What’s in a name? Perhaps a promotion? Or discrimination?

Alleson Knox, special to wtop.com

Who knew Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juilet” quote, “what’s in a name,” would take on a meaning of its own in the 21st century?

Over the past decade, many researchers have studied the effects of baby branding, the name-pronunciation effect and its consequences.

Names can signal gender, ethnicity or class. They may connote personality characteristics ranging from warmth and cheerfulness to morality, according to Dr. Simon Laham of the University of Melbourne. Laham conducted five studies published in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.”

Laham found that easy to pronounce names like “Mr. Smith” were far more likely to be judged positively than difficult names like “Mr. Colquhoun.” In his fifth study, Laham found that people with easier to pronounce first names occupy higher status positions in law firms.

Laham built on an earlier study by Dr. Adam Alter that found financial stocks with simpler names tend to perform better just after they appear on the stock market than similar stocks with more complex names.

Laham shared with “Medical News Today” that after using names from Anglo, Asian, and Western and Eastern European backgrounds, it has been shown that there is a subtle bias and discrimination at work in our society, and it is important to realize how it shapes people’s choices and their judgments of others.

Major results showed candidates with more pronounceable names were more likely to be favored for job promotion and political office. Attorneys with pronounceable names ascended more quickly to senior positions. And, in a mock ballot, political candidates whose names were easier to pronounce were more likely to win than counterparts whose names were not so easy to say.

Though Laham found that the subtle effect of a name 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,” other researchers seem to say otherwise.

University of Toronto researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Dechief found that job applications submitted by people with English-sounding names were 47 percent more likely to receive callbacks than those with Indian or Chinese ones in Toronto, 39 percent more likely in Montreal and 20 percent more likely in Vancouver. Regardless of work experience, education or language proficiency, names such as Lukas Minsopoulos and Yhong Zhang were overlooked for names like Greg Brown.

The same is true for names that are considered to be more common for African Americans. In a University of Chicago study, 1,300 fictitious resumes were sent to help-wanted ads listed in the “Boston Globe” and “Chicago Tribune.” Approximately 5,000 names were sent for positions ranging from store cashier to the sales manager at a large firm.

The authors of the study manipulated the perception of race via the name of each applicant with comparable credentials for each racial group. Each resume was randomly assigned either a very “white-sounding” name such as Emily Walsh or Brendan Baker or a very “African-American-sounding” name such as Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones. The researchers found that applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names.

The documentary “Freakonomics” looked at cultural segregation in black versus white names.

The importance of names also has been featured on reality television shows, including Bravo’s “Pregnant in Heels.”

Some expectant parents, like Samantha and Mitch, went so far as to hire a “Baby Naming Expert” to protect the brand of their child.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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