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The Power of Names
August 12, 2014 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Language - Comments Off on The Power of Names

For a brief time in grade school I decided that my first name didn’t suit me at all. From then on, I told everyone, I should be addressed by my new name: Tiffani. No one took me seriously though. Frustrated, my Tiffani experiment died out by the end of the week.

My real name was so common and so popular the year I was born that while growing up I regularly shared it with three other girls per class. A teacher suggested that instead of Tiffani, I simply asked to be called by my middle name instead. That had its advantages, but it was only marginally more appealing. I resigned myself to using my first name in real life, envious of classmates whose names channeled literary heroines or Arthurian legends. Someone told me I had the name of a pioneer wife.

However, it turns out that my easy-to-pronounce, traditional-sounding name has probably given me a leg up all these years in the United States. A recent article in The Atlantic pointed to research on the power of names and how, for better or for worse, they help us make quick judgments.

Names that are easy to pronounce are judged more positively and favored over difficult names. Companies with simple names got more investments. White-sounding names garnered higher expectations from teachers as well as more callbacks for job interviews over black-sounding names. Female lawyers with male-sounding names were more likely to win judgeships.

A couple I know had disagreed over their son’s name. The father had wanted to name the child after a Mesoamerican god, which while relatively well known, was still quite a mouthful. The mother had wanted to give him a more WASP-sounding name, which with some family pressure, won out. Now that the child is a teen, I wonder how his life would have different had his father prevailed in naming him. How would your life have been different with a different name?

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