Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Name Children Simply

By Stephen Luntz

Parents should take care when naming their children.

Easily pronounced names are an asset in life, according to five studies collectively reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. While four of the studies looked at surnames, one detected the influence of both names, indicating that parents should take care when naming their children.

Dr Adam Alter of New York University has made a career studying how fluency affects success. He has previously found that easily pronounced business names attract more investors. Other studies have found that drugs that are hard to pronounce are considered more risky.

Alter teamed up with Dr Simon Laham of the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychology to examine how people responded to different names. In one study, participants were given a mock newspaper article about an electoral candidate, with information about his policies and family background, and asked to rate their impression of him. Candidates with easily pronounced names drew more favourable ratings. When given a ballot paper with no information about the candidates, people preferred to vote for the one with the simpler name.

To remove the influence of racism, names were compared with others of the same ethnicity. “Research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce,” Laham says.

In the real world Laham acknowledges that such effects may be diluted by other information about an individual, but Alter looked at 500 US lawyers and found that those with easier to pronounce first and last names rose more quickly through the hierarchy. While the effect was not huge, it was easily statistically significant, even after controlling for racial bias.

“If you’re naming your kids you want to give them every possible advantage in life,” Laham says. To do so it helps to keep it simple.