People With Easy-To-Pronounce Names More Likely To Succeed, Study Says

easy pronounce names success at workMany 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.


Next: Does Your Name Spell Success?



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Not Sure

A girl in one of my (substitute teaching) classes was named, Shelleatchia Goins.

February 20 2012 at 6:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris

I agree with scottinalaska. There's nothing easier to pronounce than RON PAUL!

February 14 2012 at 6:24 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Chris

Maybe when people come across a name that's hard to pronounce, it makes them feel a little stupid. So naturally, they'd prefer simpler names, because then they wouldn't feel that way.

February 14 2012 at 6:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
scottinalaska

Ron Paul is the easiest most familiar name of the candidates, but....we aren't allowed to remind people of that, are we. We might listen to him. Yes, a bit of resentment here. Good article though.

February 14 2012 at 3:18 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Pianist Ruth!

I have always felt that a name can make or break us....The sound of one's name heard by strangers sets up an image of that person.....I got stuck with an old lady's name..."Ruth"....and wish I had a more contemporary name like my piers.....OH WELL. THAT'S LIFE..AND ...AT LEAST IT'S EASY TO UNDERSTAND ....Parents think very carefully....when you chose a name,,,you are creating the path to your child's destiny...especially in their social life....a pretty name for a girl helps a lot in the dating game!

February 14 2012 at 2:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
userzba

Asians have known this for years I have many Asian friends that own Businesses, Tran Hong (Bill is his American name) Chowan Hong (Ken is his American name) they want people to feel comfortable in Business Transactions so they take on easy common names and are all very successful---- Once you become friends with them they tell you their real name but don't care if you can't pronounce it----Smart people

February 14 2012 at 2:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Sisterlou

Wonder how Mary Jane is doing?

February 14 2012 at 2:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sisterlou's comment
Sisterlou

Some of these kids names are really out of the box..As seen in school...
Le-sha.....
Pronounced Leedasha....

February 14 2012 at 2:03 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
hosereal3

So John Doe should be a rocket scientist?

February 14 2012 at 1:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GkeymanM

That's the beauty of being a human, you can make up some baloney and 99% of people will believe your B. S., ..... yea it is like that Jeep thing you wouldn't understand ! .

February 14 2012 at 12:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mccalteaux

I would like to meet a CEO named Bambi, Candy or Cherry. I once knew a person named Candy. Her last name was Cane. I am not joking.

February 14 2012 at 12:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mccalteaux's comment
Shannon

I knew a Candy Corn. No joke.

February 14 2012 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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