Your name influences your destiny

Apparently, picking a good name for your child is more important than I had initially assumed, because a person’s name will affect almost all their decisions, including what career to pursue, which spouse to pursue, which city to live in, etc. People tend to prefer the decisions that resembles their own names, with “Dennis” and “Denise” being statistically significantly overrepresented in dentists (PDF link).

Another blog does a much better job of summarizing the findings of the paper than I ever could, so here’s their summary:

The paper’s first few studies investigate the relationship between a person’s name and where they live. People named Phil were found more frequently than usual in Philadelphia, people named Jack in Jacksonville, people named George in Georgia, and so on with p < .001. To eliminate the possibility of the familiarity effect causing parents to subconsciously name their children after their place of residence, further studies were done with surnames and with people who moved later in life, both with the same results. The results held across US and Canadian city names as well as US state names, and were significant both for first name and surname.

In case that wasn’t implausible enough, the researchers also looked at association between birth date and city of residence: that is, were people born on 2/02 more likely to live in the town of Two Harbors, and 3/03 babies more likely to live in Three Forks? With p = .003, yes, they are.

The researchers then moved on to career choices. They combed the records of the American Dental Association and the American Bar association looking for people named either Dennis, Denice, Dena, Denver, et cetera, or Lawrence, Larry, Laura, Lauren, et cetera. That is: were there more dentists named Dennis and lawyers named Lawrence than vice versa? Of the various statistical analyses they performed, most said yes, some at < .001 level. Other studies determined that there was a suspicious surplus of geologists named Geoffrey, and that hardware store owners were more likely to have names starting with ‘H’ compared to roofing store owners, who were more likely to have names starting with ‘R’.

Some other miscellaneous findings: people are more likely to donate to Presidential candidates whose names begin with the same letter as their own, people are more likely to marry spouses whose names begin with the same letter as their own, that women are more likely to show name preference effects than men (but why?), and that batters with names beginning in ‘K’ are more likely than others to strike out (strikeouts being symbolized by a ‘K’ on the records).

If you have any doubts about the validity of the research, I urge you to read the linked paper. It’s a great example of researchers who go above and beyond the call of duty to eliminate as many confounders as possible.

It’s worth emphasizing some of the comments from that blog as well:

If you haven’t already, read the part of the paper where they talk about hardware and roofing stores. They ran some clever analyses to see whether the effect was caused by a love of alliteration (for example someone named Herman decides to go into hardware so he can call his store Herman’s Hardware) and the results suggested this wasn’t the explanation.


The “Players whose names start with K tend to strikeout more” study, is, I believe, flawed. It’s true that K names struck out more historically, but that’s because K names (Kyle, Kevin, etc.) are much more common now, when strikeout rates are high, than they were in previous generations, when strikeout rates were low.

E-mail this story to a friend.

You must be logged in to post comments.