The Personalized Souvenir Keychain

Here's a question I've been asking myself lately as I dig deeper into both naming a baby and also thinking about the ways our ideas about names have changed over time.

When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, it was THE THING to have personalized items with your name on them. Little things, often vacation souvenirs, like keychains, pencils, or miniature license plates for your bicycle. My name is Sara as opposed to Sarah, and there was never anything for me with the correct spelling. This always felt a little disappointing.

As an adult reading opinions about baby names and naming online, I see a lot of advice (especially on sites like Quora, Reddit, etc) that you shouldn't name your child something unconventional, because then they'll never be able to find their name when looking for those little personalized keychains, and they will feel left out, and this will lead to disaster. Of course, most of those people don't have children and don't spend a lot of time thinking about naming trends. They don't realize that even the most common or traditional names, nowadays, are shared by a lot fewer babies than used to be the case. Baby names are much more diverse than they used to be. 

Which causes me to wonder: do kids still enjoy those personalized items the way they used to? Are the companies that make them rushing to add Wyatt, Harper, etc. to their inventory to cover the influx of newly trendy names? Are they giving up, sticking to a nice manageable inventory of Caitlyn and Ryan and Amanda even as those names fall off in popularity? Are these items all print-on-demand at the shop nowadays, anyhow, and the current generation of children can have anything they like on their pencils, while you wait? Does little Nevaeh have a keyring with her name on it?


August 29, 2017 6:08 PM

A couple of observations on this topic:

First of all, I was one of those kids who felt left out because there were no doodads that said Miriam or Mimi. Now I can buy all the personalized tchotchkes I want. In fact, I just bought a Mimi key chain and charm. It seems that Mimi is the fashionable boomer grandmother name, so Grandma Mimi, as my grandson calls me, is redundant.

Second, I always look at the personalized items for sale in local (Las Vegas) gift shops because names. Out here the majority of available names are Spanish (Juan, Angel, Maria and so forth). My guess, in addition to the large Hispanic population here in the desert Southwest, the Hispanic name pool is less diverse, lots of Joses and Miguels and Anas.

August 29, 2017 7:32 PM

Pre-personalized stuff is still out there, and kids (and adults) still love finding their names on things, but the market or audience is smaller than it used to be. It varies by company and product how much attention they pay to name trends; for things like keychains that appeal to multiple age brackets, they often stick with the old lists, but for something like crayon boxes, they have to generate new lists. These newer lists often include many more"#1 Daughter" or "Princess"-type texts than they used to.

As an anecdotal demonstration that kids are still just as susceptible to this marketing scheme: nobody in the US puts "Julianna" on a keychain, so my daughter (the little Ferengi) never really noticed the genre -- until we went to Hungary this summer. When we went to Lake Balaton, the kiosk at the town beach had exactly the same plastic butterfly keychains as Five Below does here (for about the same price), with the one difference that one of them had "Julianna" printed on it. It was purple rather than the pink that my daughter really wanted, but given the choice between a blank pink one and the pre-printed purple one, she chose her name on purple.

My standard test for how updated a company's name list is: do they have Julie or Julia? (They almost never have both.) If they have Julie, they're still using their list from thirty years ago. If they have Julia, they've done an update in the past decade.

August 29, 2017 10:01 PM

The people who say you shouldn't choose an unconventional name for this reason are, I suspect, the same ones who say you shouldn't choose a name longer than six letters because it will be hard for your child to learn to spell it (ignoring the fact that even the dullest child with the most complicated name will probably have that sorted by about eight or so).

I recently saw a stall in Canada selling personalized something or others, and they were mostly updated names (Noah, Isabella, Sophia, Avery, etc.) They would also make you one with the name of your choice, which is I imagine how many companies get around this.

There were usually knick-knacks with my name as a kid, but never anything with my sister's names. I was the one who felt left out for having a "common, popular" name, while my sisters' monikers were more unusual and mysterious and not so... mass produced in China.

August 29, 2017 11:50 PM

I know a family where everyone has a bizarre spelling, the kind that actually has to be deciphered, for the express purpose of never finding any pre-personalized merchandise.

August 30, 2017 2:23 AM

Dunno how relevant this is, but (1) I only ever found a keychain with my name on it at Disneyland, and (2) it's still holding my keys, 30+ years later. The black enamel has almost completely worn off of Mickey's ears, but the "Martha" across the bottom is still perfectly readable.

