There was a time in junior high when I would introduce myself to strangers as "Andi, with an 'i'." With one simple fib, I could wander the arcade manifesting the new identity that the name Andi so richly implies - a tomboy, a horseback rider with ribbons lining her bedroom walls, a girl with neatly folded Lacoste shirts stacked in her wicker drawers.
I could stay Andi for only so long before Teresa had to take Andi's calls, which really confused my mother and that was the end of that. The point is, I felt different with my adorably misspelled tomboy name. What if I had lived with that name all along?
That brings me to my friend Mitzi, who claims that her name is so unappealing as to be a romantic deterrent. "When I meet people, they always say they had a dog named Mitzi. A dog that died," she explains. "People ask me if Mitzi is short for anything. Yes, it's short for Mitzi, The Girl Whose Parents Didn't Love Her Enough to Give Her a Pretty Name."
If it seems absurd that a person's name could influence their perceived attractiveness, check this out. A graduate student at MIT recently conducted a small study. She put 24 photos on the website "Hot or Not" (www.hotornot.com). Sure enough, the same photos with different first names were judged more or less "hot." The study concludes that certain vowel sounds and other factors determine "hotness" scores, and if I could explain exactly how, I'd be writing for Dipthongs Today. Suffice to say, science does support Mitzi's contention. A person's name matters.
Andi and I were right.
If your parents name you Amber, don't you become an Amber? Skin rashes, body odor, astigmatisms, they know to stay away from the likes of Amber. The name operates as a talisman, warding off the evils of ugliness and puberty. When a friend was choosing a name for her baby, she described the blind date/board room paradox, which is that a girl's name should seem enticing enough for a blind date yet serious enough for the boardroom.
Few of the names I found on an Internet poll of "Sexiest Female Names" pass the boardroom test. It's not that women with foxy names aren't intelligent, it just sounds odd: "And now, coming to the podium with a PowerPoint presentation on market growth, Chantal and Candy." If I were wrongly accused of a heinous crime, I might not want Crystal, Brandy or Destiny representing me in court.
On the contrary, dipping into the poll's list of "Least Sexy Female Names" (apologies, it's not my poll) would you want to be fixed up with my single friends Gertrude and Bessie?
My name barely passes both tests, so I can't complain. But it is also one of the most Catholic names on the planet, which is strange, being Jewish and all. You try going to Hebrew school named Teresa. My Judaic Studies teacher was so addled she started calling me Rachel one day and I never corrected her. I'm frequently asked, "What kind of Jew is named Teresa?"
I don't know, the kind whose parents didn't want her to fit in enough to call her Deborah or Naomi. As for Mitzi, she's a comedian and might not have bothered to be funny if she were Jennifer, Emily or Olivia. And me? I'm an outsider wherever I go, which I can hardly blame on my name, though it would be a pat explanation. Would I be better adjusted and more appealing with one of those cool, vaguely masculine, non-denominational names that rates so well in the MIT study? Sorry, Charlie.