Naming your New Baby and the Power of Names

The popularity of baby naming books attests to our cultural obsession with trying to give our children names, which will give them a heads-up in life. A group calling themselves Kabalarian Philosophers, using principles drawn from the ancient biblical scripts of the Kabbalah, believes that the forces in our names can be discerned from the numerical formula of the letters in each name. This mathematical principle is supposed to embody the "nine basic forces of conscious intelligence" that hold sway over our fate.

The subliminal power of names certainly doesn't go unnoticed by corporate America, which spends millions of dollars a year creating sparkling new brand names for their latest products. In 1972 Esso Oil Corporation spent more than $100 million dollars to change its name to Exxon. We can intuitively understand why. The mysterious connotations of the XX in Exxon evoke a more ruggedly masculine quality than the high-pitched sound of Esso.

The Name Lab is a San Franciscan company that specializes in the creation of artificial names designed to instill confidence in the products of their clients. They were responsible for naming Compaq, the world's first portable computer company, as well as Acura, the precisely engineered luxury car. Using a process they call constructional linguistics, small semantic elements like acura from accurate and excel from excellent are combined into symbolic names to evoke the properties of the product.

In contrast to the inordinate care taken by corporations in selecting product names, the average parents devote less than four hours to select a name for their baby relying either on some archaic definition, the name of a relative, or a character from popular literature. Many celebrities change their names to evoke a more glamorous, exotic, dramatic, or comedic image while the rest of us plod through life bearing the burden of our often-insipid names. Since our names last for life, it's critical that we understand their impact on our psyches and the perceptions others have of us solely based on our names.

If you have any doubt that your name can have a substantial difference in your baby's life, consider the study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and MIT. According to professor of economics Marianne Bertrand, the results of the study show substantial job discrimination based solely on one's first name. Using 'white' first names on five thousand resumes sent in response to want ads, they compared the call-back percentage to those mailed out with 'black' first names. The white names included, Jill, Emily, Anne, Neil, Brett, and Greg, while some of the black names were Ebony, Rasheed, Tamika, Aisha, Kareem and Tyrone. The startling results showed that 'white' names had a 50% higher frequency of responses from prospective employers.

There is, however, a more prosaic and 'human' explanation for these effects that lies in the power of names to manipulate people's emotions, and ignoring these effects could be a potentially costly mistake for our children's future.

How Names Compartmentalize our Personalities

Many psychologists and social researchers acknowledge that there are predictable categories for personality types. While disagreement exists as to how many 'personality categories' there are, it seems clear that various forces tend to 'clump' human behavior and that by understanding these forces, we can better understand ourselves. Books on the subject include; The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Riso and Hudson), which uses the ancient symbol of the Enneagram as a basis for defining nine distinct personality types, What Color is your Personality (Ritberger), which associates personality types with colors, The Animal in You (Feinson), which proposes that we subconsciously adopt the characteristics of one of forty five animal species. In addition, psychologists use the widely popular Myers-Briggs personality test to categorize human personalities.

It is reasonable then, to suspect that the sounds within in our names might account for the clustering of our personality characteristics. This is not to say that every person with the same name will exhibit the identical behavior patterns, it's simply a recognition that people with particular sounds in their names will on average behave in a roughly predictable way.

In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau made an unprecedented move and released the names of 63 million Americans. The Bureau, however, with its extraordinarily sensitivity to the privacy of its respondents, stripped the names of addresses and phone numbers, and separated first names from surnames making it impossible to capture an individual with a truly unique name in the sample.

By cross-referencing the initial letters of the sixty three million individuals with the first letters in the names of eighteen thousand successful people in business, arts, medicine, politics and professional sports, the author undertook to establish whether or not patterns of success or failure could be determined based solely on names. The frequency of all twenty-six initial letters in the general population was compared to the frequency of those letters found in various professional lists (see tables below).

Although this was an informal analysis, there were many fascinating discoveries. For example, based on the percentage of millionaires in the population, those whose names began with a J were 250% more likely to become millionaires than names beginning with an N, while I people are becoming doctors at four times the rate of O names. People whose names contained the gentle SH- phonogram were twice as likely to become famous entertainers, while those names beginning with a bright BR-, are five times more likely to become millionaires than those beginning with the sly SL-.

Other interesting patterns began to emerge as well. In general, people whose first names begin with the strongly pronounced letters (B, T, J, C, K, D, etc.) proved to be highly successful in professional sports, whereas those with names containing gently pronounced initials (H, S, M, N, V, W, and L) consistently failed to make their mark in athletics.

In politics, letters of leadership and strength (D, T, B, P, G, and L), were consistently found at the top, while the arts were dominated by names with the self-assured letters of I, A, E, and J.

While there are a variety of possible sociological and demographic reasons for these unexpected results, the fact remains that the sounds of the letters in our name seem to have a significant impact in how people perceive us.