Your Name Matters More Than You Know

Take a quick second and jot down or think about your three favourite letters of the alphabet. According to research conducted in the last dozen or so years, there’s a good chance that your favourite letters are found in your name.

Wait! Before you say that it wasn’t true for you and you dismiss this post, let’s see if you agree with the reasoning behind the studies. If you can accept these three statements, the results of the studies make a lot more sense:

  1. Our behaviour is not always under our control. Some of what we do is unconscious.
  2. For all of the criticizing we might do of ourselves, we basically consider ourselves decent, good people.
  3. We have a natural affinity for and comfort with things that are familiar to us.

So far, so good? Okay. Researchers Pelham, Mirenberg and Jones took these claims just one step further, and decided to see whether or not there was a link between points 2 and 3. Would your positive feelings about yourself extend to unconsciously positive associations to other people, places and even professions that share letters in your name?

‘Implicit egotism’ is the name given to the theory that addresses this question. More than fifteen studies show that the theory seems to have merit.

Your Name, Other People and Products

  • People like the letters that appear in their own names quite a bit more than they like the other letters in the alphabet. This is especially true for your first and last initial. This finding has been documented in at least 14 countries, including the United States, Japan, Spain, and Greece, suggesting that the result is valid across a variety of cultural groups and in different alphabets.

    What’s in a name?

    William Shakespeare
  • Women are more attracted to the letters in their first names than their last. For men, the reverse is true. This may be because many women take their husband’s surname after marriage.
  • You are disproportionately likely to marry someone who shares your full surname or your full first name. When it’s your first name, it matters that the name be uncommon and pronounced similarly to your beloved’s. For example, Eric and Erica, or Carl and Carla are more likely than Frank and Frances, or Michael and Michelle.
  • Perhaps you’ve noticed the Coke campaign where you can buy a personalized bottle of coke? There’s nothing accidental about that campaign. Research shows that we have preferences for teas, chocolate candies, and crackers with names that match the first few letters of our name.

Your Name and Where You Live

  • There are significantly more Mildred’s living in Milwaukee, Virginia’s living in Virginia Beach, Jack’s living in Jacksonville, and Philip’s living in Philadelphia than you would expect to see by chance.
  • If your full name is the name of a state –Arizona, Florida, Washington, or Tennessee–you are 68% more likely to live in that state than would be true by chance.
  • In American cities named after female Saints –such as St. Anne–researchers calculated that there should have been 308 women with the same first name as the Saint. Instead there were 445 women, which is 44% greater than chance value. The incidence of men living in ‘Saint cities’ with their same name–St. Louis, St. Paul–was 14% greater than chance. This result is still significant because of the higher numbers of men with the shared name.
  • People with the surnames Hill, Park, Beach, Lake and Rock were disproportionately likely to be living in cities with place words that matched these surnames. These results exceeded chance by more than 38%.

    Would the most famous love story in the world be as poignant if it was called Romeo and Gertrude? Why is what we call ourselves so important?

    Julie Kagawa

Could There Be Another Explanation?

The research into implicit egotism was done using archival records–phone books, death records, social insurance information, and the like. Critics of the studies point to the fact that these were not random samples and that there are undoubtedly many other factors influencing both baby naming and major life decisions such as who you marry and where you choose to live.

Impressively, however, the initial researchers anticipated these objections and addressed them over the course of multiple studies. They asked and answered the following questions:

  • Could the liking of the letters in your name just be due to exposure, to seeing those letters frequently? No, because we prefer uncommon letters, like Z, if they happen to appear in our names.
  • Might the parents of Virginia have been living in Virginia Beach when she was born and liked the idea of naming her after the city? Or could Virginia have moved to Virginia Beach when she was an adult for the same reason? To check this, the researchers looked for people who had the same surname as the place. Remember that surnames aren’t as well liked as first names, especially by women. The expected number of matches at the level of chance was 1,584. The actual number was 1,890.
  • When it comes to first names paired with Saint, perhaps parents want their child associated with a Saint? Again the researchers checked people’s surnames that were the same as the Saints’ first names. Base rate calculations show that there should have been 82.6 residents whose surnames matched their city. There were 128 such residents, a number 55% greater than chance.

