On a sunny morning, Mary walks down a street in St. Louis and meets Paul and Helen as they make their usual rounds with their dog. Later that day, she sits in a café to study a bit and sees her classmate Peter. She finishes her breakfast and gets tired of studying, so she goes to the movies and makes a new friend named Leonard. After a while, Mary gets hungry, and goes to a nearby diner, where she sees her good friend Louis. Within half a day, Mary, who is named after St. Mary, has met with five others that carry the name of a saint. All six happen to live in a “Saint” city. Is this a coincidence? Some studies show that this is not. In another city, Dennis is one of the most popular dentists around. His daughter Laura has recently received her degrees to be a lawyer, and already has prospective customers. His brother Rory owns a roofing company, though he initially studied biology. Is it a coincidence that these professionals’ names seem to correspond with their jobs? Again, studies seem to show this is a trend, not a coincidence. In fact, experts are saying that names can be a substantial influence in decision-making. Albeit the depth and manner of effects of names are different, psychological research from recent decades show that names have subconscious effects, and even instinctively, influencing their personality, career choice, residence, even success.
Oftentimes upon hearing a word, an immediate bias is formed towards the word. The moment someone hears an unknown word, he or she assumes the meaning of the word from the way it sounds (Hawes). This occurs when learning foreign languages; someone may come across a cognate, or a word that sounds like its corresponding word in the person’s native language. A similar concept is applied when an unfamiliar word is heard and its meaning assumed due to the way it sounds. Brains also connect sounds to different shapes and ideas (“The Power of Names”). This is also known as sound symbolism, when brains naturally connect sounds to certain ideas. For example, the presence of the letter “a” with the short “a” sound, or the letter “b” in a word indicates roundness while words with “k” tend to indicate spikiness.
In figure 1 (Bartley), shown above, ninety-eight percent of test subjects agree that Shape A is Kiki while Shape B is Bouba. From studies of sound symbolism, one can infer that before knowing anything about a person or subject, most people already have predetermined feelings about the person or subject.
Due to sound symbolism, among other factors, a person’s name could potentially affect his or her personality. This is because outside perceptions of one can influence one’s self-perception (Deluzain). In his book about psychology, Alter mentions “every name is associated with demographic baggage” (Drunk Tank Pink 9). Different names can indicate a person’s age or ethnicity; coupled with the idea that children tend to follow expectations set for them (Bryner), this provides a reason why names can...