Do Our Names Affect Our Personalities?

Not directly, but probably yes. The important thing to remember is: 1) Parents have expectations for their children, and 2) those parents chose the names for their children. Parental expectations are thus reflected in the names chosen and, as a result, a name indirectly reflects the personality and behavior expectations of the child. Example: Which of these two little boys do you think had parents with a more “active” set of expectations: Colt or Percival? Which of the two would more likely take music lessons?

Expectations associated with names carry outside of the home and parents. We found that children as early as kindergarten begin to identify more “active” and “passive” names with more active and passive behaviors. Question to kindergartners: Which of these two little boys, Inness or Jack, do you think would like to swing higher? Even at the kindergarten level, the children “matched” the expectations with the names at a level higher than chance. By third grade, the match rate was almost 100 percent. Stereotyping and expectations clearly are associated with names, and those stereotypes and expectations begin to show up outside the home at a very early age.

I’m often asked in radio interviews, “What advice do you give…?” and “Is______ a good name?” I sidestep those questions since they usually have roots in a family discussion about the “best” name for a child. What I do say is: Take your name choices and put an adult title in front of them and see how they sound. Remember, you are naming a baby, but that little individual will be a baby only for a very few years and will be an adult for 60 or 70 years. So, put that adult title in front and see how President____ or Uncle_____ or Aunt______ or Queen______ sounds. If it sounds OK with an adult title, then the name is probably OK.

James Bruning is a professor of psychology at Ohio University.

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