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A Boy Named Sue
March 9, 2012 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on A Boy Named Sue

Ask yourself: Does your name help you or hurt you?

“Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue”, Johny Cash once sang. Surely it’s true, names like “Sue” spell trouble. An obvious naming malfunction, but are there more subtle signs in our handles that can hang us up?

In the social marketplace, our names are our brands. They instantly reveal to all clues to race, ethnicity, gender and social class, all in just a few syllables. Our names leave impressions about our success, warmth, morality, popularity, cheerfulness and even how manly or feminine others judge us to be.

And those judgments reflect a harsh reality… name connotations matter. Researchers have found that boys with girls’ names (Sue, how-d’ye do?) are more likely to get suspended for discipline issues in school, while kids with popular names are less likely to be juvenile delinquents.

Scientists have also demonstrated that one’s Christian name can be used to predict income and education. And surely it is no surprise to learn that in the U.S., job candidates with African-American-sounding name are less-likely to get called for job interviews. Talk about loaded terms. It’s easy to appreciate the importance of names in triggering memories and the social expectations and assumptions so important to us –a lot of emotional baggage.

Simon Laham, in The Name-Pronounciation Effect, just out in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, has found a whole new category of name discrimination previously unknown.  “Easy-to-pronounce names (and the bearers of those names) are judged more positively than difficult-to-pronounce names.”

The reason is because humans unconsciously prefer easier mental processing tasks over more difficult ones. It’s just nature’s way of keeping us from thinking too much and burning up calories that could be re-purposed to add to your waistline.

Scientists call this the “hedonic marking hypothesis for processing fluency.” I call it “being a dumb-ass.” Think of it this way: Difficult-to-pronounce names are like, too hard to say, and so you have to stop and think about it, and that’s a drag, you know, like having to think about it, so it’s only natural that you would, like, focus on easy names, and people with easy names, and stuff.

Gentle readers, I ask you. Is that the best we humans can do? Are we so stupid and lazy that we would treat our friends and neighbors  that unfairly?

Yup. You saw that coming. That’s what Latham and his team are saying. And not only that. Because we don’t like people with hard names, they get less money and have like, bad sex and stuff happens to them.  Well, he didn’t actually say they had bad sex. We’ll just call it a less-satisfactory outcome.”

So I guess this means that a name that will get you ahead in one language will set you back in another. Multiglots, we await your stories of tragedy and triumph. As you furiously compose your replies, some inspiration  music just for you by the Man in Black himself. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Johnny Cash…

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