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:

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.

Why your Nation’s IQ matters more than your Own

When it comes to the National IQ, nations are not made equal. Let’s see why the IQ of your countrymen is more important than yours.

National IQ
Source: Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences, Lynn/Vanhanen, 2012

Humans are social animals as a consequence of aeons of evolutionary timeline that favored individuals with group selection bias that cooperated with each other in small communities. The reason that you are afraid to speak in public is because the fear of social rejection is innate. That’s why solitary confinement in prison is the harshest way to punish someone. In a survival context social rejection can equate to low chances of survival. That’s why usually animals gather in packs and organize themselves in a hierarchy, zebras, lions, wildebeests, rhinos, elephants and so on are pack animals – no matter where you stand in the food chain you have a better chance of survival when you belong to a group. The lone wolf is an anomaly and not a common occurrence in nature.

The Greeks used to punish the least desirable elements of their society by voting with shards of pottery called ostrakon – hence the name ostracization – and exiling them for a period of ten years.

Since society is formed by people organized in various types of groups, unless you are living by yourself in a lone cabin somewhere deep in the woods being inspired by Henry David Thoreau or due to some other reason, you are largely depended on your group and peers. You are dependent on their skills, their cognitive abilities, their knowledge, their IQ.

There have been many attempts and thought experiments in order to come up with the ideal, Utopian society like Plato’s Republic or Utopia by Sir Thomas More. Philosophers like Plato also tried to imagine what a less desirable society would be like, he did this in the allegory Ship of fools.

There are no Utopian countries – none that I know of – each have their own strengths and weaknesses, their beauty and their ugliness, their fools and their saints. So, it would be safe to say that countries are ships of fools of various degrees, some have some sort of direction and are heading somewhere, others have captains that are a little bit more deaf and have more infirmity in their sights.

“Fools” with higher IQ’s tend to think in the longer term, tend to have more patience, to have bigger incomes, to save more money. Long term thinking, patience, big income and more savings can lead to a more productive ship:

“The “Ramsey growth model” shows that one way for a nation to get richer is for it to build up a bigger stock of machines and equipment—and the way to build up more machines and equipment is for the average citizen to put more of her paycheck in the bank rather than spend it on consumer goods. That way, the bank has money to lend to businesses, money that can be used to rent offices, buy computers and lab equipment, and keep a business up and running until it starts turning a profit.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

I also wrote a post about the benefit of being a capital-intensive economy rather than a labour-intensive economy.

Not only that you depend on your shipmates cognitive abilities and their decisions determined by them but you also tend to mimic their behavior – imitation is another deep innate human trait. It’s called the Veblen Effect:

“Veblen focused in particular on conspicuous consumption, on buying things that your neighbors can see, and buying items—or perhaps vacations to exotic locales—that demonstrate your social status. Cornell economist Robert Frank and Harvard economist Juliet Schor are modern proponents of the view that consumer spending is socially driven. And both say that our consumer decisions—to consume or to save, to work more hours a week or fewer—are deeply influenced by those around us. Our level of debt, our degree of frugality, our efforts to become prosperous, are all shaped by our environment.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

Higher-IQ individuals have a better ability to understand the minds of others: the Keynesian Beauty Contest.

Higher-IQ individuals tend to be more cooperative: Higher Intelligence Groups Have Higher Cooperation Rates in the Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma

Groups of people with higher average cognitive skills build governments that are better at creating long term wealth: the Nobel-winning Coase Theorem.

“Informally, we can sum up the Coase Theorem this way: if it’s easy for two or more parties to bargain with each other, they can bargain to an efficient, win-win outcome regardless of which party has the most power going in to the negotiation. Here’s an example of the Coase theorem, perhaps the most common one. A fishery is downstream from a heavily polluting factory; to keep it simple, let’s imagine no one else lives nearby. In a pro-environmentalist country, the fishery would have a right to a clean river, and therefore it could legally shut down the factory. But here’s what makes it a negotiation rather than an edict: in this particular country, the fishery is legally allowed to sell the right to pollute. The factory would pay the fishery, and they’d strike a pollution-permission deal. For the right price, the fishery could let the factory poison the waters a little or a lot. But if polluting more means paying more, the factory will start to look for inexpensive ways to cut back on pollution, not out of kindness, but out of pure greed.” from Hive Mind – How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own by Garett Jones

Informed voters: IQ predicts short-term and long-term memory, people with higher-IQ are more likely to know more facts about more topics including current events.

The O-Ring Theory of teams: cognitive abilities are a good predictor of skills and “small differences in the average skill of workers across countries can cause massive differences in productivity across countries, and why the richest countries tend to produce entirely different goods than the poorest countries.”

There you go, I think that these are sufficient arguments in favor of having lesser “fools” on board your “ship of fools”. The high-seas of uncertainty and chaos have strong currents and unpredictable weather, your success in life and well-being are strongly correlated to the decisions that your shipmates make and their cooperation, so make sure you are on the right boat.