Want a better life? Change your name

By Jenna Hanson February 15, 2012
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Having a name that’s easy to pronounce could make you more popular and help you get a better job, say experts.

A ROSE WOULD still be a rose by any other name, but making your name easier to pronounce might help your popularity and success, researchers say.

In a new study, scientists found that people had more positive impressions of simple, easy-to-pronounce names, than they did of difficult-to-pronounce names, and that this subtle bias is present in real-life situations.
In psychology, ‘processing fluency’ is thought to affect many kinds of thought processes and decisions, from familiarity to deciding how truthful a statement is. “Processing fluency is how easy it is to process information generally,” says lead author and social psychologist Dr Simon Laham, from the University of Melbourne.

Processing fluency and pronunciation

Simon and his colleagues suggest that how easy a name is to say powerfully affects how well liked the name is, and by association, how well liked the bearer is. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, had three main findings relating to the pronunciation effect.

The first is that, when shown a list of both difficult and easy to pronounce names, the people in the study favoured the names that were easier. The second finding showed that within a group of names of political candidates, those that were easily pronounced were more likely to be picked in a mock ballot survey.

The final finding – made from a study of 500 US lawyers –  was that attorneys with more pronounceable names rose more quickly to superior positions in their firm hierarchies. “The [pronunciation] effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce,” Simon says.

Name change: simple way to success?

For him, this research focuses on more than just how well-liked or successful someone can be if they have an easy-to-pronounce name. “The research highlights the kind of biases that our everyday thinking is subjected to,” he says. “In doing this research, and making these biases known, it might help people be a little more objective in their decisions about other people.”

Social psychologist Professor William von Hippel from the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, believes this research could highlight biases we don’t even know we have. “The implication is that our decisions are being influenced by trivial information and this kind of influence is being brought about by unconscious processes that we would avoid if we could,” he says.

“Other research in this area is looking at how you can predict the success of political candidates by the shape of their face, but all of these studies show one thing: there’s a lot of surface level information that has an influence on our decisions that we are completely oblivious to.”