Some people like having an unusual name. Their special monicker gives them a sense of self-identity . . . they feel like they really are one of a kind.
I used to be an idealist when it came to having an unusual name, believing that such could make you unique. Why rely on a nine-digit Social Security number to make you different from everyone else when a really unusual first and last name combination could do that much more prominently?It had never bothered me that most people couldn't pronounce or spell my last name - Arave (pronounced "AR-VEY") - since I always rationalized that this was a reasonable price to pay for having a unique name (albeit, my unisex first name also caused me problems, like getting mail for "Ms. Lynn Arave" or letters published in national magazines that identified me as a female).
I also thought fondly of a 19th century ancestor who aided my uniqueness when he moved from Canada to the United States and somehow managed to change the family name from "Arrivee" (which means "arrival" in French) to its present bizarre spelling of "Arave."
Then a couple of years ago my bubble burst.
A woman telephoned me with a radio station question, since I write a weekly column about radio in Utah, and said that, by the way, she had met the other Lynn Arave in Idaho the week before.
My research confirmed the worst. There was indeed another Mr. Lynn Arave living in Idaho Falls, and he is about 10 years older than I am - making him the original! (At least his middle initial was J. instead of R.)
I later discovered, too, that there is also a female Lynn Arave in Idaho, someone who had married a distant cousin of mine.
My identity problems didn't stop there, either. After moving to Layton, I started getting phone calls for people who had first names that were familiar to me, but they weren't. I was baffled when they'd finally ask, "Well, isn't this the Lynn Arave from Layton?"
I soon discovered that a cousin of mine, about my age, named Leonard Arave, also now lived in Layton. The problem was his nickname - "Len" - which is phonetically similar to Lynn. (Strangely enough, Len also gets phone calls intended for me occasionally.)
When I related these name mixup stories to my mother, she took them in stride and told me of even more such mixups in the family. For example:
- My mother, Norma, told me there were three other employees named "Norma Arave" who worked with her at Hill AFB in the late 1940s. Paychecks continually got mixed up among the four, she said.
- My younger brother, Mark, was struck with a classic name mixup a few years ago when he received the maternity bill intended for a cousin of the same name who also lived in the Ogden area.
- My sister Karen has had a lot more name mixup problems since she got married. She and husband Jon periodically get phone calls and mail for another Jon and Karen Hugie, who also live along the Wasatch Front.
After all these facts hit home, I didn't worry about trying to give my first child a unique name. So what if there is another Roger Arave in Utah? My parents had almost named me Roger Lynn Arave, instead of Lynn Roger, and if they had I'd at least have avoided the unisex name problem. So, Roger Lynn it was.
Then I started wondering: If I've had so many mixups with my highly unusual name, how many must people have if their last name is a common one like Smith or Jones?
I had that question partially answered earlier this year when I helped a gentleman from Peru track down a Utahn he had met 10 years earlier in South America. I had to sort through 17 different "Scott Petersons" listed in telephone books from Provo to Logan before I got a lead that helped me locate the correct Scott . . . not in Utah, but in Michigan!
To complete some related research, I also took the seven names of the other male staffers in the Today Section of the Deseret News and looked them up in as many telephone directories as I could find (over 30, including all the Utah phone books and a dozen big U.S. cities like New York and San Diego) to see if there were other people with their same first and last names.
(I had no reliable method for checking the names of female Today Section staff members, but I do remember that a couple of months ago a young lady with the same name as Kathryn Clayton, our travel editor and Do-It Man columnist, came in to fill out a bridal questionnaire.)
The results of my findings:
Ray Boren, associate Today Section editor: Although there were Borens scattered all over, from the smallest of Utah towns to the nation's largest cities, there was NO other Ray Boren listed, and Ray says he's never heard of another by his same name.
Richard Christenson, art critic: Because Richard's last name is "son," instead of "en," I only found only one other person with the same name.
William Goodfellow, music writer: I found two others with the same first and last name, one in Denver and another in Spokane.
Chris Hicks, movie critic: There may be only one Chris Hicks, movie expert, but I found five other Chris Hickses and one was even listed as Christopher Hicks.
Jerry Johnston, columnist/book editor: I found 14 different Jerry Johnstons.
Ivan Lincoln, makeup editor/theater writer: Surprisingly, there were few Lincolns listed in any phone book. The phone book for the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., had the most listed, with a dozen. But although the surname was popular for such designations as "Lincoln Place," "Lincoln Plaza," etc., I found no other Ivan Lincolns. There may be some, but fewer than one might expect.
Joseph Walker, TV editor/theater critic: I found two enrolled at Brigham Young University this year alone, 12 in Dallas-Forth Worth and 23 others, for a total of 37.
- DO YOU HAVE name mixup problems too? There are a few things you can do to to lessen the problem:
- List your full name, with middle initial or even full middle name, in the telephone directory.
- If married, consider listing your spouse's name too, for extra distinction.
- Don't get upset if you get phone calls or mail for another person with your same name. Chances are, this other person also gets calls and mail for you. (This situation could be a good opportunity to meet new people or even expand information about your relatives.)
- It's smart to be aware of others living in your general area with your same name. For example, it's not an urban legend that occasionally people with the same first and last names as a wanted lawbreaker are erroneously arrested instead. These types of mixups are reported on the national news wire every few months.
A name is a name - or is it?
Consult a book on baby names and you'll find more than 13,000 first names to choose from. A name is part of our personal identity. Some studies suggest that the long-term psychological effect of a name can influence whether a person succeeds or fails in life.
One educational study hinted that higher grades are given to students with more common names than those with obscure names. Another revealed that the public tends to vote for the candidates with the smoother-sounding and more popular names.
Still another study of 3,000 Harvard University undergraduates concluded there is a higher proportion of dropouts among those with strange, unpopular names.
It's no secret that an almost endless number of entertainers have changed their given names in favor of ones that are not only more popular but easier to pronounce as well.
According to the American Name Society, and Sandra Buzbee Bailey's "Big Book of Baby Names," these are the most popular first names in the United States:
Boys' names Girls' names
1. Michael 1. Jennifer
2. Jason 2. Mary
3. Matthew 3. Karen
4. David 4. Michelle
5. Brian 5. Jessica
6. Christopher 6. Katherine
7. John 7. Rebecca
8. James 8. Deborah
9. Jeffrey 9. Robin
10. Daniel 10. Megan