Anyone who is plagued with an unfortunate name sounding even remotely similar to an anatomical designate or physiological function (e.g. Dick Moore) knows the pain that school-age ridicule and cheap shots have brought forth. Children, as we all know, can be immensely cruel, and will find any reason to twist a perfectly ordinary name to resemble something crude or unpleasant. And then there are those names that feel like a true curse consigned from careless, oblivious, or truly twisted parents, like the New Jersey couple who named their extremely unfortunate son Adolph Hitler Campbell, who will no doubt inhabit a world of profound pain unless he gets his name changed real fast. However, beyond the unpleasantness, a bad name could be simply something to rise above, or something that is an out-and-out curse.
According to a recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, a bad name (whether it is your last or first, or both) can serve as a critical social stigma for years after adolescence. The research, which mined data from 12,000 adults, concluded that an “unfortunate” first name alone may significantly impact and inhibit relationship development into adulthood, and may even increase one’s likelihood to be a smoker (sounds somewhat random, I know). Data gathered from nearly 12,000 adult participants found that a bad first name can not only ruin your self-esteem, but it may actually make you lonelier, antisocial, and just a bit less intelligent. “Negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence people’s life outcomes for the worse,” the study said. The trend across all sub-experiments, which drew on 11,813 adults, indicated those with “unfortunate” first names were generally more likely to smoke, be less educated and have lower self-esteem than those whose names were attractive.
So it is difficult to know what the takeaway is from all of this. The research, while somewhat extensive, seems a bit circumstantial and maybe wholly unnecessary, as anyone with an unfortunate name could tell you that life is infinitely more difficult if your name is Ima Hogg, rather than Mandy Moore. If Negative names do evoke negative interpersonal reactions, what does this say about the inherent rigidity of our society? How are we able to celebrate someone named Justin Bieber, but not Tim Burr, or Doug Hole? Is a simple name really as powerful and impactful as the research would suggest?