Have you ever met someone, discovered their name is Jennifer, and thought to yourself, “Yeah, you really look like a Jennifer.”
If so, new research backs you up.
According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a person’s facial features actually become those we associate with their particular name. That’s right–you actually grow into your name.
Here’s how the study worked: Researchers out of Hebrew University used volunteer participants from France and Israel. Each person was shown photos of different people and asked to guess that person’s name (from a list of five).
It turned out people were able to guess the correct name far more often than they would have done by chance. The random chance for getting it right is 20 percent; study participants nailed it a full 35 percent of the time.
Significantly, the study only worked on those who shared a culture. That is, French people were unable to select the “right” name for Israelis and vice versa. Israelis are apparently clueless as to what a Jacques looks like, and the French know nothing about a typical Aviv’s facial structure.
As it turns out, there’s precedent for this kind of research. Previous studies have established that in the U.S., you’ll view a man named Scott as more popular than one named Herman. You’ll see a Katherine as more successful than a Bonnie. And you’ll picture Bob as having a rounder face than Tim.
Not only that, but the new research team was able to repeat their test with computers. They showed machines 1,000 pictures of women named Samantha, and 1,000 named Barbara. When shown 400 pictures without a name, the algorithm picked the correct name more often than by chance.
This last part is perhaps the most compelling in terms of the study’s implications: that over time, we really do start to “look like” our names.
According to the study authors, “Our given name is our very first social tagging. Each name has associated characteristics, behaviors, and … a prototypical facial appearance such that we have a shared representation for the ‘right’ look associated with each name.”
Thus over time, a Bertha will get a pudgier face, a Troy a stronger jawline.
The research also begs the question: What else is associated with our names? As lead study author, Yonat Zwebne, puts it, “If other people expect from you certain things, you may eventually fulfill their expectations.”
When naming a baby, then, it’s worth pondering what the expectations would be of a Janelle, or a Kevin, or a Bernice.
One study author concludes, “If a name can influence appearance, it can affect many other things … this research opens an important direction that may suggest how parents should consider better the names they give their children.”
“It’s not how big your pencil is; it’s how you write your name.” – Dave Mustaine