How Your Name Influences You

Names. We all have them and names are not the same everywhere in the world. In Myanmar names used to consist in only one syllable, it’s only in the recent years that they started adopting names with two-three syllables: Ko, Mi, Min, Minh, Sa, Saya, U. Names usually offer information about persons, their social status, their occupation, their gender and even their age, for example, Mi for young women and Minh for young boys. Another interesting particularity of the Burmese names is that they evolve together (coevolution) with the people and their lives because people can change their name at will to reflect a change in their lives.  For example, a Ko (Brother) can become a Bo (military commander) or a Duwa (Chief).

Research is finding out that there are a lot of factors that are influencing our decisions and  lives, factors like our hormones, our posture, our family, group, colors, the architecture of the places we live and work in, even sports outcomes seem to influence trading decisions and the stock market, what our neighbors are buying (the Veblen Effect, socially driven spending), background music (for example, shops might use French music to increase sales in French Wine) and many more. It’s impossible to be consciousness of all the factors that are influencing your decisions.  We also have an innate trait to filter much of the information that is coming our way and the unconscious mind takes care of that. If the unconscious mind wouldn’t have taken care of the job than we would have to deal with information overload while having a limited working memory capacity. There is not a consensus among the researches on this capacity but I will mention the magic number seven, Miller’s Law says that our working memory can hold about 7 objects and apparently this is why phone numbers are limited to 7 digits. Obviously, there are exceptions to Miller’s Law, people with the Savant Syndrome like Kim Peek have a far better ability to process information and to store it into memory.

Let’s see how our names can influence our lives.

The Name-letter effect

The name-letter effect shows that people tend to prefer the letters in their name over other letters in the alphabet. Thus, our names are yet another factor that influences our lives without us knowing it. The exception to this rule are the people who don’t like themselves and who don’t tend to exhibit this effect. There is an effect similar to this one, people also tend to prefer numbers that correspond to their birthday, this effect is not that surprising since we know that many people tend to use dates related to their birthday as their password.

Real-life Applications: lab tests show that people tend to prefer brands matching their initials. Here, I don’t know of any advertising companies that can offer the possibility to target potential customers based on their initials, if you know, feel free to comment. A database analysis shows that people tend to donate more to disaster relief following hurricanes that share their initial letter – Kate and Kevin following Hurricane Katrina. We can see here how not only psychology can help us to uncover such effects but also big data analytics and machine learning.

The Wikipedia article says that the impact our names have on our occupations is controversial. Controversial or not it’s food for thought and it’s worth mentioning. For example, some research found that people do tend to have occupations similar to their names like Denis the Dentist. Other research using data-sets consisting of Twitter and Google+ accounts showed that there is no correlation. Well, I can see right away that social media accounts are not trustworthy data-sets since it’s very easy to create a fake Twitter account, I did a quick search and found that the estimation is that up to 48 million Twitter accounts are bots.

Maybe it’s less of a certainty that nowadays our names reflect what we do, where we come from and who we are but in the older days it was quite accurate considering the fact that people tended to live in the same place for generations and to have the same occupation for generations. Nowadays, the world is much more dynamic and revolving at a higher speed so a Bevis might not be a bowman, a Blair might not be a man of flatlands, Bond might not be a farmer and Braden might not be from the broad valley.

English Names and their meaning
English Names and their meaning. Source: www.world-english.org

A term worth mentioning is nominative determinism. Nominative determinism is basically what I wrote earlier, the tendency to have an occupation that fits your name but what’s worth adding here is the genetic factor. The strength of an ancestor named Smith because he was a, guess what, Smith, would pass through generations to a future individual that might be inclined to work with his hands and use his strength in his job. The same thing with dexterity in the case of Taylor.

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