People judge how smart you are based solely on your name

Illustration for article titled People judge how smart you are based solely on your name

People's names can say a lot about them - at least, that's what everyone assumes. This is good news for all the Katherines and Samuels out there...but if you're an Amber or Travis, you won't like where this is going.

Some names just strike people as stupider than others.

I should stress that this isn't about people's actual performance, but instead about what other people expect of them. Of course, nobody exists in a vacuum, so there's the question of whether these social expectations can affect how people perform. That question gets even more intriguing when you consider that half of the participants in this latest study plan to become teachers.


Analysis of people's name is generally a pop psychology minefield, and obviously anybody who claims to be able to divine someone's entire personality from their name is full of crap. What we can say is this - different socioeconomic and educational groups tend to prefer different names, so it's possible to broadly correlate names with various levels of academic achievement, but obviously it's far from exact and can only speak to general trends.

That's the reality. Now, what did the 89 undergraduates who participated in this study think? They were asked to guess on a scale of 1 to 10 how successful students with various names would be, with 10 being most successful. The highest scoring names were Katherine with a 7.42 and Samuel with a 7.20. On the other side of the spectrum, Travis scored the absolute lowest at 5.55, while Amber was the lowest ranked girl's name with 5.74.

That may not seem like a huge difference, but the two-point swing between highest and lowest names is equivalent to a 20% difference in academic success. That's the difference between an A and a C or a B and a D, which isn't exactly insignificant. If future teachers - and people in general - are carrying such expectations about students' academic performance based solely on their name, could this actually be creating a feedback loop that negatively affects kids with the lower ranked names?

The short answer is that we just don't know. But the correlation between names and academic achievement continues well into college, as Bloomberg University researcher John Waggoner explains:

"Katherine goes to the private school, statistically; Lauren goes to [a public university], and Briana goes to community college. Sierra and Dakota, they don't go to college."


What's also interesting is that the participants' expectations were somewhat out of date. There was no distinction in the study between the expected success of Robert and Benjamin, despite the fact that Robert is correlated with low maternal socioeconomic status and Benjamin is correlated with high maternal education and socioeconomic status. Robert used to be associated with high status, but it's since slipped quite a bit according to recent studies. But that hasn't yet filtered into how people perceive the name.

Via LiveScience. Image via Shutterstock.


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Corpore Metal

My real name is real weird and unique in the world, my first name is a rather rare surname of Italian and English derivation my adoptive last name is corrupted Anglicization of Serbian or Croat. Together nobody has a name like mine. I don't even have to bother with middle names because no-one else can be mistaken for me.

I have no idea other people think I'm smart because of that or just odd—which is much more likely.