that the sub-upper classes are just jumping on the bandwagon a little later -- not that the name filters down, or that the lower classes imitate the upper classes.

    In fact, that's not true for anything -- people imitate those in their own class, not from other classes. Wal-mart clothing is not a cheaply made version of upper-class clothing, and they don't listen to upper-class music or read upper-class books.

    That would be incredibly easy, as classical CDs and books in The Canon aren't any more expensive than what they already buy.

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  3. Men have it much easier. I can only think of a handful of trndy male names. Most of them are classic.

    I am thankful not be be a Jessica, Amy, of Jennifer...names that are very clearly from my age bracket. Instead, I have a unique name that is rather...porny. That is a whole other issue.

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  4. roissy9:55 AM

    i recently changed my name informally by addressing new people i meet with the updated version and asking people i've known a while to switch over, for the very reason you've described. no joke.

    luckily, this was fairly easy to do since the updated, *much* more popular version i've started using is my birth certificate name and all it required of me was a mental effort to avoid addressing everyone with the shorthand version of my formal first name -- the one i've used my whole life.

    most girls who know have approved of my switch.

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  5. So if you have a name that is hitting a resurgence now (from the late nineties on), as mine is (I got tagged with it after it was well in decline), I should be able to sell myself as twenty when I'm forty, right? The neoteny's there, and I do take pretty good care of myself. Your posts make me feel like I'm in Never Never Land, thanks.

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  6. Instead, I have a unique name that is rather...porny.

    Bootyellen? Jugoline? Clitoria? Fellatiana?

    Men have it much easier. I can only think of a handful of trndy male names. Most of them are classic.

    True. If you look at that NameVoyager site, you can see that the top 1000 names for boys (i.e., when you don't enter a specific name) take up more space than the top 1000 names for girls. So girls show a lot more variability.

    Lieberson also shows that female trends change faster than male trends -- parents aren't as willing to be innovative with their sons' names. This is most prominent among parents of Black daughters.

    all it required of me was a mental effort to avoid addressing everyone with the shorthand version of my formal first name -- the one i've used my whole life.

    I started doing that too, though it started just to distinguish me and another tutor where I worked. All of the stylish names now are polysyllabic and don't permit short forms -- "Dyl" for Dylan? Or Preston, Caleb, etc.? The formal types of older names don't make them sound so out-of-place now.

    Your posts make me feel like I'm in Never Never Land, thanks.

    That's about staying in childhood, though -- I just want to remain and date a bratty adolescent.

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  7. Instead, I have a unique name that is rather...porny.

    Bootyellen? Jugoline? Clitoria? Fellatiana?

    Sounds like an inner-city classroom.

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  8. I have a very unique first name that I have used successfully to start conversations with girls. It is so unique that it has no age related connotations whatsoever.

    I've started asking girls at clubs how old I look. The oldest I've gotten is 26. . . . and I'm almost 34.

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  9. Oh...boys. You will never guess it.

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  10. Oh...boys. You will never guess it.

    Your name is probably French-sounding, and names like often can sound sexy. I made this guess because a while back you used French diminutives to refer to your grandparents, memere and pepere IIRC, and that likely is a giveaway to your ethnic background.

    For my part, I've always been satisfied with Peter. It's been around forever without going through either trendy or old-fashioned stages. As such, it's never offered much of a clue to my age.

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  11. I've started asking girls at clubs how old I look. The oldest I've gotten is 26. . . . and I'm almost 34.

    That's another good thing about approaching much younger girls -- they don't have any experience being around much older guys, so they don't have a finely tuned sense of what a 27 vs 30 vs 33 y.o. looks like.

    Females closer to that guy's age would guess older (e.g., in the teen dance club, some guy thought I was 18 or 19 -- talk about lack of experience -- while people my age might guess 24).

    For my part, I've always been satisfied with Peter. It's been around forever without going through either trendy or old-fashioned stages. As such, it's never offered much of a clue to my age.

    Think again. "Peter" peaked around 1950 and has steadily declined since:

    Peak and decline

    Start volunteering with high schoolers, or something like that, and you'll learn pretty quickly how everything you do shows your age. That's probably one reason why adults don't want to interact with adolescents on a regular basis.

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  12. I should be able to sell myself as twenty when I'm forty, right?

