Hello, my name is Trouble

Time magazine has an interesting article on links between given names and behaviour, with a new study finding children with unpopular names are more likely to be get in trouble with the law.

This doesn’t mean that being called an unusual name causes criminality – the article notes that boys with unpopular names are likelier to live in single-parent households and be poorer, which are also known to be linked to higher levels of offending.

However, it does add to a growing body of research suggests that our names have a curious influence on our life.

A great review article in The Psychologist from last year covered much of findings, including the fact that people tend to buy products they share initials with, those whose names start with C or D are more likely to receive those grades than are other students, and people called Louis are more likely to live in St. Louis, Mary in Marysville and so on.

The same effect also seems to happen with initials, so Marys are also more likely to live in Manchester.

However, the Time article focuses more on how your name affects how others react towards you and perceive you, which may have a reciprocal impact on your own life chances:

The short answer is that our names play an important role in shaping the way we see ourselves — and, more important, how others see us. Abundant academic literature proves these points. A 1993 paper found that most people perceive those with unconventionally spelled names (Patric, Geoffrey) as less likely to be moral, warm and successful.

A 2001 paper found that we have a tendency to judge boys’ trustworthiness and masculinity from their names. (As a guy whose middle name is Ashley, I can attest to the second part.) In a 2007 paper (here’s a PDF), University of Florida economist David Figlio found that boys with names commonly given to girls are likelier to be suspended from school.

And an influential 1998 paper co-authored by psychologist Melvin (a challenging first name if there ever was one) Manis of the University of Michigan reported that “having an unusual name leads to unfavorable reactions in others, which then leads to unfavorable evaluations of the self.”

Link to Time on the effects of names.

4 Comments

  1. Posted February 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    interesting article. based on the above we can assume that ‘a rose by any other name…’ would be a Lilly and would get into trouble in class and will grow up to be a home wrecker!! haha, just found this site today and read about your book, ive been searching hi and low for a site that combines both neuroscience and psychology – im only on the 1st article but it looks great! thanks!

  2. ChickenArise
    Posted February 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Freakonomics touched on this as well: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/29/do-uncommon-names-turn-kids-into-criminals/ (So did the book, iirc)

  3. TomTom
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    So, the secret has been to give your kid a normal name (Joesph, Benjamin, Thomas), and then let the kid choose what he wants to be called, while calling him some stupid pet-name at home. For extra power, make the middle name a J name. The difference between a Benjamin, a Ben, and a B.J. is huge, and often the kid fits the name.

  4. Justin
    Posted October 9, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    I’m still gonna stick with the freakonomics theory, which this kinda supports, but not really


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