Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I have never agreed more with Heather Mallick

The End Times must be coming.

If Heather Mallick ever wrote anything that I agreed with, I don't remember. She is usually one of the columnists who grates most on my nerves.

So I was pleasantly surprised to come across this column about how people judge you, especially by your name.

When I was a kid, the adults around me tried to reinforce the idea that you shouldn't judge people by their looks. I would usually judge a book by its cover (and I was usually right about doing that), but I would try not to judge people through their looks.

The thing is, statistically speaking, you were usually right about such conscious or unconscious judgements. Now it happens you're wrong. I remember a fellow Quebec Liberal telling me about how he went canvassing for his candidate and came upon a scruffy-looking, long-haired guy with the string-bean build and a leather jacket. He looked the part of a stereotypical separatist. My friend was a little nervous to talk about the candidate, but when he said who was running, the guy said "Hey, I know that guy! He's a [bleep] good guy, and I'm gonna vote for him!!!" I also remember in that riding that a lot of people with English and Italian names were separatist, but the French names were federalist.

Statistical blips do happen. But if you needed to campaign in Montreal on federalist platform, and you only had names to go by, who're you going to start with, English and Italian names, or French names? Heck, it might not even be worth your time to go to the English names-- you know 90% of them vote Liberal.

It's not judgmental or wrong to make such predictions. In the same way, names have the same effect. Everyone deserves to be treated as an individual, but when you need to make a quick judgment based on little information, you're going to go with your hunches.

And here's another piece of advice. Whatever the name, spell it correctly. This means spelling it the way it is generally spelled. Yes, Ethan is the most popular Canadian name for boys. But the list actually says Ethan/Ethen, which means many parents said, "Let's give him a really nice name, but make it individual." Ethen will irritate his schoolteachers for years, his driver's licence will be spelled correctly but wrongly, and he will never get off the no-fly list.

It gives the impression that your parents were quirky, so you must be quirky. It's such a handicap.

I understand the subtext as well as you do, but I'll come right out and say it. Fanciful misspelled names scream "trailer park." Just as buying those plastic whiskey jugs the size of barbecue propane tanks doesn't announce "I'm throwing a party" at the liquor store checkout. It howls "alcoholic."

Exactly. When I named my kids, my husband and I thought long and hard about my daughters' names-- Clarissa and Francesca. We wanted something relatively unique, but not unheard of in the "canon" of names in English. Many people compliment us on our choice of names (hey we think they're good, too) and we think they really fit with our daughters' personalities.

I don't think unusual is always a bad thing, but poor spellings, naming your kids after luxury items (e.g. "Lexus") or being too trendy reflects poorly.

A unique name should have some kind of history or etymology, and not be completely made up. Its distinction comes from its roots and its provenance, not from some conscientious effort to be unique. Names like Vanessa and Clarissa (and probably a bunch of Shakesperean names) started out as literary names that people adopted, maybe to seem literary-savvy. I know the fact that I read (most) of Clarissa (the longest novel in the English literary canon) in grad school had an influence in my choice of name.

Everything about us, the low-waistedness of our jeans and the blueness of the highlights in our hair, is a signal. The fact that you want to call it semiotics means that you took film courses in college and that you annoy people at parties.

Yes. Sometimes those signals are wrong. If you want to change the judgments, change the appearance: human nature is not going to change.

I have a nerdy, wallflower appearance. People judge me thinking I'm a soft-spoken, non-threatening, dull and "nice" character. If you looked at me, you wouldn't think there's anything about me.

People are surprised at how outspoken, loud and firm I can be. Maybe not you of course. :D

I haven't really made an effort to change my appearance since high school. People misjudge me, but I don't feel jilted by it, maybe because the judgement is mostly favourable. I think when I learned to accept that it was okay to make snap judgments about people's appearance (factoring in that you could be wrong) I am much more at peace with the world, and I feel more empowered because I know ahead of time that if I need a good judgment from someone, I will adapt my appearance accordingly.

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