In 1944, a woman named Corrie was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany for her involvement with the Dutch resistance. For two years, Corrie smuggled Jewish people to safety through a secret room in her home. Despite the loss of her father and sister at Ravensbruck, Corrie’s faith in an all-powerful God never wavered, giving her the the courage to surrender herself to save those around her.
In 2016, a girl named Corrie sits at her desk, typing this story. Though I have not defied Nazis or endured imprisonment in a concentration camp, I still long to sacrificially serve people different from myself. I am passionate about social justice and unconditional love. Because of my namesake, Corrie ten Boom, I better understand the power of forgiveness and the joy found in surrendering my own comfort for the sake of another.
I’m surprised at how often I find myself motivated by my Dutch counterpart. I can’t help but wonder how much others are affected by their names. Can the decision our parents made before we even enter the world determine our future?
Some people believe it does. In an article for Live Science, journalist Jeanna Bryner agrees our names can have a profound impact on us. Bryner says that our feelings about our name are closely linked to our self-esteem. If we don’t like our name, we sometimes struggle to like ourselves.
“Our names really are wrapped up in our identity,” Bryner said.
Bryner points out that parents’ expectations for their children can be reflected in the names they choose for their children.
A study done by psychologists William Schonberg and Michael Murphy says that the distinctiveness of one’s name is sometimes more telling than the name itself. The research explains how someone with an unusual name can feel set apart and one-of-a-kind, which can lead to an increased confidence. The study also discovered that some names are easier to remember than others, and that much of our self-worth is found in others knowing our name.
I decided to explore these theories by talking to some people about the impact that their names have had on them.
Marin Hulme was named after Marin County, California. Her mother fell in love with the name while driving through the county. Although Marin has an unusual name, people rarely remember it, and she often feels that this creates a barrier between her and the other person.
“Sometimes I just don’t say my name because, I’m like, ‘You’re not going to remember, so I don’t need to say it,’” Marin said.
Because of the way she feels when her name is forgotten, Marin works hard to treat the people she meets differently.
“It’s made me realize that it’s important to memorize other people’s names,” she said. “It makes people feel loved when you do.”
Luke Mackinnon is named after the apostle Luke in the Bible, not Luke Skywalker, as he will tell you with a hint of sadness.
He describes his biblical namesake as “a devoted follower of Christ,” something he aims to be. Luke explained that his name means “light,” and believes it’s important for him to “reflect the light of Christ,” not only through his name, but through his actions.
For Luke, having a more common name has its benefits. For instance, he often comes across people who share his name.
“It’s a fun thing when you find someone else with the same name,” he laughed. “I feel a bond.”
Joy Beck, a girl with a ready smile and contagious laugh, embodies her name perfectly.
“My parents decided to name me ‘Joy’ because they said I’m the joy of the Lord for them,” she said with a grin. “I think that’s really sweet and makes my name really special.”
She sometimes wonders if hearing her name so often has contributed to her cheerfulness. “Maybe there’s something going on where I hear the word joy and it makes me joyful,” she pointed out.
“I love my name and I love the fact that I do have a joyful personality,” she told me. “It makes me feel confident and comfortable with the name that I have.”
Our names can make us feel one-of-a-kind or connected to others. Names can inspire us to develop certain parts of our character or to follow in the steps of another. It seems evident that, consciously or unconsciously, we are shaped by our names.