What’s in a name?




Hi, this is Angel’s big brother Steve.   Angel asked if I would “Guest Post”.  Well this is my guest post.  If you don’t know Angel well, you may not know that her maiden name is Miller.  Higher name math would tell you that my name is Steve Miller.  (No I don’t have a band).  This post is about names.  Really it’s part payback for a post Angel wrote about me called Tiger, it isn’t our cats name, and it’s also a little bit of a rant.

Lets start with Angel.



Angel isn’t her real name.  Her official name, the name her mother gave her at birth in the mid-seventies, is Angelise.  Unless for some reason she has changed it.


Her common nickname is Ainge, but most people call her Angel.


She has managed to avoid the name Angie.

Why you ask?  Who knows?  Why do any of us get the name or names we get?  Sometimes, we get names from relatives, predecessors, famous people.  I dare say that if any of us had a choice about our name, I suppose many, if not a majority, would probably change it, but at this point figure it’s just not worth the hassle OR we don’t want to hurt our parent’s feelings.  By the time you get to the bottom of this article, you may want to change it even if you didn’t before.

Did you know that “The impact of names comes from how people expect to see you,” says Professor James Bruning from Ohio University.  Prejudging someone based on their name might seem far fetched, however often times, we judge people by their names before we even see them.  Teachers are known to make associations with names simply by reading down a class role.

TEST: What comes to mind when you hear the following names?

Roseanna, Beth, Gloria, Maggie, Michelle, Roxanne, Angie, Layla,  Sara, Rhiannon, Valerie

Enough, I think I have made my point.  If you don’t know, these are all songs that have used a woman’s name in the main chorus.  Interestingly, some have euphemisms and some are more blatant about the message of the song lyrics.  You may know someone by these names, they are relatively popular, but you and I both know that when we meet someone with a name that is in a popular song, we think of the tune.

TEST: What comes to mind when I say Eli?

I have a son named Eli.  My wife and I named him after his great great grandfather.  The answer to the question depends on you age.  If you are 50 or older, you may have heard the tune by the name; “Eli’s Coming” by a band named Three Dog Night.  This is a band that was popular in the early seventies.  When our son is around a particular uncle on his mothers side of the family, he will often break into song, and frankly he does a good job of it.

My point here is that when we hear names we automatically associate a name with something with which we have had some kind of association.  If you have ever named a child, you probably know what it’s like to try and come up with a name that you don’t have negative associations.  I’m talking about names of old classmates, or names of ex girlfriends or boyfriends, Ax murderers, you know, that kind of stuff.

Angel…  Angelise… Ainge…   All derivatives of her real name, but when you hear the name Angel, what comes to mind?  Michael, the angel from the bible?  A person from heaven like Clarence from the movie “It’s a wonderful life”?  It’s not uncommon for some Hispanic families to have sons named Angel.  I knew a girl in Monett Missouri when I was in eighth grade named Angel.  (OK, she liked me…)  I didn’t know if it was a nickname or given name.  I suppose it could be Angelina, you know like the book “Angelina’s Savage Secret” (Name the movie in comments if you know it.)  See that’s what I’m talking about.  All I had to do was throw out a name like Angelina, and automatically I think of a book in a movie.

Back to the point of name association.  Professor James Bruning points, that those with an Oriental names are thought to be good at math, so an employer looking to hire a computer programmer might push an application to the top of the pile if they see a Chinese name on the cover.  How is this not discrimination?

Names not only give away your ethnic background, but Bruning indicates that we also associate specific names with a person’s perceived ability to do a job, “Who would be a better American football player,” he asks, “someone whose name is Bronco or Colt, or someone named Francis or Percival?”

This kind of stereotyping explains why some people even have picked related occupations.  This is a phenomenon dubbed ‘nominative determinism’.  Record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt is just one example, here are a couple more that you have to see to believe.

Matt Correspondant Sue Yoo Les McBurney

According to psychologist Dr Brett Pelham, people have a tendency to follow professions that resemble their first names, meaning that lawyers called Laura and dentists named Dennis are particularly common.  He said,  “When I lived in LA, there was a dentist named Dennis Smiler – you can’t have a much better match than that!”

It’s all about the order of the Alphabet

No wonder Angel has been so successful, it’s because she has always been at the front of the line or at the top of the list.  She has received preferential treatment just because her name begins with A.

In 2006, American economists looked at the link between surnames and academic success, finding that those with initials early in the alphabet were more likely to work in prestigious universities and they also found a potential relationship to Nobel Prize Laureates.

This ‘alphabetical discrimination’ was probably due to the fact that the authors of academic papers are often listed in alphabetical order, and as Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire points out, we’re used to associating things at the top of a list as winners, “Over time, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had this psychological effect.”

Whether it’s being called for role in school or a job interview, people with names toward the beginning of the alphabet seem to have a distinct advantage. To test this theory, Wiseman invited newspaper readers to rate how successful they thought they were in assorted aspects of their life – including career, finances, health and ‘life in general’. The scores were then combined into an overall measure of success.

The 15,000 people who responded 
also provided their age, sex and surname. “We saw that the further down the alphabet your surname came, the less likely you were to be successful,” says Wiseman.

This bond between surname and perceived success was stronger in older age groups, which might be because past generations were more likely to have been ordered alphabetically in the classroom. “So it’s possible the As as in Angel and Bs got more attention from the teacher or were simply better behaved because they were towards the front, and therefore got higher grades.”

His and her names.

“Names such as Ashley started out as boys’ names but nowadays they’re popular girls’ names,” says Figlio, who studies the social consequences of names. His work has shown that boys with androgynous names tend to misbehave and become disruptive as soon as they hit high school. “A boy named Ashley gets teased and feels more self-conscious, particularly if there’s a girl with the same name in the class. They bring the test scores in their entire class down with them.”

This stereotyping might also dictate our occupations; girls with feminine-sounding names like Elizabeth are less likely to study science, meaning that the parents’ choice of name could send their daughter down a particular career path.

Figlio created linguistics software that assigns a ‘femininity score’ to names and tracked the school subjects chosen by 1000 pairs of sisters. The program gives higher scores to names like Elizabeth, which contains several soft consonant sounds (‘z’ in the middle and ‘th’ at the end), and longer names (girls’ names tend to be longer).  When you run these factors through the computer, names like Alex are rated as less feminine.

“Even if you limit it to only the girls who were performing in the top 15 per cent on US math exams, Elizabeth is more likely to choose the humanities,” says Figlio, “and Alex would take advanced maths and science.” Success in school is another self-fulfilling prophecy, as stereotypes associated with feminine names are reinforced by society, including teachers, parents and even the girls themselves.

“Parents should give their children whatever name they want, but they need to recognize that names have consequences,” says Figlio. “Is a name 
a guaranteed ladder to success? Of course not. But can a name make your life a little bit easier? For sure.”

So this article is going a bit long, and I’m not finished, so I am going to write a part 2, and squeeze it in in the coming days when an opening becomes available.  I’m going to write more about my nickname “Tiger”, I’m going to relate some experiences about my names and write -slash- rant more about names.  I’m also going to pick on some people for their name selection.  As for now, what do you think of your name?  What do people say to you when you tell them your name?  Have you changed your name?  Have you thought about changing your name?  Do you have friends or family with a name that gets a lot of attention or comments?  Let’s hear it in the comments.  C’mon, don’t be shy.  (Let’s see if there is a relationship in the comments to letters of a persons first name.)


* Excerpts from this article have been derived from http://sciencefocus.com/feature/psychology/names.


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