Collectivistic/Individualistic names

I was reading Penelope Trunk’s blog today and came across this comment:

Throughout history, most people have had common names, and common names help people to fit in and be part of a group. Uncommon names make people feel different and encourage them to think of themselves more as individuals.

What is interesting to me is that in the US and Canada, where people are extremely individualistic, people have very common names (I know at least 6 Jennifers); however, in Thailand, where people are more collectivistic, people have very unique first names* (Thai people have “official” nicknames and those are usually more common). In Thailand, there is not a single person I know that has the same first name as anyone else or myself! (ok, I lied, I know one person who has the same name as me, she’s my mom’s friend’s daughter whom I’ve never met)

Is it the issue of the name pool size and not the issue of individualism/collectivism then? Most Western names are drawn from the bible (surprise) and no one really cares about the meaning. I’m not sure where Thai names originate, but they all have meanings and people actually care about what those names mean in naming their child.

Another interesting thing to note is that in Western culture, parents usually name their child the same names as themselves (John junior, John the third, etc.) whereas I don’t know of any Thai person who names their child the same name as themselves (but I have seen “mixed” names, where parents mix the father’s and mother’s names together).

If names and naming reflect culture, what does this say about Western VS Thai culture?

*But perhaps Thai names is an isolated case. Japanese names are quite common. Korean names not as much but their last names are still similar. Chinese names I don’t know the variety but their last names are also quite similar. I am not familiar with names from other countries to make a comment on them.


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