We know how powerful language can be, but what about our names? Just how important are name meanings? Can they reveal anything about our identities?
Our names are an important part of our identity. It’s one of the first things people notice about us. Whether we like it or not, our name is a huge influence and forms an impression. For instance, did you know that girls called Eleanor are 100 times more likely to attend Oxford University than someone called Jade? We cannot help but form pictures in our minds and create a character using names as clues. But is there anything to name meanings when we didn’t give ourselves our birth name in the first place?
Do we somehow adapt to our names? Do our names influence where we live or our choice of partner? How about the type of work we decide to do? It might sound improbable, but there is evidence to suggest that all of the above is true.
Name meanings: 4 theories that show how our names reveal our personalities
1. We end up looking like our names
Does our birth name have an actual physical impact on our personalities? Well, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but evidence suggests you can match a name to a face. This is called the ‘face-naming match effect’.
To expand, our birth name comes with all kinds of stereotypes and social expectations. Over time, these expectations may influence how we present ourselves to the world. In other words, our name becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consider this. How would you perceive two young boys; one called Charles and another called Charlie? More to the point, how would their names affect them growing up? Charles might be treated differently, with kid gloves for instance. He might be perceived as a little bit posh. Whereas Charlie could be seen as more relaxed and fun.
What about a girl named Rose? Our preconceived idea of this name is feminine, demure English, and polite. As such, a girl called Rose might grow up following these expectations.
But what about the letters of our name? Can they help us with understanding name meanings?
2. We like the letters of our name
Because we like anything that reminds us of ourselves, we tend to seek out similar things in life. And this includes the letters of our name. Don’t believe me? How many of you know parents that give their children the same initials as their first names? Or similar sounding names at least?
Known as ‘implicit egotism’, this explains why we make major life decisions based on our names. Researchers believe this is because one of the first things we learn to do as children is write our own names.
For example, it appears that people gravitate to places that sound like their own names. For instance, more women named Virginia live in Virginia Beach. Likewise, more men called Jack live in Jacksonville and you’ll find more Philips residing in Philadelphia.
This bias towards the letters in our name also extends towards other people. As an example, we are more likely to feel a bond with others that share the same letters as we do. Consequently, studies show that married couples who share the same initials tend to stay together for longer.
3. Our name can influence the work we choose to do
So we’ve established that we like the letters in our name and this can influence us in terms of where we live and who we get on with. But it can also affect our choice of employment. Carl Jung was the first person to notice a connection between our names and our personalities.
In fact, he mentioned it in his 1952 book, Synchronicity. He suggested there was that there was a “sometimes quite grotesque coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities”. For example, a large number of dentists are called Dennis. And we all know about the fastest man on earth – Usain Bolt.
Known as ‘nominative determinism’, whereby people tend to choose work closely associated with their name. This is particularly true of authors.
“Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname.” The Psychologist (1994)
Here are some interesting examples:
- The Proper Care of Tarantulas – Ann Webb
- Clinical Neurology – Lord Brain
- Article on Nitrate Pollution in Drinking Water – Dr. Laurie Drinkwater
- Expert on marine life – Dr. Peter Herring
- Study on Urology – JW Splatt and D Weedon
- Polar Regions & the Future of the Planet – Daniel Snowman
- And perhaps the greatest example of all – poet – William Wordsworth.
Unfortunately, our name can also be a barrier to the kind of work we want to do. Researchers from MIT and Chicago University sent out 5,000 fake resumes with either African-sounding names such as Tyrone and Tamika, or Anglo-Saxon-sounding names such as David Smith. The qualifications were the same on all the resumes.
The results showed that resumes with African-sounding names were less likely to get an interview than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. This kind of discrimination against a name is happening all too frequently, as resume consultant Tammy Kabell, will attest:
“I’ve had frank discussions with HR managers and hiring managers in the corporate world, and they tell me when they see a name that’s ethnic or a black name, they perceive that person as having low education or coming from a lower socioeconomic class.”
4. Our name reveals how easy-going or aggressive we are
Suppose I told you I was meeting my mate called Eric and I asked you to rate how ‘easy-going or determined’ he is. What would your answer be? And how did you make your assumptions based on just four letters?
Well, researchers think that we identify certain letters to sound and look more rounded, whereas others are more spiked. For instance, the word ‘bouba’ is softer-sounding compared to ‘kiki’ which has sharp edges and a harsher sound. This is the ‘Bouba/Kiki Effect’ and it also works when we think of people’s names.
So, for example, we associate the softer-sounding letters with feminine qualities such as warmth, easy-going nature, relaxed, adaptable, caring, funny, open and friendly.
Female names associated with warmth:
Ann, Anna, Caroline, Elizabeth, Emily, Emma, Evelyn, Felicia, Grace, Jennifer, Julie, Kathleen, Madeline, Mary, Michelle, Natalie, Olivia, Rachel, Samantha, Sarah, Sophia, Susan.
Male names associated with warmth:
Daniel, David, James, John, Jonathan, Mark, Matthew, Michael, Nicholas, Noah, Paul, Stephen, Thomas, William.
The sharper spikey-sounding letters related to male attributes such as aggression, determination, sarcasm, coldness, closed-off, irritable, uncaring, and anger. This is another way of interpreting name meanings.
For instance, one new study suggests that we are pretty good at discerning name meanings when it comes to these three factors. Participants rated different names as to warm/competent/age.
The results showed the following:
Female and males names associated with aggression:
Eric, Crystal, Dominic, Katie, Kiki, Mick, Rick, Rex, Vicki.
It appears that there are hidden clues behind name meanings. But our names don’t have to hold us back or determine our future even if they are the ‘wrong’ type of name.
If you’re in doubt, you might be interested in a conversation between two Democrats in 1995, discussing a young black candidate who had just won a seat in the Illinois State Senate. One Democrat advised the other to keep an eye on him, he could go as far as the Whitehouse. Not with a name like Barack Hussein Obama, he won’t, said the other.