Do names prejudice how others perceive your status? A study suggests yes

Are you a Samuel or a Travis, a Katherine or an Amber? According to a recent study conducted on 89 undergraduate students, a person’s socioeconomic and educational standing may be in direct correlation with a person’s name. While researchers point out that a person’s essence, status, and general fate can’t possibly be defined based on the nature of a name alone, they do, however, suggest that expectations towards others tend to be closely associated with individual names. This provocative hypothesis inspired exploration of that most personal aspect of language, the proper nouns and names.

Onomastics is the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names. Derived from the Greek onomastikos meaning “of or belonging to naming,” onomastic scholars focus on the personal naming-systems used in different cultures and the pattern of those systems. Researchers point out that people of certain social and educational backgrounds prefer different names, surmising that a person’s given name can in fact determine their level of academic achievement. This is not an exact science, but according to the results of the referenced study, certain names tend to correlate with various levels of academic performance.

(Learn about anthroponymy, the study of personal names, and a baby named “Like” here.)

Participants of the study were asked to guess the success of students with various names on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most successful. The highest scoring names turned out to be Katherine, scoring a 7.42, and Samuel, scoring a 7.20. With a score of 5.74, Amber ranked lowest among female names while Travis ranked overall lowest with a score of 5.55. As John Waggoner, a researcher from Bloomberg University, points out: “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.”

Perhaps etymology is at play here. After all, the name Katherine is derived from Greek katheros meaning “pure” and the name is a direct reference to Saint Catherine of Alexandria and of course, Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. In addition, the name has been among the 100 most popular names in United States since 1880.

Before you go re-thinking your name, the study also suggests that the results may be relative and that our destinies are not predetermined by our names. Proof in point is the omission of names such as Robert and Benjamin – two names that, not so long ago, were closely associated with high academic and socioeconomic status.

What do you think? Does this study resonate with your personal experience, or does it feel like a bunch of silliness?