What’s in a name? Potentially your future.
A host of research shows just how much your name can affect your lifetime success, from your hireability to your spending habits.
We took a look at the research and have highlighted some of the surprising findings below.
If your name is easy to pronounce, people will favor you more.
In a New York University study, researchers found that people with easier-to-pronounce names often have higher-status positions at work. One of the psychologists, Adam Alter, explains to Wired, “When we can process a piece of information more easily, when it’s easier to comprehend, we come to like it more.” In a further study, Alter also found that companies with simpler names and ticker symbols tended to perform better in the stock market.
If your name is common, you are more likely to be hired.
In a Marquette University study, the researchers found evidence to suggest that names that were viewed as the least unique were more likable. People with common names were more likely to be hired, and those with rare names were least likely to be hired. That means that the Jameses, Marys, Johns, and Patricias of the world are in luck.
Uncommon names are associated with juvenile delinquency.
A 2009 study at Shippensburg University suggested that there’s a strong relationship between the popularity of one’s first name and juvenile criminal behavior. Researchers found that, regardless of race, young people with unpopular names were more likely to engage in criminal activity. The findings obviously don’t show that the unusual names caused the behavior, but merely show a link between the two things. And the researchers have some theories about their findings. “Adolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships,” they write in a statement from the journal’s publisher. “Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they … dislike their names.”
If you have a white-sounding name, you’re more likely to get hired.
In one study cited by The Atlantic, white-sounding names like Emily Walsh and Greg Baker got nearly 50% more callbacks than candidates with black-sounding names like Lakisha Washington and Jamal Jones. Researchers determined that having a white-sounding name is worth as much as eight years of work experience.
If your last name is closer to the beginning of the alphabet, you could get into a better school.
For a study published in the Economics of Education Review, researchers studied the relationship between the position in the alphabet of more than 90,000 Czech students’ last names and their admission chances at competitive schools. They found that even though students with last names that were low in the alphabet tended to get higher test scores overall, among the students who applied to universities and were on the margins of getting admitted or not, those with last names that were close to the top of the alphabet were more likely to be admitted.
If your last name is closer to the end of the alphabet, you’re more likely to be an impulse spender.
According to one study, people with last names such as Yardley or Zabar may be more susceptible to promotional strategies like limited-time offers. The authors speculate that spending your childhood at the end of the roll call may make you want to jump on offers before you miss the chance.
Using your middle initial makes people think you’re smarter and more competent.
According to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, using a middle initial increases people’s perceptions of your intellectual capacity and performance. In one study, students were asked to rate an essay with one of four styles of author names. Not only did the authors with a middle initial receive top marks, but the one with the most initials, David F.P.R. Clark, received the best reviews.
You are more likely to work in a company that matches your initials.
Since we identify with our names, we prefer things that are similar to them. In a Ghent University study, researchers found that people are more likely to work for companies matching their own initials. For example, Brian Ingborg might work for Business Insider. The rarer the initials, the more likely people were to work for companies with names similar to their own.
If your name sounds noble, you are more likely to work in a high-ranking position.
In a European study, researchers studied German names and ranks within companies. Those with last names such as Kaiser (“emperor”) or König (“king”) were in more managerial positions than those with last names that referred to common occupations, such as Koch (“cook”) or Bauer (“farmer”). This could be the result of associative reasoning, a psychological theory describing a type of thinking in which people automatically link emotions and previous knowledge with similar words or phrases.
If you are a boy with a girl’s name, you could be more likely to be suspended from school.
For his 2005 study, University of Florida economics professor David Figlio studied a large Florida school district from 1996 to 2000 and found that boys with names most commonly given to girls misbehaved more in middle school and were more likely to disrupt their peers. He also found that their behavioral problems were linked with increased disciplinary problems and lower test scores.
If you are a woman with a gender-neutral name, you may be more likely to succeed in certain fields.
According to The Atlantic, in male-dominated fields such as engineering and law, women with gender-neutral names may be more successful. One study found that women with “masculine names” like Leslie, Jan, or Cameron tended to be more successful in legal careers.
Men with shorter first names are overrepresented in the c-suite.
In 2011, LinkedIn analyzed more than 100 million user profiles to find out which names are most associated with the CEO position. The most common names for men were short, often one-syllable names like Bob, Jack, and Bruce. A name specialist speculates that men in power may use nicknames to offer a sense of friendliness and openness.
Women at the top are more likely to use their full names.
In the same study, LinkedIn researchers found that the most common names of female CEOs include Deborah, Cynthia, and Carolyn. Unlike the men, women may use their full names in an attempt to project professionalism and gravitas, according to the report.