What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out — including how likely other people are to believe you when you tell them something. According to a new study, people with difficult to pronounce names are perceived as less believable than those with easier to pronounce ones.
Well, I’m screwed. Thanks, science.
OK, to be fair, my name isn’t that weird — but it’s unusual enough, and its pronunciation is even more unusual (two syllables, with the “ci” making a “sh” sound). But if this study from Wellington’s Victoria University and Canada’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University is to be believed (see what I did there?), then even that little bit of awkwardness might be enough to sway someone who doesn’t know me. Yikes. Here’s how it went down:
First, a group of undergraduate volunteers were asked to rate the pronounceability of real names from 18 different countries. These ratings were then used to generate a set of easy to pronounce names, like Putali Angami, and a set of difficult to pronounce ones, like Yevgeni Dherzhinsky. Once these two sets of names had been generated, a second group of undergraduates were brought in and given a task based on them: They were told that a number of international students had listed their favorite pieces of trivia — for example, “Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump." The second group of undergrads was then given the list of trivia, asked to read each statement out loud, and then report whether they thought the statement was true or false. The most important part? Each piece of trivia was paired with either a difficult to pronounce name from the previously generated lists, or an easy to pronounce one.
The researchers hypothesized that the statements paired with easy names would be rated as true more often than the ones paired with difficult names — and they found that the results did indeed support their hypothesis. As Salon notes, the implications of these findings are troubling: How might this bias play out when it comes to fair treatment of job applicants? Or, as the researchers themselves asked, could the pronounceability of eyewitness’ names in criminal or civil trials shape jury verdicts?
Neither is this phenomenon of believability new, however. Another recent study, from the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany, went back through the annals of history to examine how names affected the success of immigrants in the early 20th century American labor market. Immigrants who Americanized their names generally did much better; those who changed their names to popular American names like John or William earned incomes of at least 14 percent more than those who didn’t. Freakonomics has explored how names affect the perception of the people they belong to with regards to economic and social status, too. If name stigma is still a thing today, then we haven’t progressed nearly as much as we like to think we have.
But hey, at least “Le-a” as a spelling of “Ledasha” hasn’t caught on yet, right?