Do you suffer from the “Curse of the Common Name” Common Nameor are you one of those blessed with a truly unique name that identifies you before anyone actually meets you?

I’ve always hated the name “David” because it was so common.

I much preferred “Keith” growing up but I never had the gumption to insist others actually refer to me by that name.

My father wanted to call me “Rocky” but my mother demanded the ordinary safe “David” harbor to the extraordinary rough shore. I’m not thrilled with the idea I was almost a Rocky, but anything is better than the “beloved” David.

Most people my age cursed with “David” cringe when we hear our name spoken aloud because sometimes five people in a crowded room will turn their head when hearing “David!” yelled from afar.

I stopped answering to David and now only respond when people use my last name or my full name. “Boles!” or even “David Boles!” is better than plain “David” — or “Dave” as my Nebraska friends used to call me — or “Davey” as my grandfather fondly called me. “Davey” is slightly more tolerable than “Dave” but 100% better than “David.”

Everyone on the East Coast calls me “David” by default while Midwesterners always default to “Dave” even if they’re meeting me for the first time. I am still waiting for the day when I’m brave enough to say, “Hi, my name is ‘David Boles’ but please call me ‘Keith’ instead.” My full name — “David Boles” — isn’t much of a help in creating individual significance because there are so many of us.

I used to be awakened in the middle of the night with phone calls asking me the price of gold in London. I later discovered a “David Boles” worked at a major investment bank in New York City. I was in the Manhattan phone book. He was not. I removed my name from the phone book after learning five other “David Boles” people all lived within a five mile radius of me… umm… “us”… or would that be “we?” In order to add a little bit of personalization to my name, I decided to add the “W.” in official public matters to try to find a modicum of specialness in the virtual world. The Internets has been awful for aiding certain identification because every day more “David Boles” folk show up and that just messes up the name pool something awful.

The fact I was born “David Isherwood” and not “David Boles” complicates the whole matter even more. “Boles” is no longer a person — it now resounds in me only as a Brand. I thought about becoming Isherwood again about 15 years ago, but all my friends and bosses and associates said, “No, don’t do it! ‘David Boles’ sounds like a famous name!” My wife also said, “I married ‘Boles’ not ‘Isherwood’.” Did I tell you she kept her maiden name? And so here we are. Just call me “Keith.”


  1. When someone I know reached 40, he was honorarily indoctrinated into the ‘Society of Davids’. At the party of 8 or so couples I think about 5 were called David.
    ‘Ben’ isn’t much better. Middle name is ‘David’ too, so no help there.

  2. Hi Ben!
    Welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    Ugh! The “Society of Davids” sounds just what I’m trying to avoid! Why? WHY THIS CURSED NAME?
    I know a few Bens. They have always been kind and approachable.
    I’m sorry to hear about your middle name. Have you considered Keith instead?

  3. I may have mentioned this before, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only Gordon Davidescu in the world. Moreover, Gordon as a first name is pretty rare, at least in the United States. In England it’s quite more commonplace – but never with Davidescu. 🙂

  4. One odd thing about having a first name that is relatively rare in this country (every web site that tells you how many people have my first name puts me at around 127,000 Gordons – versus nearly 3 million Davids!) is that a lot of people seem to misspell it. This is particularly the case at Starbucks and it seems to only happen with, for whatever reason, African American women, who always spell my name as Gordan or Gorden. I can’t explain it.

  5. Does anyone ever call you “Gordo?”
    3 million Davids! That’s ten times lower than I thought!
    Now that’s fascinating how people misspell your first name. Your last name I could understand, but your first name is wild — especially the how and why your name is misspelled. Do you correct the misspelling or just let it go?

  6. You have such fun entries. I’m glad I found your blog.
    I’m facinated by the relative popularity of names at any given time and the way they rise and fall in popularity (usage) across time.
    This java app is fun and revealing.
    David is indeed a curse of popularity. We all want our boy gentle, rightous, able to do Bathsheba, able to repent, able to kill goliaths with the swing of a sling.
    Name Voyager reveals that my name had its height of popularity when my father was born. It paled next to David.
    Most everyone I know, save the David’s and the Michael’s and except for the people who inherited a family name, was named at the peak of the name’s popularity.
    It’s more difficult to ascertain whether names we name our children today are at their height or not for obvious reasons, but it’s facinating to scope out the names of all our friends at a certain age or our parents and their parents.
    I always hated my name, “Donald”, so I use “Don”. Never mind my middle name — named for my great-grandfather whom I adore. I tell that one to people just to make them laugh.

