We need to talk about ‘Kevin’: The effects of unfortunate first names

Unfortunate first names: Effects of name-based relational devaluation and interpersonal neglect

From Social Psychological and Personality Science

It may appear hard to believe that something as mundane as a negative first name can evoke neglect, discrimination, prejudice, or even ostracism. This paper considers the findings of three studies that examined the impact of people’s first names on the degree to which other members of an online-dating site sought information about them. Furthermore, it traced possible downstream effects of this attention versus neglect on self-esteem, smoking, and education. Individuals with extremely negative names, moderately unattractive names, and currently unpopular names were neglected by potential partners more than those with more positive, attractive, and popular names. In essence, some participants were neglected and discriminated against on the basis of their first names.

Overall, the results provide the firmest conclusions to date for the name-based interpersonal neglect hypothesis: negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence life outcomes for the worse.

Abstract

Can negative first names cause interpersonal neglect? Study 1 (N ¼ 968) compared extremely negatively named online-daters with extremely positively named online-daters. Study 2 (N ¼ 4,070) compared less extreme groups namely, online-daters with somewhat unattractive versus somewhat attractive first names. Study 3 (N ¼ 6,775) compared online-daters with currently popular versus currently less popular first names, while controlling for name-popularity at birth. Across all studies, negatively named individuals were more neglected by other online-daters, as indicated by fewer first visits to their dating profiles. This form of neglect arguably mirrors a name-based life history of neglect, discrimination, prejudice, or even ostracism. Supporting this argument, neglect mediated the relation between negative names and lower self-esteem, more frequent smoking, and less education. These results are consistent with the name-based interpersonal neglect hypothesis: Negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence people’s life outcomes for the worse.

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Article details
Jochen E. Gebauer, Mark R. Leary, & Wiebke Neberich (2012). Unfortunate First Names: Effects of Name-Based Relational Devaluation and Interpersonal Neglect Social Psychological and Personality Science : 10.1177/1948550611431644

     
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