Has your name ever hurt you? – when nomen becomes omen

Addressing clients with the right data often means the difference between making a profit and not making a profit. Working with data quality experts has made me ever more consious of the value personal data represents for people. In this respect names are especially intriguing to me, as owners appear to identify with their name a lot. So I decided to do a little research and determine if people really are what their name tells you. Can nomen indeed become omen?

Your parents probably gave a lot of thought to the name they once gave you, and as it turns out they were right to do so! Research tells us a name can do wonders for its owner, as well as a lot of damage for that matter. Let’s have a look at some remarkable results.

Peter for President!
Recent studies show that in the US a student called Fred is more likely to fail his exam than a student who just happened to be named Andrew: people tend to indentify with their name and, in general, have a positive feeling about letters that correspond with their initials. Consequently Fred is far more likely to settle for a meager F, while Andrew will have an extra motive to strive for an A. It also explains how in choosing a partner we show a slight preference for someone whose name resembles our own, or why Mary will prefer to live in Maryland, while Monica is more inclined to settle in Santa Monica. Most of these preferences only show themselves through our subliminal selves, so we are not actually aware of the motivation for some of our choises. Another US study endorses these findings: inspired by the results mentioned above, researchers decided they’d investigate on another letter. They came up with the letter K, which in baseball stands for strikeout. The study showed once again that there is a connection between a letter and its causer: batters whose names began with a K struck out more often than other batters.

Ominous names
A UK research tells us that as much as one in 5 parents regret how they named their child. The novelty might have worn off after a few years, but can there be any real objections to a certain name? Apparently, there are plenty! Ironically it’s not the parents who’ll have to carry this burden for the rest of their lives…

“Hi, I’m Antwan, but you can call me Antoine…”
It seems that even children’s language skills are influenced by their name. This has to do with the effect negative emotions can have on a child’s performance. If for example you decided to name your son ‘Gene’ but spell it ‘Jene’, he is very likely to get confronted with disbelief from his teachers. “Are you sure your name isn’t spelled with a ‘G’?” This can severely undermine Jene’s sense of confidence. That explains why children with an unusual name or a name that is unusually spelled generally are less adequate spellers and readers.

“But Sissi is a Royal name, dear!”
When a girl is called Frankie we think it’s a fun name, a cool and robust statement to fit a strong personality. Yet when a boy is called Mckenzie, (yes, some parents think it’s cute to give their boy a name that has a feminine touch to it ) we see a similar effect, but with a different outcome. This is something his parents obviously had not foreseen: their son will constantly be shaking off his girly image. The effect is striking: boys with a androgynous name misbehave more often than their unambiguously named peers, especially when they reach puberty. A boy called Mckenzie or Aubrey is even more likely to display bad behaviour when there is a girl with the same name among his peers. One more reason for parents to stick to conventions when choosing a name for their newborn.

Want to produce the new Einstein? Call her Kate!The new Einstein? Kate!
A name can be a burden, but if you use this knowledge wisely, you might just turn it into an advantage. What happens to a girl when she has finished school and needs to choose what subject to study? Well, according to a US study, her choice depends on her name. As it turns out girls with a very feminine name like Julietta or Isabella are more likely to study humanities, while those whose name is less obviously feminine are more partial towards science. The question is: who’s aspiring to whom? Could it be that parents would treat Kate in a different way than Barbara? Or did the parents subconciously decide they wanted to raise a scientist when they decided to call their daughter Kate?

Would you rather hire Vanity or Grace?
Of course it’s not just letters or gender that determines how we feel about a name. In fact, how other people perceive us very much depends on the meaning of our name. For example: when looking for a new member on your marketing team, would you rather hire Vanity or Grace? In spite of what her name tells us, Grace might be a job jumper who doesn’t know how to work in unison with her colleagues. Vanity on the other hand could just be a daughter of a well-read mother who had just finished her latest Thackeray when she gave birth. Still, both women will either meet a lot of prejudice or feel the need to live up to a very high standard because of their name.

It all goes to show that a name defenitely posesses some self-fulfilling qualities. Given the fact that so many parents regret their choice of names afterwards makes me think that the owners of that name might share these sentiments. So what does that mean when looking at it from a data quality point of view? Unisex names for example are responsible for a lot of data quality issues. As the borders between male and female names are fading we’ll need to update our knowledge continually. The human in Human Inference will definitely take care of that. After all, we wouldn’t want to you to put off Mrs Clinton when sending her a petition to take pity on the Syrian citizens starting: “Dear Mr. Clinton…”.

Source: Livescience.com & Babynames.com

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