August 31, 2017 2:14 PM

I don't know if it's a particularly southern trend, but down here, kid's names are on ALL THE THINGS. We don't participate in my family, but when we go out, we see embroidered and vinyl names on bathing suits, backpacks, t-shirts, water bottles, etc etc etc. Down here, DIY personalization is the "it" work-at-home-mom job, much more than selling essential oils. So I don't think that "finding your name on a keychain" is a factor here, since mama can print Kynnleigh on everything her child owns.

September 1, 2017 7:59 PM

This is fascinating. I'm also from the South and knew about embroidering/monograms (I've already been asked about our son's future monogram AND THE KID ISN'T EVEN BORN YET, not to mention that we're not royalty and I don't expect to ever need anything monogrammed for our child), but it's fascinating that this has expanded to other types of personalization.

I also associate wild abandon in creative name spelling with the South, now that I think about it. After growing up in the South I spent time in major cities on both coasts. The children of people I went to high school with are all Kynnleigh and Madysyn and Braedon, while the children of people I went to college with in New York and am friends with now in Los Angeles are Miles and Isadora and Lillian. Unique naming, sure, but spellings tend to be fairly standard.

September 5, 2017 2:31 PM

Now that Josephine has hit 103, my daughter is starting to find things with her name on them. Before this year, we'd have to go the Order it online somewhere thing. My name was on stuff all the time when I was a kid (Laura) But now that I'm Rosamel, I don't.

September 17, 2017 1:08 PM

My kids LOVE personalized stuff, and their names are rarely on preprinted items. 

But the thing about stuff like etching machines and 3D printing and cheap customizable online ordering and Etsy means that it's easy for me to get them something with their names on it, if I want to. (I don't often want to, but for example they have wooden puzzle stools with their names.) 

September 17, 2017 3:05 PM

Re personalized stuff and Etsy:

Etsy sends me emails featuring products I might like based on previous purchases. This week one of the emails highlighted a display for figure skating medals which just happened to be personalized with my grandson's name. Obviously that caught my attention and I asked my son and daughter-in-law what they thought. Turned out that the featured item was the very medal display they had already purchased. Apparently the vendor was so pleased with how Elliott's medal rack turned out that it became the "poster child" for that shop. 

BTW he is seven years old, has been figure skating for just over a year and already has lots of competition medals to hang on his rack.

September 17, 2017 11:44 PM

awesome job with the skating, Elliott!

also, the rack story is great. One of the things I like about Etsy is that you do get little personal touches a lot of the time, but having Your Thing become the example of how well someone does their work seems really special.

By EVie
September 18, 2017 6:57 PM

Totally agree about Etsy et al rendering the souvenir keychain argument mostly irrelevant. When Thomas was two, he was obsessed with both the color purple and garbage trucks and I couldn't find a purple garbage truck toy anywhere, so I ordered a custom purple garbage truck-shaped pillow with his name on it from Etsy. He loved it so much that when his favorite color switched to blue, he begged me for a blue one as well, which he got as a fourth birthday present. I don't think we've ever bought a prefab name tchotchke (though we have been given a fair amount of Thomas the Tank Engine stuff). 

September 19, 2017 11:41 PM

My mother has actually told me that she picked my name with the intention of it being uncommon enough that I would never find it on any personalized item. And I never have. (The lack of personalized items being more of a sign that the name was sufficiently uncommon than an end unto itself, of course. And my mother's name is also uncommon in very similar ways to mine, so she did at least know what she was getting me into)

I've never really minded. My family isn't big on that kind of thing, and even my siblings with much more common names (including a recent top 10 name and another that I predict will be in the top 10 within a few years) don't really have any of that kind of stuff. I do think I would have enjoyed being able to at least find my name, but I got used to not being able to so early on that it was never traumatizing or anything.


September 19, 2017 11:51 PM

I actually think that it would be less frustrating to find nothing like your name than to constantly find your name but spelled wrong, like what constantly happened to me. I still vastly prefer my spelling to the standard one, so again, no harm done. 

September 20, 2017 8:39 PM

I'm in a similar situation, actually! There's a more common spelling of my name that you'll occasionally see, and a close variation that's even more common. Between the two of them, you'll probably see one or the other (usually not both) around half the time. They're probably not as common as Karen, but they are out there!

October 10, 2017 10:38 AM

Nobody's mentioned Bort yet?

October 22, 2017 9:29 AM

That's actually really amusing.

It also feels familiar with how I always found Karen. So close, yet so wrong.

August 9, 2019 6:31 AM

The Personalized keychains are best gift for everyone, This keychain is always with them to keep off your home key or car key so, the key chain is the wonderful gift.