How much does your name actually matter? Are some names going to make you rich, while others make you poor?
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Everyone has a name. That’s extraordinary when you think about it, because it’s one of the very few social things that all human beings have in common. You might be a Kevin, a Felicia (bye!), a Muhammahad, a Holly, and so on. It’s part of your identity, and helps separate you from the teeming mass of humanity. But how much does your name affect you? Could it determine your future?
Well… it doesn’t determine your life, exactly. Economists Steve Levitt and Roland Fryer studied decades’ worth of children’s names only to find that what your parents name you doesn’t really impact your economic future. So you’re not doomed to poverty just because your name is Ernest or something.
But your name will certainly affect your future. A study called “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan unearthed at least one disturbing trend about names. Job applicants with equal qualifications – or even otherwise identical resumes – are about 50% more likely to get a callback if they have a “white-sounding name”. This indicates that, despite numerous laws, discrimination still thrives in the workplace.
Your name doesn’t just tell people about you – it tells people about your parents, and gives them a way to ‘place’ you in their vision of society. This isn’t about whether their vision is correct – that’s a prejudice – but it does affect how people with these expectations and mindsets will address and interact with you.
And that’s not all. Your name may also play a role in your career. This theory is called “nominative determinism”, the idea that your name may affect the way you interact with the world, including anything from donations to your choice of career.
For example, is someone named “Helen Painter” more likely to be an artist? Is someone named “Jimmy Hogg” more likely to work with pigs?
Matthew Mirenberg and John Jones think so. In their study “Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions”, these researchers found that people are more likely “choose careers whose labels resemble their own names.”
So, to use one of their examples, people named Dennis or Denise are overrepresented among… can you guess? Yep. Dentists.
Mirenberg and Jones believe this happens because people prefer things that they connect with themselves, including their names.
Other scientists, like University of Pennsylvania’s Uri Simonsohn, are skeptical about this whole idea. Are we drawing tenous conclusions where none exist, just to support a neat idea?
We haven’t even talked about name changes – or the weird name changes people have tried in court. I’m looking at you, Romanceo Sir Tasty Maxibillion. We haven’t talked about all the multigenerational popularity cycle they experience – or, as I like to call it, the rise and fall of Brittanies and Ashleys.
So let me know what you think. What do you think your name says about you?
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