Have you ever heard of Stevland Judkins or Marion Morrison? Probably not. That’s because today they go by their more well-known names Stevie Wonder and John Wayne. New research suggests our first names change how people judge our personality, age, and competency – and it could mean some classic psychology experiments are wrong.
Researchers from Syracuse University asked 500 college students to rate the 400 most popular names from the 1950s to 2009 based on how old, warm, and competent they believed the person to be.
Generally speaking, female names were associated with warmth but not competence, while males were perceived as highly competent but not very warm. Certain names, like Dolores or Donald, were perceived to be much older than other names, such as Danielle or Devon.
People perceived as highly competent and warm: Ann, Anna, Caroline, Daniel, David, Elizabeth, Emily, Emma, Evelyn, Felicia, Grace, James, Jennifer, John, Jonathan, Julie, Kathleen, Madeline, Mark, Mary, Matthew, Michael, Michelle, Natalie, Nicholas, Noah, Olivia, Paul, Rachel, Samantha, Sarah, Sophia, Stephen, Susan, Thomas, and William.
Names associated with low competence but warmth: Hailey, Hannah, Jessie, Kellie, Melody, and Mia.
Those who are highly competent but not very warm: Arnold, Gerald, Herbert, Howard, Lawrence, Norman, Reginald, and Stuart.
People perceived with low competence and low warmth: Alvin, Brent, Bryce, Cheyenne, Colby, Crystal, Dana, Darrell, Devon, Dominic, Dominique, Duane, Erin, Larry, Leslie, Lonni, Malachi, Marcia/Marco, Mercedes, Omar, Regina, Rex, Roy, Tracy, Trenton, Vicki, and Whitney.
The researchers believe this could have implications for past psychology studies, which often used fictional characters in hypothetical situations. It could be that a person's perception of a name skews the results.
For example, one study found that identical essays written by "John" and "Joan" received significantly different grades. At the time, the authors believed it exemplified sexism in the 1970s, but new evidence suggests the different grades could have been because people were biased against Joan's seemingly older age. In another, teachers were found to grade student's work more favorably if the name was popular at the time. The researchers say studies like these should now be repeated using names with comparable ratings to eliminate any underlying variables of perception.
A limitation of the study was the fact that researchers weren't able to account for a person's personal experience with a name. For example, if a person dated a "Luke", then they may forever have a negative perception of any "Luke" going forward.
The full list is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.