Post No.: 0173
Statistically speaking, picking good names for one’s children is apparently important for their life outcomes. People tend to love their own names and tend to favour and gravitate towards those who share a similar name with themselves (a form of implicit egoism). Hearing our own fluffy name is salient and draws our attention like no other words do, and this even includes when we’re asleep and we hear our own name being called or mentioned.
A name could even potentially influence a person’s career choices (nominative determinism) – people may be drawn to jobs that relate to their own names (e.g. Mrs Baker becoming a baker). But this might be due to the cases that we remember because they were noteworthy precisely because they were coincidental (after all, we don’t remark on the number of people who are bakers but who don’t have a baking-related name, or have a baking-related name but who aren’t bakers).
Although choosing a child’s surname is normally limited to either taking the mother’s or father’s surname(s), having a surname near the top of the alphabet means you are often put first before others, such as in the school register, or even just psychologically. Schools should therefore learn to occasionally randomise the order that students are mentioned or chosen for things.
People tend to treat others with ‘likeable’ names that have positive associations better (e.g. Lily for a female first name or surname). The opposite is also true with undesirable names with negative connotations (e.g. Bent for a surname). In general, female names that are soft-sounding and end in ‘ee’ (e.g. Sophie) are viewed as more attractive, whilst for males it’s short and rugged-sounding names (e.g. Ryan). A person with an easy-to-pronounce name will also be judged more favourably than a person with a difficult-to-pronounce name, all else being equal. This is related to cognitive ease or fluency. People with names that are easier to pronounce are deemed more trustworthy, which may also be down to discriminatorily explicit or implicit biases towards ‘foreign sounding’ names and people in a particular country.
Traditional names associated with royalty (e.g. James or Elizabeth) are viewed as more successful and important. But naming fashions do change, as once ‘high-class’ names become regarded as ‘common’. Cultural trends shift generation by generation and it’s difficult to anticipate what will be favoured or out of fashion by the time a child reaches her/his adolescent and adult years. But certain names are still currently sadly and unjustly discriminated against in some places (e.g. those that sound ‘ethnically black’). Meow.
The initials are also important to consider too – on average, people with positive-word-spelling initials (e.g. ACE or JOY) tend to live longer than those with negative-word-spelling initials (e.g. PIG or DIE). A or B initials have connotations with grades too. The reason for all this might be due to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, where, in this context, if children are labelled as something then they will more likely, directly or indirectly, behave that way due to a positive feedback effect between belief and behaviour. Now we are indeed all individuals and there are so many exceptions to these rules. Also, other scientists have failed to replicate these ‘average age at death’ findings so there may not be a relationship between people’s initials and their life expectancy after all.
Having a middle name seems to be important – when doing a side-by-side comparison of people according to their biographies, where every attribute is controlled for apart from their names, people tend to judge those with middle names or middle initials as more intelligent (e.g. John P. Smith compared to John Smith). So a person having a middle name or initial (or two or three) is perceived to be more intelligent compared to a person who does not have a middle name or initial, all else being equal.
But this is like intelligence being judged purely by who wears glasses(!) It’s the cognitive heuristic of substitution in action i.e. subconsciously substituting the question ‘is she/he intelligent?’ with a question that is far easier to answer, such as ‘does her/his name sound intelligent?’, which is a very different question. In reality, you cannot reliably judge the intelligence of a person according to whether she/he has a middle name(s) or not – so in reality it actually speaks more about the person who judges than about the person who is supposedly being judged (this statement is true in many other contexts too!)
However, there are real-world effects of this unfair discrimination (e.g. a person who is unfavourably prejudiced against due to her/his name on a job application hence she/he cannot get a job and therefore turns to gangs and crime to get by, or a person who is favourably prejudiced for and gets opportunities that she/he might not truly merit). This effect is cultural (e.g. in some cultures where having a lot of middle names is the norm, reducing one’s name to a single name is then considered more desirable or at least fashionable, such as in Brazil) but there are effects of discrimination because people prejudge others based on their names.
It’s important to note that much of the above is based on correlational data and do not necessarily present causal relationships, and there are plenty enough exceptions to these rules. It’s also important to reiterate that cultures and trends also change with time hence what is fashionable or favourable when a child is born may not be so by the time they’ve grown up. It might also depend on which country they’ll move to when older, and this is difficult to anticipate. It’s also vitally important to note that the socio-economic status of the parent(s) seems to be a far greater predictor of a child’s chances of success (e.g. parental income, educational attainment, a broken family) – a lot (although not all) of what probabilistically affects a child has probably been determined before a child has even been born.
While I don’t personally agree with the way people seem to jump to conclusions for merely hearing a name, either in a prejudicially unfavourable or favourable way, because these heuristics can lead to fallacious character judgements – I understand that people will at least subconsciously judge others based on their names. Even though these crude assumptions are fallible (just like wearing trainers in itself doesn’t make a person more athletic than someone who doesn’t wear them as often) – many people do hold such biases. It can be a difficult dilemma choosing a name because from a group perspective it’d be good to make less-familiar-sounding names (e.g. those that sound more ‘foreign’ to a particular country) more common and therefore more familiar within a community so that people with these names will become less automatically prejudiced against, but from an individual perspective it’d be safer to choose an already familiar-sounding name.
Well understanding such things as how names are judged by others, and by the bearers of those names themselves – it points to the sagacity of learning as much as one can about parenting before a child is born. This is not to put down those who didn’t, couldn’t or can’t – it’s just wisdom for people from now on who can.
For ourselves when judging others – it’d be best not to prejudge someone based solely on their name. I’m with the view that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – not least because there exist many names for roses since there are many different languages in the world, yet the same plant smells just as sweet with any of those names.