Names that flout convention: Advice for Jessica Simpson's daughter

Story highlights

  • iReporters share stories of living with names associated with different race, gender
  • Playground bullies would ask Michael Howell's children why their mother had a sex change
  • Kim Manlove says being teased for his name taught him compassion for others
  • "People still have special ideas about what names mean," female Ryan Babarsky says
Raphael Larrinaga was tired of sending out job applications and not getting a response, so he decided to try a different approach.
No, he didn't embellish a job title or fabricate a master's degree on his résumé. Instead, he swapped out his Spanish first name for something with more "Americanized," something that people would expect from a guy with blond hair and blue eyes job-hunting in Utah in the 1980s.
Almost instantly, Ray Larrinaga began getting calls back, he said. Within two weeks, he accepted a job with a bank and went back to the name his Spanish-born parents had given him.
"People said I was paranoid, but I'm not exaggerating a bit," said Larrinaga, now a self-employed graphic designer. "I went from almost a zero response to my applications to over 50 percent response."
In hindsight, the resident of Bountiful, Utah, said he's a little ashamed of his ploy. Sure, he could be a chameleon and scuttle his Spanish roots if he wanted to, but visible minorities can't get rid of their accent or change the color of their skin, he said.
"That was a real eye opener for me, as I realized how tough it was for minorities in my mostly 'white' community to get an even break," said Larrinaga, who shared his story on iReport. "I think things have changed quite a bit for the better, but I can't help but wonder how many people still judge someone they've never met simply by what kind of name they have."
Our names say a lot about us even before the first encounter, as Larrinaga and others can attest. Just ask Jessica Simpson, whose decision to name her daughter Maxwell Drew Johnson sparked criticism that she was condemning the child to a life of torture for having a traditionally male name.
CNN iReporters shared the good and the bad of living with a name that flouts convention. As children, they endured playground taunts and teases. By the time they reach adulthood, they've heard it all and spent countless hours patiently (or sometimes not so patiently) explaining their names to strangers. They're used to second takes from bank tellers and waiters, mail addressed to Mr. when it should be a Mrs., and vice-versa.
"It's hard for me to figure out why a parent does this," iReporter Michael Howell said. "Are they looking for attention? Because the only attention the child's going to get is going to be negative attention. I'm curious as to why mothers do this."
Howell never got a satisfactory answer from her mother as to why she gave her a boy's name. Howell said she could write a book about the lifetime of confusion and insults she has experienced because of her name, the hours spent convincing people that Michael is indeed her real name.
No, she was not dodging the Vietnam War draft in the 1960s. No, she's never had a sex change. Yes, that really is her name, she tells clients who call the real estate office where she works. Really.
Her children suffered a great deal for it, too, she said. They can laugh now at the cruel jokes, but at the time, it was devastating for them. Looking back, it made her a bit of a shut-in, she said. She avoided going out or engaging neighbors for fear of having to explain herself.
But by the time she reached 55, she was over it, she said, and she hopes the world is kinder to Maxwell Drew. Otherwise, the best advice she can offer is to stick it out and stick close to people who are nice.
"I've made it this far. What am I going to do, change my name? What would people who've known me all my life call me?" said Howell, now 67. "I came in with it, I'm going out with it."
One benefit is that people rarely forget her name, she said, a common sentiment from those whose names defy societal norms.
It might have been the worst thing ever as a c