The stories behind unusual names

Davy Vargo

Eighteen years ago, Dwayne Wills was driving to work, mulling over what to name his baby daughter on the way.

First, he thought of the name My Girl, based on the Temptations’ song “My Girl.” He was quickly talked out of that idea. But then he heard another song—“Angel.”

“On the way to work, I heard a song (‘Angel’),” Wills said. “It just dawned on me, ‘Mi’Angel.’ There it is. I pulled over and wrote it down.”

And so Mi’Angel Daniels (pronounced “my” and then “angel”) was born and named.

“I like my name,” said Daniels, a Kent State freshman fashion design major. “My mom was going to name me Mikyla, but my dad, he wanted to name me Mi’Angel.”

Dozens of names bombard students on a daily basis. These names often blur together — but sometimes, one unusual name sticks out. Students with unusual first names tend to enjoy being named something a little bit different.

Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor at Guilford College in North Carolina, said unusual names shouldn’t be avoided.

“Unusual names may not be a negative,” he said. “If these names are perceived as special or distinctive, then they can be a plus. If, in fact, names are perceived as weird, or if kids are made fun of because they have real atypical names, then I think it may be a problem.”

Zweigenhaft researched usual names and found that unusually named people are more likely to be high-achievers.

He said the name’s context is one of the deciding factors of success for an unusual name.

Upperclass people who give surnames as first names is an example of context, he said. This, he said, can imply privilege.

“So you have a rich person like Huntington Hartford, or the former president of the college where I teach was named Grimsley Hobbs,” he said. “The context for those two people was, ‘You’re from two distinguished families, the Hartfords and the Huntingtons or the Hobbs and the Grimsleys. And so even though you have an unusual first name, we gave you that name so you will know that you are special.”

Ethnic roots can also influence names, Zweignhaft said.

He said that Americans with African, Greek or Israeli backgrounds may name their children after something important in their culture.

“The message again is, ‘You’re special, and we wanted you to know part of why you’re special,’” he said.

Zweigenhaft found that girls tend to deal better with their unusual names than boys. He also uncovered that the parents who give their children unusual names may be distinctive themselves.

Jade Jarrett, a Kent State freshman exploratory major, is one of three siblings with green names—Jade, Hunter and Saige.

While Jarrett didn’t think her parents originally planned the green theme, her mother told a different story.

“My husband — his favorite color’s green; he’s a hunter,” Brandi Jarrett said. “Before we knew if Jade was a boy or girl, it was gonna be Hunter. But I decided to change when I found out she was a girl, to Jade.”

The next child born into the Jarrett family was a boy, so he received the name Hunter. Then Saige came along.

Mi’Angel and Jade aren’t the only different names at Kent State.

Junior physical education major Unique Rembert was named after a nurse whose nickname was Unique.

“I love my name,” she said. “I think it makes people want to get to know me more.”

But some of the people at Rembert’s job don’t believe Unique is her real name.

“I have the name tag on, and they’ll be like, ‘Is that your real name?’” she said, “and I’m like ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t it be — it’s on my name tag.”

Rembert wants to name her future children unusual names.

“I’m gonna name them as unusual as I can,” she said. “I just know it has to be something better than my name. There’s a lot of pressure on me now.”

Rembert may be doing just what Zweigenhaft advises the parents who call him to do.

“I wouldn’t recommend against it (giving unusual names),” he said. “People want to be identifiably distinctive, and the first name is one way it can happen.”

He said parents should think about the last name when considering first names as well.

“For instance, I have a very unusual last name,” he said. “I didn’t particularly need an unusual first name because my identity was clearly going to be different from other people.”

Zweigenhaft advises parents to consider implications of the name they’re considering.

“Fine to go with an unusual name as long as it’s clear to the child why you chose it,” he said. “And then you choose it to communicate to the child that he or she is special, not odd.”

Senior biology major Princess Garrett likes her name, even though it has caused her an awkward moment or two.

“I’ve heard some of the worst pick-up lines — like guys always say like ‘Oh I’m your prince,’” the senior biology major said. “Luckily I’m engaged now so I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

Daniels also noticed a difference in the way guys versus girls take it when she introduces herself as Mi’Angel.

“Girls will be like ‘Oh that’s so cute, like seriously,’” she said. “Guys have a harder time understanding, (because) they’ll be like, ‘What, that’s your name, so you’re like my angel?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah.’ I don’t know why but guys always have to break it down, like super slow.”

Contact Davy Vargo at [email protected].