  7. Don!
    Akismet caught you! I’m glad I saw your name in the Spam bin and rescued you back here!
    Thanks for the kind words! We appreciate your support and comments!
    I love that site your mentioned. I’ve been putting in names. What great fun!
    It’s interesting how “Simon” has taken a huge upswell since 2005. I guess that’s the “American Idol” effect!
    Popular names are just that — you hear a name and you like it and you steal it and put it on your baby and your baby suffers for it forever. Biblical names have the edge in that area, I guess, because you can imbue your unborn child with a history and a connection to a religious path.
    There was a time in the Black Community about 15-20 years ago when babies were born into royal names that required respect by just saying the name: King, Sir, Princess, Duke — it was a fascinating trend for a time to watch.

  8. I don’t bother correcting the spelling of my name unless it is going to be for a financial document of some sort – if my name is spelled wrong on a starbucks coffee cup, is it really so bad? Probably not.
    I have been called Gordo my whole life by various friends. I actually had a friend who went by the nickname Delgado – and the irony was that he was on the chubby side and I have always been on the slender side and our nicknames mean just the opposite! 🙂

  9. My name has become more common over time.
    Nicola was pretty original as was Watchorn when I was born. When I first got married it changed to Nicola Wadey – a few more of them arround. Second marriage though it changed to Brown – millions of them – but my kids loved it as they then got to the front of the alphabetical queue.
    As I have said before – thank heaven I didn’t get landed with Araminta !
    David is actually a name I am quite fond of – there have been several significant Davids in my life.

  10. Hi Nicola!
    I love your name! Perhaps I should become “Keith Nicola!”
    I understand the alphabetization advantage! Going first with a “B” is always quite fine. A guy moved into our neighborhood when I was younger. His last name was “Bool” and he HATED IT that I was called right before he was. He was always used to going first.
    I’m glad you like David! It’s good to be “beloved.”

  11. LOL! Awesome post!
    I too have a very common name and I hate it. I swore down when my Children were born that they would not be given names that are common in the UK.
    As a result, mom hated the names I picked for my first and second child. My youngest has a slightly more common name, but it’s not a name that’s as common as some. At least they don’t get the wrong kid in the school playground when their names are shouted.

  12. Dawn!
    Thanks for the sweet words!
    LOVE YOUR STORY! You understand the curse!
    I am SO HAPPY you fought to help your children become unique in the world through the labels of their names.
    Some parents claim “Always go Biblical” when it comes to naming children because it is safe and others won’t make fun of a religiously-inspired name — but some of us know better!

  13. My name is uncommon in USA for obvious reasons; it is uncommon in my country too.
    In my mother language my name means – a flower that speaks/tells.
    Kathakali is also the name of a famous South Indian classical dance –
    And I hated my name because whenever someone met me their very first question used to be –
    “Can you dance?”
    I can only dance if I gulp down a bowl full of fiery hot red chillie soup, or else – NO. Nothing. Nada. Forget about any form of classical dance.
    I am not taking into consideration the ‘hip swinging with a rhythmic trance music in a mad crowd’ as a dance form.
    Some were more unique – “Did/ do you talk a lot?”
    Ha! What a theory!
    When I was named I could only cry! Should I say ‘Curse of the uncommon name’?

  14. Hi Katha!
    Great story! I love those Kathakali dance images! Beautiful!
    Why did your parents give you that name?
    Is your last name common? Didn’t someone from India claim here your last name is famous or privileged?

  15. Thanks for the wonderful detail, Katha! I like your grandpa’s style!
    Loved reading about your last name, thanks! If you marry will you keep your last name or will you take the name of your husband?

  16. You are welcome and good question!
    If I marry I will take the name of my husband.

  17. Not reallye. It’s added on to make it special but everyone does it. It isn’t much better than adding an “a” instead of “e”.

  18. Heh! Fair enough, Anne!
    I met an Ane at UNL. She was a grad student from Norway.
    She was quite unique in every way! She pronounced “Ane” as “AH-NAY” with the emphasis on the first syllable.

  19. What is up with that akismet? I saw that happened to several… better check my spam blocker (also akismet).
    I had some very good news today about my namesake. My dad, who was diagnosed with inoperable terminal cancer last year, seems to have fully recovered. It’s good to have the name of someone you love.

  20. When I was in high school, my best friend’s first name was also Michael — as is the case for roughly a third of American men in my age group. (I exaggerate, but only a little.) My friend’s eldest sister married a Michael also, and my friend’s father, though legally a Mitchell, was known to one and all as “Mike.”
    My friend, his dad, his brother-in law, and I were in the living room of his house watching a football game on TV. His mother walked in and said, “Mike?” As though on cue, four male heads simultaneously swiveled in her direction, and four male voices replied, “WHAT?”

  21. Hi Katha!
    I am surprised because you seem so strong and modern and most “modern women” will not give up their last name in exchange for a man’s.

  22. Yes, keep an eye on Akismet, Don. It’s been wonky for a few days but it seems better now.
    Huzzah for your father! What a champ! Please give him all our best wishes! Did your father have an operation or was his healing miraculous?

