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What’s in a (One-Of-A-Kind) Name?

In recent years, college campuses all over the U.S. have seen an increase in more creative and unconventional first names. Huntington University is home to a few. They share their experiences of having to constantly correct their own name. By Denali Kern, Contributor

In recent years, college campuses all over the U.S. have seen an increase in more creative and unconventional first names. Huntington University is home to a few. They share their experiences of having to constantly correct their own name.

By Denali Kern, Contributor

“When I was a kid, I used to really hate my name,” said Augustia Dewitt, a sophomore HU student. “Most of the reason for that was just that no one could ever pronounce it right. Now I like it a lot better though, especially since I’m going into acting, which is a field that really requires distinction.

ONE AND ONLY: Augustia Dewitt is the only “Augustia” you’ll find on Huntington University’s campus. She poses here with a cookie cake with her correct spelling — one of the best birthday gifts for someone with a unique name. (Photo provided by Augustia Dewitt)

Augustia Dewitt is among a small population of Huntington University students who have experienced both the pains and laughs that come with having a unique first name. People with more creative names often seem to have a story or two to tell, whether it’s complicated introductions or hilarious mispronunciations. Besides Augustia, two other first names that often get altered by their owners’ peers are “Mzatiwathu” and “BethAnn.”

“The correct way to say my name is with the emphasis on the ‘Tia,’ but people don’t seem to get that, even after I tell them.” Augustia Dewitt said in a DM interview on Instagram . “So I’ve heard /Au/gustia and Au/gus/tia all the time. I’ve also had more than a few Au-goose-tias, Augustus, and even just August.”

For some people, explaining their name becomes a part of everyday life, and while it can be fun or entertaining, it can also get tiring or old pretty quickly. Those who don’t mind the hassle too much embrace it, and others alter their name to make it a little bit easier to either pronounce, spell, or even comprehend.

Mzatiwathu Banda, a junior marketing, management and philosophy major, is one student of HU who has taken on a nickname. A lot of the time, he will introduce himself as “Z” to make things a little easier.

THE NAME’S “Z”: Mzatiwathu Banda goes by a variety of nicknames and knows that his oldest friends call him by his full name. (Photo provided by Mzatiwathu Banda)

“I think I got tired of having to correct people on my name and telling them how wrong they are when they pronounce it,” he said in an email interview. “Oddly enough I got the nickname Z from my coach, who actually properly pronounces ‘Mzati.’ But he called me Z and it stuck and spread from the (soccer) team into campus.”

Jennifer Moss, author of “The-One-In-A-Million Baby Name Book” and founder of the parenting website BabyNames.com, has been a respected name in the baby naming community, especially since 1995 when she launched her website to help parents find the perfect names for their children. She has been interviewed and quoted by CNN, Good Morning America, ESPN, MSNBC, Huffington Post Live and Fox News. In an email interview, she shed some light on the process of the baby naming business.

NAMING BABIES SINCE 1995: Jennifer Moss is a web designer, photographer and author of baby names and fiction books alike. She co-hosts the podcast “The Baby Names Podcast” with her sister, Mallory Moss. (Photo from her biography website)

“We reference two popularity lists — one is the lists created by our users at any given time,” said Moss. “We can see which names are ‘trending’ in real-time by what our users prefer. The second is compiled by the U.S. Social Security office, and that goes by first names by birth year.”

She explains that unique names all depend on geography and culture — what may be unique in one country, may be completely normal in another. The same goes for regions and states in the United States.

Moss says that she’s discovered that parents don’t want super common names anymore. It’s becoming more accepted to be different and unique in our current culture.

The Social Security Administration categorizes names from the years 2000 to 2018 according to popularity. In 2018, the most popular baby names were Liam and Emma. Michael and Jessica ranked number one in the 1990s. The decline in the use of common names and the rise in more unusual first names is obvious when looking at the numbers.

Take the names “John” and “Emily” from the chart above, for example. They were both very popular names in the early 2000s and earlier, but their use is slowly declining while more unconventional names like “Journey” and “River” are slowly becoming more popular. With the limited information that the Social Security Administration gives out, we can only see from year 2000 and on, but if we were to look back a little further, there would be a much more dramatic shift of these names and their rank.

BethAnn Bleemel, a junior at HU with a film major and a broadcasting minor, still has a little fun with her name.

IT’S NOT BETHANY: BethAnn Bleemel has expressed her distaste for being called “Bethany,” but says she doesn’t mind the occasional “Beth.” (Photo provided by BethAnn Bleemel)

“That’s one of the nice personal details I love about HU.” she said. “No one spells my name wrong and no one calls me by the wrong name. The only other name I’ll answer to Beth. But I’ve had a few people call me Mary Beth, and it makes me smile because I’ll stop people all the time and challenge them when they get my name wrong. I’ll always ask ‘What’s my name?’ and wait till they figure it out or I’ll tell them.”

But, how can one analyze the use of any names without consulting the very people who chose them? I interviewed my own parents and asked them why they had named me “Denali.” It’s not a name that many have ever heard of.

PLAYING A PART: Ryker and Marchelle Kern have lived in nine states throughout their married life, and so decided to build on that tradition with their children. We are all named after geographical places: Sierra (Nevada), Austin (Texas), Savannah (Georgia), and Denali (Alaska). (Photo by Denali Kern)

“We spent a few years in Alaska when we first were married, and we saw Mt. McKinley every day as we drove to work and back,” said Marchelle Kern, my mother. “Even at that distance, it was a humongous mountain. And the native people call it, of course, ‘Denali.’ And it means ‘The Great One.’”

They named my siblings and me after geographical places: Sierra (Nevada), Austin (Texas), Savannah (Georgia), and Denali (Alaska).

Personally, I enjoy having an uncommon name because it has really become a part of who I am. My days usually consist of me correcting or pronouncing it over and over again to strangers and even friends. A few of my favorite mispronunciations and misuses of my own name are Delaney, Den(aw)li, Denellie, and oddly enough, Daniel.

Names mean something. The Bible verse, Proverbs 22:1, states, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

My father believes this as well.

“We understand that our names are the strongest self-fulfilling prophecy that you can impart upon a person,” said Ryker Kern, my father. “In other words, names mean things. So you have to be careful when naming your children that they mean what you want them to mean.”

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