Your Name and Your Work

Pelham and colleagues are pretty confident about their results when it comes to your name and where you live. They are less confident about how your name affects your career choice because clean data was harder to come by. Nevertheless, for your interest if for no other reason, let me share what they found.green ceramic frog looking in gazing in mirror

  • George, Geoffrey and Gerard were more likely to become geoscientists.
  • Men named Dennis gravitate toward dentistry. Other male names beginning with Den didn’t have the same results.
  • There’s a disproportionate number of men with the surnames Baker, Butcher, Carpenter, Farmer, and Mason working in those fields.
  • Hardware store owners are more likely to have names beginning with ‘H’. Roofers are more likely to have names beginning with the letter ‘R’. However, the researchers recognize these results as a bit suspect because we have a love for alliteration so it might be that the business listings are overrepresented with alliterative business names like ‘Hector’s Hardware’ and ‘Ramirez’ Roofing.’

Implications

So what does all of this research mean to us? Are we sheep, so desirous of enhancing our self-image that we will make major life decisions on the basis of nothing more than a three or four letter similarity to our names?

Names are powerful things. They act as an identity marker and a kind of map, locating you in time and geography. More than that, they can be a compass.

Nicola Yoon

No. As is the case with every kind of cognitive bias, if we think consciously about why we like certain letters, the name letter preference disappears.

Further, as long as we feel positively about ourselves, it is highly doubtful that we will be steered towards negative connections just because of name letter similarity. I am not attracted to the philosophies of the Ku Klux Klan just because my name is Karen.

Your name might be a compass, but with a bit of thought you will always remain the one who locates true North.

Well, what do think? Do you know of any situations that reinforce the researchers’ conclusions? Do you think the theory of implicit egotism will prove to be true or is it nonsense? Please share your opinion in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. The theory of implicit egotism sounds like it has a possibility of being true as I have seen a lot of alliteration when it comes to business names just as you’ve mentioned.

    I am not sure, however, what my name has to say as far as choosing a profession. Susan doesn’t lend itself to being easily categorized into any particular field of work.

    The three letters of the alphabet I like the most are S, A and N. If I could choose four letters, of course, I would include the letter U in there. LOL 😉

    This was a really interesting post-Karen. It does make one think about how things come to be and why cause and effect happen. Thanks for sparking that question to make my brain try and decipher an answer to. It is about time my brain had the challenge of trying to figure that one out. Haha!

    I want to read more things that make you say hmm. 🙂

    1. Susan,
      I just saw your reply pop into my inbox. Thank you, thank you.
      Thank you first for being such a conscientious commenter (see that alliteration?) I truly appreciate both your diligence in commenting and your insights.
      And thank you also for wanting more articles that make you go hmm. Hmms and wows appeal to me so much. It’s good to know that I’m not alone, that other members of the tribe are keen for these too.

      1. LOL, you’re welcome. Yes, I do see your alliteration…very clever! 🙂 As for the diligence in commenting and my insights both of those are due to the fact that I have been looking for a site like this to be able to engage with and learn from. I am all about learning new things. Education and expanding one’s interests need not stop at the completion of schooling. Learning is a life-long process. 🙂

          1. 🙂 Thank you, Karen, for making this website a reality. I am constantly amazed at your postings; when you research something you leave no stone unturned. In other words, there is gratitude from this end too. 😉 Merry Christmas Karen and wishing you a Happy New Year too.

  2. Wow Karen – now I have to look at everyone I know and try to figure out how they got their names and whether it has affected their lives.

    1. Well, Anna, I happen to know that where you live matches one of your initials (cue suspenseful music). Maybe there’s something to this theory? (suspenseful music swells) I’ll be interested to hear the results of your research.

  3. Interesting read, Karen. I’m glad I found you!

    My mom named me after Susan Hayward who was one of her favorite actresses. Wouldn’t you just know that my love life is every bit as problematic and fraught with angst as Ms. Hayward’s? It’s a lot to think about.

  4. Now there’s an interesting research topic, Susan! Do people who were named after someone famous share any of their personality traits or aspects of their lives? And, if so, can parents do something to steer things toward the more positive aspects? I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek about all this, of course. But… just as well I never had kids. I”m a huge fan of Kris Kristofferson’s poetic genius but wouldn’t want to saddle any children with the self-destructive tendencies of his earlier years. Oh, my. The pressure and the responsibility. Thank goodness I’ve only had to come up with names for my dogs!

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