Many parents are giving their new babies unusually spelled first names, reports The New York Times, so that they can pop up on the first page of a web search, and avoid sharing it with a serial killer who happens to have the same one. But new research shows that if parents really want the best for their kid, they're better off choosing a simple name that rolls off the tongue, even if it means sharing it with a famous fetish-porn star.
Researchers Simon Laham of the University of Melbourne, Adam Alter of New York University Stern School of Business, and Peter Koval of the University of Leuven, Belgium, found that people with easy-to-pronounce names were evaluated more positively. Not only did the dozens of participants in their studies like names better when they were easy to pronounce, but of 500 U.S. lawyers, the ones with the easiest-to-pronounce names had advanced faster and held more senior positions.
Past research has found that your name has all kinds of effects on your life: applicants with African American-sounding names are less likely to be called back for a job interview; children with popular names are less likely to get into trouble with the law; girls with more feminine names are less likely to pursue math and science; and boys with names that are also common among girls are more likely to be suspended.
But the discovery of "the name pronunciation effect" is entirely new. The study, which included names from Anglo, Asian, Western and Eastern European backgrounds, was conducted in both lab settings and natural environments, and was published online in December in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
The researchers were careful to distinguish pronunceability from "unusualness" -- a quality that is well-known to spark bias. Barack Obama, Alter points out, is certainly an unusual name, but it doesn't trip the tongue. They also controlled for the nationality or ethnic connotation of a name, as it's been well-established that this can also provoke subtle, or not-so-subtle, negative feelings.
In the lawyer study, the researchers thought that the relatively recent entry of minorities into the field might skew the results. Of course the Smiths and Johnsons ranked higher than the Pfefferbergs and Borgognones. They'd been there for a lot longer. But even when they looked at the Anglo names alone, seniority correlated strongly with how easy the person's name was to say.
"Independently of all those other features of the name, the mere ease of pronunciation is enough to drive outcomes," Alter told AOL Jobs. "There's sort of a warm glow associated with things that are easy to process."
We feel good when our minds process something easily and fluently, according to the study, and when it comes to a name, we attribute that good feeling to the name-bearer.
Alter thinks this may be evolutionary; most things that required a lot of effort for our ancestors to process were probably dangerous, or at least cause for concern.
Politicians are also given a boost by an easily-readable name. Thirty-five undergraduates took part in a mock ballot study of 12 names, knowing nothing about the candidates. Those with the simpler-to-say names were more likely to win the race.
To make the situation more realistic, the researchers had 74 college students then read a newspaper article about the background of a candidate running for a local council election, including his family and career history, and one of his policies. In some of the articles the man's name was Greek and difficult or easy to say, in others it was Polish and difficult or easy to say. Afterwards they rated the man's eligibility for office. When the same candidate had an easier-to-say name (Lazaridis over Vougiouklakis), he rated much higher.
By this logic, Mitt Romney's name gives him a serious boost in the Republican primary, while Rick Santorum's name, for other reasons, is a serious liability.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a link to a prank web-campaign that uses Rick Santorum's last name in coining a graphic sexual term. The link should have been as it exists now, to a news article discussing the problem that the Internet campaign has created for Santorum.
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