In the name of psychology


Is there a task that a supercomputer shouldn’t try? After all, the three-pound, four-lobe one in our head contains around one hundred billion neurons and manages all of the systems that make up our body. He is responsible for every thought, movement, perception, judgment and calculation you make. Our brain collects data and processes it, which is then made usable by knowledge. So, is there something this supercomputer doesn’t know? Not so much it seems, including what is taboo in today’s society, like judging someone by name. In the name of psychology, we are trying to figure out how and at what cost.

A study by John L. Cotton and Bonnie S. O’Neill indicated that common names were considered the least unique, the most valued and the most likely to be hired. Conversely, unusual names were considered the least popular and least likely to be hired. So it turns out that names have a significant impact on how we are viewed and, perhaps, our hiring potential. Another study showed that unusual names like Ajax, Magestic and Tangerine were viewed less favorably in hiring decisions.

Names are also rich sources of information. They can report gender, ethnicity, and even class. A name can be a connotation of the age of the wearer, and worryingly, we sometimes take it to signal intellectual competence.

How do you say it?

The easier a name is to pronounce, the more likely people are to favor it, and easy processing is the preferred type of brain input. In other words, people like what is familiar to them. When one of our social engineers comes up with an excuse not to impersonate a real person in the company, we always use simple, clear and traditional names, unless our circumstances call for the opposite.

In addition, the psychologistAdam alterfrom New York University and co-author of a JJournal of the Study of Experimental Social Psychology says when something is easier to understand, “we come to like it more”.

Names are also a rich source of information. They can report gender, ethnicity, and even class. A name can be a connotation of the age of the wearer and, worryingly, we sometimes take it to signal intellectual competence.

Criminal by name, criminal by nature

There is another phenomenon showing a correlation between unpopular names and juvenile delinquency. While seemingly absurd to most of us reading this, the results confirm the possibility that there is a link between the names and the crime. The 2009 study at the University of Shippensburgfound that, regardless of race, youth with less trending and unusual names were more likely to engage in criminal activity. The results don’t show a cause – they just show a connection between the two things. However, what this shows is that names are powerful in ways that we are not always aware of.


One of the smaller but predominant units of transferable culture today are memes. According to Sprout Media, a meme is an image or video that uses humor to represent the thoughts and feelings of a specific audience. Enter Karen.

An internet sensation, Karen is a slang term used as an antagonistic female character widely throughout internet memes. According to Know your meme , “Karen” is generally characterized as an edgy and empowered woman, sometimes as an ex-wife and, more frequently, the woman (and the haircut) who will ask to speak to the manager. In summary, “Karen’s” goal is often out of proportion to the vigor with which she pursues it.

Karen’s origins as a meme are unclear. No one knows where exactly “Karen” as a negative started, but theories offer the ‘Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white ‘even from the movie Mean Girls. While others believe the popularity of the name may come from the character Karen in the 1989 gangster movie Goodfellas. This speaks to the possible connotation of a name in a much broader sense – for example, we don’t know how “Britney” became a less recruitable name than “Emma”. But it also highlights the great inability to control a word, or an attached idea, once it has been released into the wild.

Karen isn’t the only name with negative connotations. Some names that we particularly associate with age. For example, Betty and Bruce are consistently seen as older than, say, Brittney and Brad according to one Study by Leonard Newman.

Like the name, like the person

Pronunciation also guides our perception of people. The ease of pronouncing a name, or how fluent it is, can, in part, predict a person’s liking. A study, also performed by Adam Alter, predicts a person’s perceived liking through the use of the name. In the study, he used the sample below listed from least fluently or most difficult to pronounce, to most fluent or easiest to pronounce:

  1. Leszczynska
  2. Vougiouklakis
  3. Colquhoun
  4. Loughnane
  5. Mathieson
  6. MacDonaugh
  7. Kupka
  8. Jarvis
  9. Matson
  10. Sherman

The study concluded that the pronunciation of a name, regardless of its length or apparent foreignness, mattered most in determining sympathy. Ease of pronunciation accounted for about 40 percent of immediate sympathy.

It doesn’t stop with human names. A Adam Alter studyexamined how the pronunciation of company names affects their performance on the stock market. Stripped of all recognizable influences, they found companies with simpler names and better traded stock symbols than the stocks of more difficult to pronounce companies.

In the name of fairness

While there isn’t an immediate fix for companies that might have outlier names that are too hard to pronounce, the good news is that that’s not the whole story for people with seemingly difficult names. Other stimuli flood the brains of those with whom we end up speaking. The perfect example being Barack Hussein Obama, whose name has been at the center of important and unfortunate controversies. So, whatever our names are, they are generally not held against us once other data about us becomes available.

Human resources professionals should be aware that there seems to be a clear bias in the way people perceive names. When selecting resumes for hire, it may be prudent not to mention names. As social engineers, we need to be aware that a single name can hurt us when we try to go unnoticed in a business.

Written by Maxie Reynolds



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