Does a name make the person, or a person make the name?

In a recent article from the Oregonian, Albert Mehrabian, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, says his research shows that names can evoke desirable or negative images.

“A person’s name is intricately intertwined with his or her self-image,” he says.

But Martin Ford, an education psychologist at George Mason University in Virginia, says such images are superficial and fall away like vapor when a face is attached. “Names are associated with real people,” he says.

Studies show school term papers and job resumes are rated lower when connected to names with undesirable connotations, Mehrabian says.

He developed surveys in which people rated the images that names evoked about intelligence, morality, success and other qualities. He found that familiar names are more attractive than unusual names or names with alternative spellings. Nicknames — Dick for Richard, for example — convey images of a person who is approachable but not trustworthy.

Mehrabian’s surveys associate Chad with popularity, fun and success, and Bud with low morality and failure. If Chad and Bud were twins, Chad would be treated better by peers, teachers and bosses and have advantages over Bud throughout life, Mehrabian argues.

Bruce Lansky of Minneapolis advises parents to avoid names ending in “ie” or “y” — Debbie, Britney — because they are associated with superficiality, according to his surveys of more than 100,000 people for his “The Baby Name Survey Book.”

This article reminds me of the chapter in Freakonomics when the authors question whether or not poverty is linked to children who are given oddball names.

It also reminded me of Jack, the baby pictured above. This picture was given to me by Lisa Morgan Anderson, friend and former audience member from Columbus. She said:

“When Jack was younger, I had a bunch of bibs personalized with his name. Whenever he wore one of the bibs out in public, everyone would come up to him and talk to him and call him by name! Besides the fact that he is just plain adorable (although I may be a bit biased!), I do believe the ‘name tag’ on his bib made people more comfortable talking to him. Like you said, it gave people ‘permission’ to talk to him. It was always a great conversation starter, and I could tell that he loved hearing people say his name so much!”


Does a name make the person, or a person make the name?

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Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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