What’s In a Name? A Mental Wellness Evaluation, Apparently.

Names of Crazy People

What kind of crazy are we talking about?  There’s the fun kind of crazy (“Hey, if Mark ever asks you to hang out at his house, you totally should.  That guy is crazy!”) and there’s the dangerous, possibly homicidal kind of crazy (“Hey, if Mark ever asks you to hang out at his house, you totally shouldn’t.  Instead, you should change your name and move to a different town.  It’s probably best not to even make eye contact with Mark.  Seriously.  That guy is crazy!”)  And there are all sorts of crazy in between (“Mark is talking about buying a winter home in Colombia.  Isn’t that crazy?”)

I have a small problem with the word crazy.  Too often, people use it as a comprehensive term for the mentally ill, and that’s just not fair.  The word carries connotations of wildness or aggressiveness that simply aren’t characteristic to all (or most) mental illnesses.  If you use the word crazy to describe a mentally ill person, you’re doing a disservice, not only to the person in question but to mentally ill people in general.  You’re painting a picture of the mentally ill that is neither flattering nor accurate.   So yeah, we have to be careful when we use the word, lest we come across as insensitive.

That’s not actually my main problem with this meme, though.  My big problem is that this meme suggests a connection between a person’s given name and their eventual mental state.  This is one step removed from astrology, in which proponents claim that the relative (and transitory) positions of the planets and stars at the moment of your birth has an abiding effect on your personality.  Of course it’s utter nonsense, and this meme isn’t much better.  How could a name – particularly one as vanilla as the names on this list – given to you upon your nativity, possibly have an effect on your future mental health?

I decided to check up on the relative frequency of the names on the crazy list.  Here are the ranks of each name in the United States, as reported by Mongabay.com:

Female Names (with rank)

  1. Ashley (63)
  2. Shannon (123)
  3. Melissa (30)
  4. Allison (228)
  5. Rebecca (34)
  6. Mary (1)
  7. Christina (70)
  8. Kelly (67)
  9. Victoria (116)
  10. Stephanie (41)
  11. Tiffany (110)
  12. Elizabeth (5)
  13. Lindsey (301)
  14. Andrea (81)
  15. Heather (53)

Male Names (with rank)

  1. Nick (64, for Nicholas)
  2. Mark (14)
  3. Adam (69)
  4. Jeff (120)
  5. Tyler (198)
  6. Travis (119)
  7. Frank (31)
  8. Bradley (128)
  9. Brandon (68)
  10. Mike (105) (Michael (4))
  11. Scott (32)
  12. Eric (33) (Erik (231))
  13. Ryan (49)
  14. Tommy (161)
  15. Matthew (25)

The interesting thing here is that the top crazy names picked by the meme’s authors are among the top names in general.  In other words, if there are more crazy people named Mark or Rebecca, that’s only because there are more people named Mark and Rebecca in the general population.  Assuming that mental illness (or craziness, if you prefer) strikes people named Mark and Rebecca with the same frequency that it strikes everybody else – and I see no reason to believe that it doesn’t – then it only makes sense that there would be a higher number of unstable Marks and psychotic Rebeccas than there would be of crazy people with less common names.  If you’re wondering why you’ve never met a crazy person named Irwin or Manville, ask yourself this: how many non-crazy Irwins or Manvilles have you met.  Not too many, I’m willing to bet.

(If you have met a person named Manville who also happened to be bugshit insane…well, statistical anomalies happen, I suppose).

So if we’re going to give the meme’s author any credit at all – and in my opinion, he or she doesn’t really deserve any – then we can do so only because statistically, the author is likely to be at least partially correct.  You’re more likely to meet a crazy person named Mary because you’re more likely to meet a person named Mary.  There’s no other reason to assume that the mental health of an individual would be correlated to his or her name.

2 thoughts on “What’s In a Name? A Mental Wellness Evaluation, Apparently.

    • Yes. It’s a shame the meme’s author didn’t describe his methodology; it would be enlightening to know from whence he draws his conclusions (other than “from his butt”, I mean).

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