Would a name haunt a child for life?

I went to school with a boy named Peris. It was a girlish name and boys being boys, we took every available opportunity to remind him it was girlish.

I went to school with a boy named Peris. It was a girlish name and boys being boys, we took every available opportunity to remind him it was girlish.

Peris in turn took it upon himself to stand up for his name, after classes before our parents picked us up, there would be a fight behind the classrooms and he would face it out with whoever had insulted him most that day. At times he won, at times he lost. Good thing though is that no one died.

The fights hardened Peris and made his knuckles rough. He was always spoiling for a fight and the daily fights made him good at it.

His record for having his parents summoned to school was unbroken; almost weekly and at some point, they saw it best to move him to a different school. Changing his name would probably have ended his misery. We never found out what happened to him thereafter, he probably holds a wrestling championship title by now.

The celebrities whose steps we follow so religiously are known to give their children some of the most ridiculous names in history. Take the late King of Pop Michael Jackson for example; his son Blanket would have it much easier being home schooled because with a name like that, kids being kids will not hesitate to tease you about it.

Gwyneth Paltrow chose a really cute baby name for her daughter, Apple. But when sweet Apple is all grown up and running a company of her own, how many people will take her seriously with a name like Apple? It doesn’t command authority as would a name like Jennifer, for example. In other words, some names might seem cute for a child but for an adult, just plain ridiculous.

Few, if any, get to choose their names, and whatever the reason for choosing a particular name for a child, it easily becomes an identity, a trademark and a tag that could easily have an impact on them for the rest of their lives.

The reasons for the selected name range from the parents’ favourite character in a soap opera to revolutionary heroes to characters in the Bible. But unknown to them is that it shapes their character at times for the better or at times for the worse.

From a counselor’s point of view, names could shape the character of children by how the general public responds to them or by what they mean. Pauline Wanjiku, who makes a living as a counselor, says that some names could cause the child to have to stand up for themselves against bullies who tease them and when they can’t stand up for themselves they could easily have esteem issues.

“Though parents may not think much of it, a name could end up defining one’s character. It is rarely for the better; mostly it will affect one’s character negatively. For some it will cause them to feel like they are lesser persons and for long will go about life wondering why of all names their parents chose it for them. While for others, they will want to change them when they grow up or whenever they have a chance. Others grow up with a desire to defend their names any way they can, they build a boundary that they wouldn’t want crossed. When crossed they easily react and when it is very often, aggression becomes part of their character,” she says.

Wanjiku goes on to say that in some unique cases when children are named after famous personalities like revolutionary leaders, it could have an impact on how they are perceived by their mates. “At times children will try to live up to certain names especially if they are named after prominent persons. Though it is not often that it happens.”

Immaculate Chaka, a kid’s specialist in Kigali, says that some names which have negative meanings could easily cause the child to have issues as they grow. “If a name has a positive meaning, it usually doesn’t have much effect, but when the name has a not-so-positive meaning, they will not want much association with it and could easily get into fights with people who insist on it. Children’s characters will cause them to tease each other over petty things like names and it is not always good if one gets picked on for having a weird name,” Chaka says.

Chaka advises that it is a good thing if the parents get the child to like their names and when they don’t, at least explain to them the reason they chose that particular name for them.

“I know someone who despite being about 30 years now, is still not content with their name and is currently looking to change it. That is the kind of impact it has. By explaining to the children the genesis of their names it makes it easier for them to handle any pressure that may come as a result. “

“As one who deals with children in their early stages, I would urge parents to think and weigh what impact a child’s name will have on them as they grow. At times it more than just a name, it is a trademark, an identity,” Chaka concludes. 

When he gets children, Abdul Kayonga says he will tread carefully.

“As much as I hate to say it and admit it, there are names that will attract more scrutiny in this day and age with the ongoing events around the region. There are names that will cause people to be suspicious about you. I would rather not take the risk of having them (his children) scrutinised or denied visas to certain countries because of a name. God willing mine will have two African names and that’s it,” he says.

Kayonga says that it is unfair that names could open doors or close them. “Life is like that; some things like your name which are beyond your control could not only shape your character but change how people see you.”

As some blame their names for the person they turn out to be, Joan Mukandutiye sees it as weakness. “A name is just a tag to identify you and one shouldn’t let it shape the course of their life. You can’t go through life saying that you turned out to be who you are because of your name. It could have an impact on your childhood but at some point one needs to snap out of it and not live their lives based on what their name means.”

Before colonisation and gradual adoption of western ways like Christian names, our ancestors and forefathers were named after the seasons and times they were born in or after people who came and went before them. They didn’t let their names hold them back but rather people tried to live up to the family names passed down to them. Though he was not born in those times, Robert Nkuranga sees it as the time names had real meanings and as a result people would wear their names like medals of honour and live up to their expectations.

“Nowadays names don’t mean much, people have prestigious family names but don’t live up to them or even try to. Others only use them to scare people or get privileges and ‘open doors’. So I guess names no longer mean much or have an impact on people’s upbringing.  If you are lucky to have a prestigious family name, you just might get a few doors opened but it is never guaranteed nowadays.”

As parents we want the best for our children; that they may never experience difficulties and if they do, the difficulties should leave them better people. We wish that we could shoulder their pain and clear their way off any barriers they may stumble upon, perhaps we should begin by thinking through while naming them. Perhaps.



Does a child’s name have any impact on them as they grow?

Names have nothing to do with character. Names are randomly chosen and character is either inherited or developed so it really has nothing to do with it.

Edwin Ssenoga

Names have a huge impact on people in society. Some names are attached to important figures in society and those that have influence. Another case of how names can affect people is in school. People with funny names will always be bullied by their peers so a name is quiet important.

Robert Munanura

Yes, it can have an impact on their image in society. A name says a lot even before seeing someone’s face so it’s very important to have names that have sense especially in our culture.

Fred Manzi

I have heard people called Blessing but their lives are independent of this name’s meaning. They have nothing like a blessing in their lives. Same applies to names like Grace or Joy yet they get annoyed easily.

Priscilla Maliaka

Vox pop by Patrick Buchana


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