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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

As an author, I’ve signed plenty of books through the years. When people get them as gifts for their kids, I’ve learned to ask for the exact spelling, regardless of the name. What you’re sure is J-e-n-n-i-f-e-r could very well be J-y-n-a-f-e-r.

I’m not kidding.

At one book signing I had a mom explain to me why she’d intentionally mangled the spelling of her daughter’s otherwise-traditional name. “This gives her an automatic edge in her life,” the mom proudly said. “It makes her unique.”

Let’s examine that logic for just a moment. Sure, in one small way it will make the girl stand out: She’ll be the young woman irritated beyond belief when everyone – and I mean everyone – misspells her name. (Parents only have to fill out the birth certificate; the kid is the one who has to live with it.)

But this isn’t a criticism of oddly-spelled names; that’s between you and your child, and I honestly don’t care if his name is Jaden, Jayden, or Jaedin. No, this is an examination of what ingredients actually go into making your student – or anyone else, for that matter – unique. Do we really believe it’s as simple as the name they use throughout life?

Or is it, instead, what they do with that life?

Why try to instill some sense of uniqueness into a young person based solely on their label? Let’s face it, the government processes them as just a 9-digit number anyway, and businesses really only care about a different 16-digit number and its associated 3-digit code on the back.

No, the two most important things that make a student stand out are (a) the kind of person they are and (b) what they accomplish. We do a serious disservice to kids when we teach them that some arbitrary moniker is what defines them. If anything, that could suggest to them that no further effort is needed – they’ll wow the world with their name alone!

It’s a world of shortcuts, and that often – sadly – includes parenting. Everyone’s looking for an advantage for their child, whether it’s through a particular school or fine arts program, the right social environment, or non-stop athletic camps. But building a better student takes time. The foundation is crucial, but so are the layers of education and maturity that follow.

By all means, bestow any name you want upon your offspring. But think twice before assuming that this somehow elevates them beyond every other child. I know for a fact that college recruiters and hiring managers aren’t looking at the cute spelling of an applicant’s name; they’re looking at who the person is, what they’ve done, and – just as important – what they will do.

That’s where Jynafer can truly shine.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty-three years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit student development foundation. His new book, Smart is Cool, will be published in August, 2014. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who value their kids.