The Importance of a Rare Name

My wife is pregnant with our second child, so I have been thinking about names quite a bit lately. We try really hard to come up with names that are usual. (Popular baby names is a good resource if you are engaged in this pursuit.) Our primary reason for this search is convenience — we would prefer that our child never be know as “blah W”. However, it recently occurred to me that there are additional benefits to having a rare name.

As a recent entrant into blogging I have, on occasion, engaged in a bit of ego surfing. For me, however, it is not particularly ego inflating. This is partly because Peter Williams is a fairly common name (and partly because I am not that smart). It is uncommon enough that I have never meet another one in person, but it is common enough that Google has no idea who I am. Google will probably never know who I am because there are quite a few other very interesting Peter Williams’ out there. When I look at my blog roll I see a lot of uncommon names. It seems that there might be a correlation between being an A-list blogger and having an uncommon name. In an age where most of our information is mediated by search engines, an unusual name seems to be a valuable asset.

I fear that whatever name we chose for our children it will not be rare enough. Williams is just too common. I wonder if this might lead to a cultural shift in which children given all their names, rather than inheriting a family name. If the benefits of an unusual name included demonstrable social and economic benefits I think many parents would be quick to dump the family name. On the other hand, it could be that the emotional attachment people have to their family name is too great for it to be easily discarded. And at this point it is not clear, to me at least, that an unusual name actually has significant economic benefit. I think it is too early to tell if this shift will happen — I think it might take a generation or more such a fundamental change to take place — but if it did it would be an terribly intriguing.

For what is worth, I can say that my wife and I have no intention of giving our children a last names other than Williams.