I had no control over my own name. It was pre-determined, something that had already been established by the time I was born. Yet it has formed a huge part of my identity. My name influences how I think, how I act, and how others perceive me.

Just one name can signal a lot of information: gender, ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and more. These few words contain a lot of power. “The impact of names comes from how people expect to see you,” states Professor James Bruning from Ohio University.1 Stereotyping based on names is so common that it goes unnoticed. For example, certain names make one more successful with the opposite sex (Scarlett and Alessandro won sexiest names for 2015).2 Other names facilitate getting certain jobs. A study in 2004 examining race in the labor market found that Caucasian-sounding names received 50% more interview callbacks than African American ones.3 Names also factor into personal likeability and societal expectations. Common names are better liked - people are more familiar with these names because more people have them, so everyone knows what to expect and how these individuals should act. However, a 1960s study of psychiatric records found that those with unusual names were more likely to be diagnosed psychotic. In addition, recent research demonstrates that boys with the least popular names are more likely to commit crime.1 Of course, names are not the only factor in determining all of these aspects of our lives, but they do have at least some influence.

Names begin their influence very early in our lifetime. A child’s name may affect how a teacher views and treats them, and different expectations could lead to different test scores which affect their future success. Research has discovered that girls with more feminine names (Anna, Emma, Elizabeth) are less likely to study math or physics after the age of sixteen.4 Girls with names like Isabella are treated differently than Alexes or Taylors; Isabella may be less likely to study technical subjects because people expect her not to. These stereotypes affect how different children are treated, and thus shape their behavior. “Children with different names but the exact same upbringing grow up to have remarkably different life outcomes,” contends David Figlio, professor of economics at the University of Florida.4 It’s interesting to think about how something that I’ve possessed and taken for granted my entire life could have molded me into a different person.

“Names have consequences,” says Figlio.4 But are they good consequences or bad? My name is a unique marker of who I am. It sets me apart from others and reflects my personality and life. But what really is in a name? Do we make a name for ourselves, or does the name define us?

Jenny Ren is a sophomore from Jones College at Rice University


  1. Chamary, J. The Name Game: How names spell success in life and love. http://www.sciencefocus.com/feature/psychology/names (accessed 11/10/15), part of Focus Science and Technology.

  2. Velez, A. 20 Sexiest Names for Women and Men. http://thestir.cafemom.com/love_sex/181954/sexiest_names_attractive_men_women (accessed 11/11/15), part of The Stir.

  3. Bertrand, M.; Mullainathan, S. Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. American Economic Review 2004, 94, 991-1013.

  4. Asthana, A. Names really do make a difference. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2007/apr/29/theobserversuknewspages.uknews (accessed 11/10/15), part of The Guardian.