We know that our names may influence just about every avenue of our lives — where we live, the school courses we enrol in, the grades we achieve, the jobs we choose, the jobs we get called back for, how far we go in those jobs, who we love and where we donate money. Now there's evidence that our names may also affect the way we look.
Photo: Travis Wise/Flickr
I'm talking about our actual, literal faces. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that people can match names to faces of strangers with surprising accuracy.
In eight studies, we found that participants shown ID-style photos of people they'd never met were able to recognise the first name of the depicted person well above the chance level. For example, let's say you live in North America and are shown a picture of a woman whose name is Emily (you aren't given this information). Below her image four possible first names are listed: Claire, Deborah, Emily and Melissa.
Assuming that the first names are equally common in North America in and around the year that the person was born, study participants should pick the correct name approximately 25 per cent of the time — by chance. What we found is that participants typically choose the depicted person's true first name 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the time. In other words, there is something about an Emily that … just looks like an Emily.
The theory is that when a child receives a first name, it's already so loaded with stereotypes, for better or worse. Those social pressures weigh on the name-wearers, influencing their perception of themselves, and in turn, the development of their appearance.
So for instance, if you give your baby a happy-sounding name — let's say Joy — she may develop specific facial traits, like certain smile lines, that fit the stereotypes the culture has set for Joy. In the study, this so-called "face-name effect" didn't occur when participants looked at photos of people from a different culture. Also, the study only looked at faces and hair.