Before Sam was born, when people would ask us if we'd picked out names already, we'd unhesitatingly tell them, "Yes!" And then we'd proceed to tell them the names. Clearly, we were naive first timers, because I've since learned that conventional wisdom dictates you don't tell anybody, so as to avoid unsolicited opinions from the peanut gallery.
But we were pretty confident with our choices, and the name "Sam" generally met with a positive reception. (And if anyone ever did say anything negative, I've completely forgotten about it. This is why it's okay to be a jerk around me. I rarely remember bad manners.)
"Sam," people would repeat after us, with a little smile in their voices. "That's a good name."
"Thanks," we'd reply modestly. "We know."
At the time, we thought we were totally bucking convention. "Nobody's using the name 'Sam'," we'd cackle gleefully to each other. "This is awesome!" And then Sam was born, and since then I've met FOUR other babies and toddlers named Sam in my 'hood. Oh, well. I don't mind, and it's nice to know that there are so many other people out there with excellent taste.
A few months ago, I was talking to my fellow Bored Housewife Anne-Marie, who also has a little boy named Sam, about why we picked the name. "I don't know," said Anne-Marie. "It just sounded friendly. 'You can always count on Sam. Sam's got your back.'" I agreed.
It turns out we weren't just blowing smoke up each other's butts. According to the Baby Name Wizard, Sam ranks high on a "likeability" poll they conducted. (The poll was spawned by this earlier post.) Other names perceived as friendlier than average include Charlie, Tom, and Jack for boys, and Molly, Sarah, and Katie for girls.
As interesting as these informal statistics are, what's more interesting to me are the comments at the bottom of the post. Some people said that while these names are friendly and all, this fact may explain why they've been commandeered by pet owners, rendering the names unattractive for use on human beings. (My good friend Charlie will attest that he can't walk past a dog park without hearing his name called out, usually followed by the phrases "Get the ball!" or "Don't eat that!")
Other people mention that these so-called friendly names are pretty white. I'm no expert on the subject, so I'm not in a position to comment. Though Samuel L. Jackson or Sammy Davis Jr. (bless his soul) may wish to chime in.
Still other folks agree that "it seems very superficial to choose a name for that reason - because it's 'likeable'." And it's this sentiment that I tend to disagree with. Since when did being likeable become a bad thing? And sorry -- superficial? What?
When I think about it, the qualities that make a person likeable are not trivial or commonplace. When I imagine a truly likeable person, I imagine someone who is intelligent, sensible, honest, loyal, and fun. How many people do you know who fit this description?
I believe that we grow into our names and faces. By the time a person is 35 or 40 years old, their character can be read on their face as surely as words on a page. And I believe that we spend our lives wrestling with the names we are given, either trying to buck against the ideas we imagine our names embody, or trying to emulate them. And it goes from there that I believe that giving someone a name should give them something to aspire to.
In these crazy, dog-eat-dog, increasingly libertarian times in which we live, I think likeability -- true likeability -- is going to become an increasingly rare quality. Intelligence, common sense, honesty, loyalty, and a sense of fun -- these seem like pretty worthy goals to me.
But what do I know? I'm named after a popular country-Western singer. I've clearly got an axe to grind. I'm interested to hear what other people think -- of their own names, and the topic of names in general.
(Ups to Shona for the linkage!)