George Clooney regularly tops "gorgeous man" polls, yet his is the first name least associated with attractiveness in a new study. Might this have slowed his climb to movie stardom? Can a name really determine your fate?
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
If you're called Brian and didn't get that promotion, then blame it on your parents and their choice of name. Ditto for those called Helen, and for the Georges out there who are unlucky in love.
We have strong perceptions about first names and associate them with success, luck and attractiveness, according to new research. And our perceptions can have very real consequences in everyday life.
People walk around with stereotypes in their heads that can influence all sorts of decisions, yet don't even realise it, says psychologist Richard Wiseman, who conducted the research.
POORLY PERCEIVED NAMES
Least successful: Lisa and Brian
Least lucky: Helen and John
Least attractive: Ann and George
Source: The name experiment
He asked more than 6,000 people about their perceptions of the most popular first names in the UK over the past decade, along with those in recent years. Some strong trends emerged.
Elizabeth and James are considered the most successful sounding first names, Lucy and Jack the luckiest and Sophie and Ryan the most attractive. But can a name determine our fate?
A name certainly plays more of a part than we think, says Dr Wiseman. While many factors influence how we view a name - from liking a successful actor to disliking your boss - these perception can have a very real impact.
"Past research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophesies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful," he says.
But isn't it just the case that better off parents are more likely to call their children Elizabeth or James and it's a privileged upbringing that spells success rather than their name?
It's not that simple, argue some. A name often represents parents' aspirations, as much as their social status. This can have a strong influence on a child whatever background they come from.
Her name means business
"The real consequence is not in the actual name itself, but in the intentions behind it," says Dr Martin Skinner, a social psychologist at Warwick University.
"Names usually reflect parental aspirations, so someone who wants their child to be taken seriously will give them a name that has weight and is not frivolous - whatever class they are."
The good news for anyone called Lisa, Brian, George, Helen, Ann or John - the lowest ranked names in the study - is that a name, and the perceptions people have about it, don't make that much difference in life, according to some.
"For better or for worse, you make the most of what you've been given," says Dr Skinner. "Your own efforts can overwhelm the impact of a name, in the end it's just a small advantage or a small handicap."
So what do people with names that are perceived to be successful, lucky or attractive think about them?
(Seen as lucky)
I do think I've had good luck in my life but that comes down to having a good family, rather than my name.
I've never gone without. I've had a good childhood, travelled a lot and have a good job as a pharmacist, but I put most of that down to the love and support of my family.
People do seem to like my name and I've been told it's nice on lots of occasions, but I don't think it influences the way they treat me. I'm just who I am, take it or leave it.
I don't know why my parents chose it, but I know it's of Latin origin and its meaning is "light". I really like that and really like my name, I wouldn't change it.
I have noticed that most girls I know called Lucy feel the same, they are very happy with it.
(Seen as successful)
I always knew I didn't have the type of name that would get me slapped in the playground. I think that's why my parents chose it, they didn't want my name to be any sort of burden.
I'm a partner in a law firm and don't think my name has done me any harm in my chosen profession. Saying that, I don't think it would have made much difference what I was called, I would still be doing the same thing.
It is very neutral and I think that is what makes it work as a name. It doesn't have any connotations like other names do, like Henrietta or Kylie. Nothing can really be assumed about a James.
I've never had any negative comments about my name. If people say anything they say they like it. I've never thought of changing it, I'm happy being James.
(Seen as attractive and lucky)
I didn't like my name when I was young but I was called Christopher all the time then - now it's always Chris.
I like it because it's a name you can go through life with. A lot of names date and really identify someone as being from a certain generation. My name isn't like that.
A Chris can be any age, old or young. It's also as male as it is female. You can't really pigeonhole someone with this name.
I'm surprised, but pleased, that people perceive it as attractive and lucky. No-one has ever told me they like my name, but then again no-one has ever told me they don't.
