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Does your name shape your personality?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about a survey at a prestigious US university that revealed that our names can have an astonishing social impact. The results showed that a name gives a clue to a person’s age, likeability (or lack of it), competence and aptitude for a job. 

Some 500 students at Syracuse University, New York were given a list of names and told to rate them according to the impression they made. They were also asked: ‘Imagine you are about to meet Samantha. How competent/warm/old do you think she is when you see her name?’

New Scientist was among the respected publications that looked at the survey results and published a list of the perceived warm and competent names and gave others that were supposed to reflect low levels of warmth and competence.

At Nameslink we believe that everyone’s name is special and we’re sceptical of the supposition behind the survey. For a start, the students were mostly young and they were being asked to pass judgement on a list of names drawn from the past 70 years. Of course, there’s no surprise that a name like Dorothy or Ernest will trigger a sense that the person will be old. These names have not been popular for decades. But when it comes to the other attributes there’s a huge difference between filling out a survey in a classroom and meeting the real Dorothy in person. That’s when we are more likely to form a realistic opinion of someone.

Some names carry a touch of class traced back to the aristocracy while others are palpably more modern. There’s always been a bit of snobbery about choosing names where some are thought to be more common. Nameslink won’t go there because we have found in our research that every name has the potential to produce fascinating characters. Names move in and out of fashion.

The image that any of us creates about the holder of a name will probably have more to do with types of person we know. If we meet an aggressive character called Sophie that will colour our feelings about the name even though according to stereotype Sophie denotes a soft and warm personality.

So we don’t think much of the Syracuse survey. What, for instance, do names such as Julie, Isabel, Alice or William, Liam, Peter tell us about the people with those names. Not a lot.

And for those people who really don’t like the name their parents gave them the solution is simple. Just change it for something else. For day-to-day purposes there’s no need to go through any formalities – just tell your friends that from now on you want to be called Larry or Lulu. Who knows, throwing off an unpopular name might even bring on a personality change.





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