Common names for an uncommon person

Photo courtesy of Taylor Gray, Student Publications

Regrettably, being the first name to appear in Buzzfeed’s “7 Struggles of Having A Common Name” does not bode well for a child in a world bent on uniqueness.

In 2002, the name “Sarah” ranked eighth most popular baby name in the United States. Needless to say, I expect to be one of many every time I walk into a room. Part of my identity is the fact that I am part of a group bearing the same name as my own.

Typically, names can provide a hint about who we are, potentially revealing our age, religion, or ethnicity, and even our socioeconomic status and political affiliations. However, common names like “Sarah” give little away. Many classic names like “Sarah” have Biblical roots and tend to transcend age, religion, and ethnicity. You are just as likely to find an elderly John and Asian David as you are to meet a young Mary or Black Michael.

Classic names also ensure that children do not have to face the enduring hardship of mispronunciation. My parents named my older brother “Haris.” More people pronounce it wrong than they do right.

My parents learned their lesson once my sister and I came along. Many immigrants find it advantageous to choose popular American names for their children. Common names are a way to avoid cultural stereotypes and discrimination.

Still, common names can also be tied to cultural expectations about how a person should look or what a person should act like as well. With the name “Sarah Miller,” I would expect myself to be a middle-aged, white, Christian woman. Such an image is a bias rooted in language and culture and is not an entirely unfair assumption in those regards.

Even so, how can I own and treasure a name that bears little resemblance to who I am?

Of course, there are some advantages of having the name “Sarah Miller” — a 2016 research study from the American Psychological Association illustrated that there is a strong correlation between having a traditional American name and a person’s likeability and occupational success.

It is with this in mind that I try not to think that the grass is greener on the other side. An uncommon foreign name can be saddled to unwanted bias and discrimination. It is easy to look at a unique name from the other side and forget about its disadvantages.

On the other hand, a foreign name also immediately signifies a difference in background, upbringing, and experiences (particularly names of a specific origin, as opposed to unique names created for the sake of uniqueness).

When someone’s name is traditionally American, it becomes harder for them to attach themselves to the culture and background of their families.

However, your name says more about your parents than it says about you. Immigrant parents want their children to be accepted by their peers and assimilate into American culture.

Unfortunately, the dreams of parents can be the burdens of their children. In a society where people spend a lot of time trying to prove they are unique, it is hard to be satisfied fitting in.

Nevertheless, parents only want what is best for their children. With a name like mine and me being multiracial, I have rarely faced the hardships of being from an immigrant family. If nothing else, I can be grateful for that.

But it is important to remember that a name is just a label.

No matter how common or unique a name may be, it never represents a person as they truly are. It is not a name that makes a person, but a person that makes a name, after all.