My name simply isn't brought up by people in discussions. I think it's because Chris is very neutral, it doesn't have any obvious connotations.
I don't think it's helped me in life particularly, but I don't suppose I'd really know unless I changed it and I wouldn't do that. I'm happy with it.
I love Elizabeth. It's the name of one of the greatest historical and feminist (for her time) queens in Britain, as well as the current one, so it feels quite regal.
I also like it as you can shorten it to different nicknames. My preferred one is Lizzie, which to me seems sparky and young. But I like using Elizabeth as well as it rolls off the tongue.
I think it's viewed as strong and I think people expect women with the name to be intelligent. I think films have helped with this. When you see Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice on screen reading books and managing to win the heart of a Darcy, I think people see it as aspirational.
Some say I have a very British sounding name, by which I think they mean old fashioned. Really, people don't tend to remark on it. I'm not aware that it has helped me in certain situations but I do think people are judged on their names.
Below is a selection of your comments.
It's a very old established fact in the Jewish fate that a name does indeed determine someone's destiny and health in general. A person's at death's doorstep often has a name change associated with sometimes miraculous recoveries.
I love my name! I can always be sure to be the only one. And I think having a "strange" name has made me more of an individual - and a better spell-er, especially as a child.
Alyssa DeLamarter Willis, Little Stoke, South Glos
I have always felt my name to be old. Even at a young age (i'm now nearly 60) I was treated as the most sensible of my peers. Other Eileen's I have come across say much the same. But I wouldn't want to change it, its made me what I am strong and sensible with a funny side, which a lot of people are pleasently surprised to discover
Eileen Cooper, Milton Keynes, England
Does the author and "reseacher" of this article that Lisa is a deriviate of Elizabeth? Whose successful now?
What a load of twaddle! Life is what you make it not what you're called. People can legally change their names and call themselves what they want but it doesn't necessarily change their life. Celebrities (and their children) get what they want because they're well off not because of what their name is.
The article does make sense, studies in the US have shown that if two identical CVs are sent out to potential employers but with different names at the top, a "white" name will get more offers for a the job interview than a "black" name. Clearly this is wrong, but it does show how important your name is.
Ivor B, Godalming, UK
What a lot of nonsense! Who cares what someone's name is? Unless it's Apple of course, which is utterly ludicrous! Has any (normal) parent ever thought I must call the child a certain name just because of rubbish like this? My name means gift of the Lord - my parents don't even believe in God. I'm meant to be kind, honest and emotional. Well, I drown kittens, tell anyone who asks it wasn't me, and never, ever shed a tear! Utter rot!
Matthew Beat, Dunfermline, Scotland
Perhaps I should resign from my well paid employment and take a job cooking burgers at a McDonald's so as not to disrupt the study findings. But then out here it has never made any difference what your name was as far as success and failure were concerned.
Lisa Thompson, Springfield, Virginia, U. S. A.
This all reads like an awful lot of pseudo science to me. Our parents aspirations for us rarely turn out to be fulfilled - so what does it matter what name they gave us?
Hugh, London, UK
Being cursed with a most-attractive first name and a most-successful second name, I'm now terrified of the expectations I may be creating. Thanks, Mum and Dad.
Ryan James, Cambridge, UK
Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke got it right with the magnificent "Frogmella" and "Spudulika". Some families like to advertise their idiocy by the way they name their children.
Ultimately it is the "nature or nurture" debate in another form. If your parents give you a "unique", i.e. idiotic, name will you underperform due to the name or because you share the DNA and home of those parents ?
Jim (a mild James), London, UK
It's been my experience that last names and nepotism tend to have a LOT more to do with one's experience in life than whatever some 'research' claims about their given names.
All I ask is that parents think carefully about their child's initials - the memory of netball lessons with my rather unfortunate monogram emblazoned across my PE kit haunts me to this day.
Pippa Mary Thompson, Bournemouth
My name is Helen and I am unlucky in love. Point proven.
Helen Watson, Leeds, England
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