Is there such as thing as a powerful name? More to the point, can our names have an influence on our lives? What’s behind the power of names? We make instant judgements about people when we meet them. First impressions count. Names bring with them a lot of information about a person. We can tell a person’s cultural background, their social status, how they view themselves. For example, I was once introduced to a young lady, Victoria. As she was so young, I asked her if she preferred being called Vicky. “No,” she replied. “It’s Victoria.” She went on to become a successful lawyer. So what assumptions do we make about people’s names? There are several factors to consider. What does go into a powerful name? The first factor to consider is that we assign personality traits to letters. This is the Bouba/Kiki Effect. Letters with rounded shapes and sounds are called Bouba and letters with sharp silhouettes are Kiki. Moreover, we associate these different personality traits to names that include Bouba or Kiki letters. So a name with rounded letters like Molly indicates an easy-going nature and warmth. A name with sharp letters such as Erik is associated with coldness and determination. This shows that even the letters of our names have a powerful influence. Names can sound hard or soft. Harder-sounding names are associated with power or masculinity. Names that vibrate the vocal cords sound rougher.
These are linked to masculine traits. Names that do not produce vocal vibration are softer and breathier (think Marilyn Monroe). People associate these kinds of names with feminine attributes. As a result, boys are given masculine names and girls are given feminine ones. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the gender stereotype and just shows how the power of our names has such an influence over us. We like the simple life and this includes names. For example, think of the last few presidents of the USA. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, even Barack Obama. Study after study has shown that we prefer simple names. Not only that, but we judge these names in a more positive light than more complicated ones. If you have a simple name, research shows that you will get a better-paid job, you will win more votes in elections. In general, you will be viewed in a more positive way. Moving on from simple names, research shows that we also like names that are easy to pronounce. Not only do we like them, but we gravitate to them. Furthermore, this positive effect starts at an early age. Imagine there are two children, one called Max and the other called Aiguo. Which one do you think an English-speaking teacher is going to subconsciously select to answer questions, focus her attention on during class? This is a self-fulfilling circle that demonstrates how powerful names can be, and from early on. Another key point is to remember that this knock-on effect will continue through Aiguo’s life. In addition, this doesn’t just apply to names of people. Studies show that even stock with pronounceable ticker codes (KAR) outperformed those with unpronounceable ones (RDO). Can the initial of your surname have a powerful influence on your name? It’s funny because growing up in middle school and then at grammar school, I noticed a trend. All the best students had surnames that started at the top end of the alphabet. Names like Atkinson, Bailey, Adams, Brown, and Connolly. Once you started getting to the D’s (myself included!), the achievement rate would begin to drop off. Conversely, at the other end of the alphabet were the less academically-minded students.
The ones that were always getting into trouble. Names like Young, Walker, Ullman, Yates and Vizard. But why does it matter what letter your surname starts with? It’s the most simple of explanations. If your surname starts with a letter like A, B or C, you are first in line. Your surname gives you an unfair advantage. If your surname begins with a letter at the end of the alphabet, by the time your teacher/tutor/boss/job interviewer gets to you, they’re already tired.
They might have already seen a better candidate. Just how powerful names are when it comes to attracting the opposite sex? Well, British people like royal-sounding names like Elizabeth and James. This is because we associate these names with intelligence and good looks. However, we don’t like the name George. Experts are not sure why we find certain names attractive and others not so. In a survey, the name George came last in a list of sexiest names. Although I think I speak for most females when I say that George Clooney is one sexy man. So why don’t we associate his name with sexiness? David Figlio is a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Illinois. He believes that we’re a fickle bunch and we often base our opinions on real-life people.
They can either help us achieve our dreams or hold us back. One factor we forget is that we do not give ourselves our own names. So it’s up to parents to be aware of the power of names. As Figlio warns: “Parents should give their children whatever name they want, but they need to recognise that names have consequences,” says Figlio. “Is a name a guaranteed ladder to success? Of course not. But can a name make your life a little bit easier? For sure.” R.
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