Bad News for People With Hard-to-Pronounce Names

(Photo: Fady Aziz)

If you have one of those names that people are always struggling to pronounce, we have some bad news for you. 

A new paper (ungated version here) by Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval, and Adam L. Alter finds that an easy name may confer advantages. The authors conducted five studies comparing easy- and hard-to-pronounce names (like Vougiouklakis or Leszczynska, for example): “Studies 1–3 demonstrate that people form more positive impressions of easy-to-pronounce names than of difficult-to-pronounce names.” While the first three studies focused on surnames, a fifth study analyzed both the first and last names of lawyers within law firms and found that “lawyers with more easily pronounceable names occupied superior positions within their firm hierarchy … The effect was independent of firm size, firm ranking, or mean associate salary.”  Furthermore, the authors found that “the effect is independent of name length (Studies 1, 2, and 4), orthographic regularity (Studies 1, 2, and 4), unusualness (Studies 1 and 3), name typicality (Study 3), and name foreignness (Study 5).”

Laham hopes the research will open people’s eyes to their own unrecognized biases: “Such an appreciation may help us de-bias our thinking, leading to fairer, more objective treatment of others.” 

(HT: Cyril Morong)

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  1. Norman Briffa says:

    Laham in the Maltese language means meat. I wonder what effect a surname hasif it represents something edible!

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  2. Iljitsch van Beijnum says:

    I guess I’m screwed then.

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  3. Richard Simon says:

    What the study doesn’t address is the type of name that should be easy to pronounce but somehow isn’t. My own, for instance. It should be an easy name to get: two vowels, each surrounded by a “normal” consonant – no z’s, no x’s, no y’s, no silent letters and you’d think that people would properly pronounce it straight off. But believe it or not, more people get it wrong than get it right!

    So, do people with names that should be easy to pronounce but somehow aren’t discriminated against?

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    • rachel says:

      Or spelled wrong ALL THE TIME. you’d think “Rachel” would be both normal and easy to spell. My favorite is still “Rouchel.”

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  4. me says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  5. Cyril Morong says:

    I feel lucky that no one has ever had trouble pronouncing my name. But I still feel the pain of those who are less fortunate than I am

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  6. Jane says:

    I learned this simple truth the hard way, having a literally translated Russian name that is spelled “Yevgeniya”. My first year in America, I realized that I was never called on in class, did not get response to my resume. I started introducing myself as “Jane” (a less-literal translation of the diminutive form of the same Russian name) – and viola, I instantly got better response. Many years later, I still go by Jane.

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  7. Steve S. says:

    Is this related to a correlation or some form of causality? How do you tease out some of the minority/non-dominant culture disadvantages that people already have with these (more ethnic sounding) names?

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  8. Griffin E says:

    The relationship is probably endogenous.

    Don’t high powered, successful parents (who have the means of providing all of life’s advantages) normally name their kids some high powered name?

    Is it not true that parents who have enough foresight to consider the ramifications of a name from it’s inception are probably going to provide superior opportunities than those who don’t?

    This study is probably measuring the effect of parenting rather than a name.

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