THE NAME Experiment

We announced the results of The Name Experiment at the opening of the 2008 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The experiment involved over 6000 people indicating whether the most popular first names in the UK sounded successful, lucky, and attractive.

Strong trends emerged, with James and Elizabeth being seen as the most successful, Jack and Lucy topping the luck table, and Sophie and Ryan coming out as the most attractive. Lisa and Brian were seen as the least successful, Helen and John as the least lucky, and Ann and George as the most unattractive.

Past research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophesies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful. These new findings could help parents wishing to find the perfect name for their children.

Traditional names with Royal associations were viewed as highly successful and intelligent, and so parents hoping for successful offspring might want to avoid more unusual names. Attractive female names tended to be soft-sounding and end with the ‘ee’ sound, whereas the sexiest males names are short and much harder sounding.

Interesting sex differences also emerged, with women exhibiting greater levels of agreement than men about the most successful, lucky and attractive names. Women shared strong opinions about names, whereas men are more even-handed. If our opinions about people are influenced by their first names, then this data suggests that women may be more judgemental than men.

To download a PDF showing the full results, click here.

In Quirkology, Prof Wiseman discusses some past research into the psychology of names, including how...

- An analysis of Californian death certificates has shown that people with positive initials (such as H.U.G. and J.O.Y.) live around four years longer than average, whereas those with negative initials (P.I.G. and D.I.E.) die about three years early.

- College students with undesirable names experience high levels of social isolation, and people whose surnames happen to have negative connotations (such as ‘Short’ or ‘Little’) are especially likely to suffer feelings of inferiority.

- People’s surname may influence their choice of career, with real life examples including music teachers Miss Beat and Miss Sharp, a sex counsellor named Lust, Peter Atchoo the pneumonia specialist, a firm of lawyers named Lawless and Lynch, private detectives Wyre and Tapping, and the head of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. McNutt.




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