    BTW, you said your type is the 5'1 gymnast in sweatpants, right? How many of these are over 21? I know you think we're being silly talking about young girls all the time, but with your tastes especially, you'll be singing our tune in just a few years.

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  13. Agnostic,

    Do you have an email contact for this blog?

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  14. I guess I don't, but you can reach me through GNXP. There's a contact form, or you can click on my name in any post that I wrote.

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  15. Recent declines in Peter's popularity don't concern me much as the name's been around for centuries. Ups and downs are to be expected. It's not like, for example, Dawn: that name came out of (almost) nowhere to be hugely popular in the 1960's, and within a couple of decades fell completely off the radar screen.

    Start volunteering with high schoolers, or something like that, and you'll learn pretty quickly how everything you do shows your age. That's probably one reason why adults don't want to interact with adolescents on a regular basis.

    Most adults who interact with adolescents, for example through volunteer work, do not want to associate with them as peers.

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  16. Jack apparently has become more trendy, while my given name has decreased in popularity (like all the "classic" names). Still, my given name is used more often even nowadays.

    Thinking about going by Jack in law school.

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  17. Most adults who interact with adolescents, for example through volunteer work, do not want to associate with them as peers.

    Oh you don't have to treat them as peers for them to make you feel like an old fogey; it's automatic. Make a Simpsons joke and watch their vacant eyes. Make just about any pop culture reference. Or try to decode their slang.

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  18. This snippet of conversation came after 20 minutes of talking with a girl in corner of a club a couple days ago. She was a university student who was really into Renaissance history. Not gorgeous, but cute. A borderline 7.

    ME: Hey, you're cool. We should hang out some time. Here, give me your number.
    HER: Uh, how old do you think I am?
    ME: 22? [I'm taking a wild ass guess here and inflating her age a bit because I'm not sure where this is going, but she could have been anywhere under 25.]
    HER: I'm 19. I can't go out with you . . .
    [For a brief second, I am really self concious. "Oh my god, she thinks I'm this creepy old 30 something guy who comes to clubs and hits on 19 year olds."]
    HER [continues]: I mean you're like . . . 25.
    [I nearly fall off my chair and have to restrain myself from bursting out laughing.]

    I actually did end up number closing her, though if I called her I'm pretty sure she'd flake.

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  19. Gannon4:38 PM

    "I mean you're like . . . 25."
    That attitude is not uncommon in US girls. In Argentina almost all girls as young as 17 will date guys as old as 30. Dating guys 5 to 12 years older is completely acceptable.

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  20. International comparisons of how much older a girl's ideal guy is -- that sounds like a good post idea. There are data. I just need to put them into easy-to-see visuals.

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  21. Ganon6:30 AM

    I think in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay a girl's ideal guy is 4 to 5 years older. However, dating guys up to ten (12) years older isn't much of an issue, if the girl is at least 16.

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  22. roissy8:36 AM

    International comparisons of how much older a girl's ideal guy is -- that sounds like a good post idea.

    i would greatly appreciate a post discussing this matter.

    (please lord let east europe head the top of the list).

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  23. International comparisons of how much older a girl's ideal guy is -- that sounds like a good post idea. There are data. I just need to put them into easy-to-see visuals.

    If you use data on average age at marriage, it's important to note that is some parts of the world arranged marriages are common, and may frequently involve significant age gaps. That shouldn't be a problem if the chart is limited to Western countries, the more developed Asian countries, and (possibly) Latin America.

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  24. I think you all are making it harder than it really is for guys to date younger girls. Younger girls, especially the wilder ones, will definitely date older guys. I had no problem at 25 dating a 20 year old. At 30, I find that women 22-24 or so don't mind my age AT ALL at sometimes prefer it.

    Hell, I've known hot 17 year olds who dated guys in their mid 20's.

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  25. Ishimukoyama4:56 PM

    Why the comment moderation? You take youself too serious, much too serious, which could cumulate in stroke of vesicle.

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  26. Why the comment moderation?

    I don't have a contact email here, and my teenage groupies have been bugging me for a way to discreetly leave a message like "don't publish this, but you should call me sometime, hot boy: 555-...."

    What can I say, a good writer responds to reasonable audience requests.

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