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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Sep 12, 2012 - 9:56:51 AM

If your first name is easy to pronounce, do people like you more?
By Steve Ferber
Sep 12, 2012 - 9:56:05 AM

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Pregnant couples take note!  Apparently, the name that your parents give you can shape your life in significant ways.  
Two recent studies found the following:
1.       Fluency = likeability.  A study out of New York University found that if your first name is easy to pronounce, people like you more; and
2.       “Negative” names = worse life outcomes.  A European study claims that people with “negative” names “influence life outcomes for the worse.” According to the study authors, as quoted in BPS Digest: “Seemingly benign factors, such as first names, add up in real life, gaining considerable collective power in predicting feelings, thoughts and behavior.”
We’ll explain the significance in a moment, but first take 20 seconds to pronounce (yes, out loud), the following 10 names:
According to an article by Dave Mosher, in, study subjects were asked “to rank 50 surnames according to their ease or difficulty of pronunciation, and according to how much they liked or disliked them.” In follow-on studies, Mosher explained, study subjects “were asked to vote for hypothetical political candidates solely on the basis of their names.” In a third study, added Mosher, subjects were asked to vote on candidates “about whom they knew both names and some political positions.”
The findings?  Said Mosher: “Altogether the researchers found that a name’s pronounceability, regardless of length or seeming foreignness, mattered most in determining likability. Ease of pronunciation accounted for about 40 percent of off-the-cuff likability.”
The study, titled “The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun,” was conducted by Adam Alter, from New York University, and colleagues Simon Lahama and Peter Kovala from the University of Melbourne.
Negative first names*
“Can negative first names cause interpersonal neglect?” That’s the opening salvo posed by study authors Jochen Gebauer, Mary Leary and Wiebke Neberich, who conducted a series of experiments to test their hypothesis. Using German online dating services, they concluded: “Across all studies, negatively named individuals were more neglected by other online-daters.” The study authors pointed out that “this form of neglect arguably mirrors a name-based life history of neglect, discrimination, prejudice or even ostracism.” Further, the authors found that those individuals with “negative” names had lower self-esteem, less education and a higher incidence of smoking. Concluded the authors: “These results are consistent with the name-based interpersonal neglect hypothesis: Negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence people’s life outcomes for the worse.”
(*You might now be asking: what constitutes a “negative” name? Fair question. In the study, and accompanying write-ups, authors alternately used phrases such as “unattractive,” “unpopular” or “unfashionable” name.  In each case, it appears that the evaluation – of whether a name is positive or negative – was assessed by asking people to rank order names in terms of appeal. One reality, of course, is that certain names, over time, easily rise or fall in their likeability)
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