A photo of a man in a red shirt pointing to a name badge which says 'Sponge'.
Collage: Cath Virginia | Photo: via Getty Images

What It's Like to Grow Up With a Weird Name

Is it possible to live a long, happy life and be called Merlin?

When Molly-Mae announced her baby’s name was Bambi, people were so judgemental she had to disable her Instagram comments. Clearly these people didn't realise that Disney-themed names are in vogue, with other celebs opting for baby names like Belle and Minnie. Frankly, Bambi is a tame choice compared to some of the most popular names for 2023 which include Royal and Luxury (pretty sure those parents aren’t socialists), according to Nameberry. If you think names are getting weirder these days you'd be right, but what happens when these unique little ones grow up?


Unless you’re homeschooling, whoever you give birth to will have to sit in a room full of little people who think it’s funny to say the word “poo” and trip each other up repeatedly. If their classmate is called something even slightly different, like Merlin, they’ll probably make bad jokes about wizards more often than they wipe bogies under their desk.

It didn’t take long for Merlin, 27, to tire of wizard jokes from other toddlers in his British primary school. “One of my earliest memories is a kid coming up to me and saying ‘Merlin like the wizard!’” he says. “I visibly rolled my eyes at four or five years old, which I’m told isn’t something children that young normally do.” Like others in this piece, Merlin has chosen to share only his first name for privacy reasons.

School kids also frequently asked Gandalf, from Holland, if he was a wizard and whether he would grow a grey beard. “I decided I’d never grow a beard because people would say more stupid things,” says the 31-year-old. “And that I’d never wear a fucking cap because then it’s the end for me.” 

Plum, 19, had her own issues. “I hated my name when I was younger because kids are just arseholes,” she says, thinking back to her primary school days in New Zealand. “Kids would eat plums and say, ‘Oh my god I’m going to eat you!’”


Being given an unusual name doesn’t automatically mean your school years will be annoying, though. Biker always loved his name, and although he experienced some teasing when he was eight or nine, he says people quickly started to find it cool. He was called Biker because his dad loved bikes, and now so does he. “I made it part of who I was from a young age,” he says. “I probably wouldn't be as into motorcycles without my name.”

It comes with a few perks, too. “It gets me out of tickets when I'm on the bike,” continues Biker. “The cop says, ‘Is that your real name?’ Then we just have a nice conversation and they let me off with a warning.”

Similarly, 27-year-old River always loved his name – in spite of the jokes. “I’ve had every joke under the sun. ‘Cry me a river’ is one,” he says. “Being called Lake or Pond was another, but it wasn’t tough at all. I always loved it, even when I was younger.” 

For most, the teasing seems to go away by about the age of ten, and as an adult they actually begin to love what their parents called them. It was at 18 that Merlin says he started to actively like his name, which honours his mum’s uncle. 

Today he no longer deals with countless wizard jokes. “Most people aren’t real dickheads,” he says. Although in those rare instances when they are, he knows how to respond: “I say, ‘What do you mean Merlin the Wizard? What’s this wizard thing? Do you mean the king or the wizard?’ It’s the only acceptable form of gaslighting I’ve discovered.”


Siete, 25, who went to a Spanish school in Texas was mocked for having a name that means seven. “When I was young I’d come home to my mum, crying, saying, “Why couldn’t you have given me a name like Sarah?” says Siete. But she finally learned to love it when she was complimented by her favourite singer, SZA, at a signing in Santa Monica. “When she heard my name her whole face lit up, she said it was ‘so cool’ and ‘so special’. That was the moment I realised how cool my name is.” 

It’s easy to judge parents for making their offspring such a target, but there’s probably a well-meaning reason why some parents take a risk and call their kids something unconventional.

Take Siete’s dad, who had the ultimate conventional name of Mark. He grew up with a boy in his class called Famous, who seemed to gain a ton of street cred, so Mark decided to give all of his children names that felt a bit more special. Siete’s younger brother and sister are called – wait for it – Awesome and Amazing. Now those are some serious names to live up to.

Some love their eccentric names so much, they carry childhood nicknames into adulthood. Sponge, 25, was given his nickname by his childhood friends (nicknamed Duck and Hippy) who shared an interest in miniature figures. His birth name is Michael, but he’s gone by Sponge for the last 14 years. 


“I much prefer Sponge to Michael,” he says. “When I was a kid I got bullied quite a lot. I didn't have any friends, but then people started responding well to Sponge.” Now he introduces himself as Sponge to everyone he meets – except during job interviews, where he prefers to let his new employer know him better first.

Common baby names have steadily been decreasing since the 50s – so much so that “baby name consultant” is now an actual job, helping parents avoid trendy names. This may be down to increased individualism, or even possibly the social media username rat race. According to Pamela Redmond, who wrote the 1988 book Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Boomers were the first generation who wanted to be cool, too.

If being like a celebrity is cool, then an eccentric name is probably a step in the right direction. Famous people have long been calling their kids names that are a bit “out there”, from Katie Price’s daughter Princess, to Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple. In an Instagram Q&A last year, Paltrow said she loved her daughter’s name because it "sounded so sweet, and it conjured such a lovely picture". Maybe that’s also what Grimes and Elon Musk thought when they named their first born X Æ A-Xii and their second, Exa Dark Sideræl.


Siete points out that celebrities are often used to being known by unique stage names, so perhaps they’ve realised the advantages of an unusual name. “Having a unique name is almost like having a superpower,” she says. 

Gandalf’s dad is a bit of a celebrity himself. “Everyone knows who my dad is where I live,” he says. His father regularly opens his home up to strangers, and spends his days chatting to everyone and anyone on the street. “He also has a whole room which is painted black and a Mini Cooper displayed upside down," Gandalf says, adding that loving his name came hand in hand with fully appreciating his father's eccentricities.

These days Gandalf, like his father, takes a lot of pride in being unique – oh, and he’s grown a beard. It seems the weird name kids really are alright.