  23. David,
    If I ever get married I won’t make my life a battle field where everything will be measured in terms of ‘giving up’ or ‘keeping intact’…there are other aspects in life to prove it.
    Suppose, I get married and I keep my last name as it is. What about my child? He/she has to disappoint one of us or have to use both. So he/she will end up being ‘X Chatterjee Y’. Finally my grand kid will end up with a 10 feet long last name – X Chatterjee Y Z A B …. what a chaos!
    There are other important things in life than to fight over the ‘last name’ – I need to pick the right one. My last name is not mine, why bother?

  24. Hi David,
    There are a lot of Christopher Hedges out there in the world. There’s a Christopher C. Hedges living in a city in New York, according to Zabasearch and a total of 6 listings. Arizona shows three listings for Christopher Hedges. California has two. Florida has seven. Indiana has 14 listings.
    The best “Chris Hedges” story I have is when I went to court in LaGrange County, Indiana a couple of years back. I checked in and the clerk looked surprised. There was a case in another court involving a younger person with the name “Chris Hedges.”
    I also see in my county’s court records that there’s another “Chris Hedges” with a different middle initial with some traffic tickets from a while back.
    Checking — they run online dockets for some Indiana courts — shows that I’m the only Christopher Hedges on their system right now. 🙂
    Looking on, I see there are about 896,000 (or 1,030,000) entries for Christopher Hedges, depending on which Google server you get. Most have to do with the reporter and scholar. Number 9 and 14 on the Google list are me. 🙂 Number 10 is a musician named Christopher Hedge. I even found a Chris Hedges from Bermuda who is a bicycle racer!

  25. Speaking about being called Dave vs. David, I’ve found that everyone always calls me Chris. I don’t even have to tell them to call me Chris. :mrgreen:
    I like being called Chris. Everytime I hear “Christopher” I feel like my mom is mad at me. 😉

  26. Your name is certainly overwhelming in popularity, Chris! Have you ever been wrongly detained or punished because they had the wrong guy? Are you concerned about getting credit or having your credit ruined by a name mix up?
    Heh! You’re a Chris by default!
    I wonder if you lived in NYC if you’d be “Christopher” by default?

  27. Hi David,
    Knock on wood, I’ve never had a problem.
    I have a credit alert service to keep an eye out for any problems.
    I’ve never had a problem with mistaken identity, but there have always been “twins” out there that people report seeing. When I was in high school, people would say they saw me downtown, when I was at home.
    In the beginning of law school, sometimes professors would confuse me with another student who looked like me. 🙂
    When Drew Carey was on TV a lot, people always said I sort of looked like him.

  28. The problem with less popular names is that they can garner unfortunate connotations much more easily than more popular names.
    Take for instance the names Joseph and Adolf. Thousands of men in the US and Canada named Adolf/Adolph changed their names after World War II (or adopted nicknames such as Dolph) because of the stigma of sharing a name with Hitler. Yet I doubt many men felt the same way about Joseph despite the similar dislike held by most North Americans towards Stalin.
    You could say the same thing today. Politically liberal Americans named George are not falling over themselves to change their first names. If his name was Elmer, on the other hand… 🙂

  29. Charlene —
    Isn’t popularity of names “of the moment?” We know “Adolph” and “Osama” are likely marked forever with unpopularity, but there have been American mass murderers named “Mark” and “David” that still endure onward in new children because the names are biblical and popular.

  30. You’re right, but it’s not as much “of the moment” as “of the decade” or even “of the century”, especially with respect to boys’ names.
    There’s quite a lot of prejudice out there towards uncommon and unusual names. Nobody will ever look at you one way or the other for having the name David, but if you were Daividde they might assume you weren’t that intelligent or capable.

  31. Hey Charlene —
    I always wanted to name my son “Bing” but my wife said, “there will absolutely not be a ‘Bing Boles’ coming from my womb. Ever!”
    And so it goes…

  32. An interesting footnote – one of the Davids in my past (36 years ago) has today contacted me after finding me through this post.

  33. Wow, Nicola! The whole world just got a little smaller! 36 years! How neat!
    How did he know you were you?
    Why did he read this article? Because of all the “David” mentions? 😀
    Was he one of the “Significants?”

  34. He found the post because of the title about “David being a common name”. He recognised me from my comment here which mentioned my maiden name – then tracked back to my blog, then to my website and then to my email.
    He is one of several significant Davids ……….
    It is all rather surreal – a lot has happened in 36 years !

  35. What a wild story, Nicola. It shows the power of the internet! I can’t believe he read all the comments to find you. That’s pretty rare.
    This must be surreal for you! I’m trying to think back to the people in my life 36 years ago and I can’t even call up faces, let alone names!

  36. I knew who it was immediately I saw the name. I can remember him and some of the details but what is a tad embarrassing in a way, is that I can’t remember who dumped who !

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