Persuasion Matters

What’s In A Name?

Have you ever wondered what impact – if any –  your name has had on your life or how others perceive you? Believe it or not, there is an awful lot of information tied to a name. Be it our given name, nick name, or even the name of a charity, corporation or law firm.

I’ve been reading Drunk Tank Pink. Really interesting stuff! The author, Adam Alter, writes about the ways in which our environment unconsciously shapes our perceptions, decisions and judgments. His first chapter is dedicated to the power of a name. Here are a few fascinating highlights supported by psychological research.

  • Names matter when employers are reviewing applicant resumes. Research shows that – all things being equal but for the name of the applicant –  applicants with more traditional names (e.g., Emily, Greg) received twice as many callbacks than applicants with more unique names (e.g., Lakisha, Jamal). Sad, but true. [Bertrand, M., and Mullainathan, S. (2004).]
  • People have a tendency to donate more frequently and more generously to hurricane relief efforts if the hurricane shares an initial found in their names. In fact, after Hurricane Mitch (1998), donors with M-names were represented 30% more often than any other donor. And the trend continued with Hurricane Ivan, Katrina and Rita.  [Chandler, J., Griffin, T.M., and Sorenson, N. (2008).]
  • People with last names in the latter part of the alphabet (N-to-Z) are often more motivated to act on limited opportunities than folks with last names in the front or middle of the alphabet. Translation? If a local sports team were giving away x-number of free tickets on a first-come-first-serve basis, statistically speaking, the folks quickest to respond to the free ticket offer would be those in the N-to-Z category!  [Carlson, K.A., and Conard, J.M. (2011.)]
  • Fluent names – which tend to be easy to pronounce –  are often associated with greater credibility and comfort than disfluent names. Here are a couple surprising psychological research findings:
    • When voters know little about the ideological or policy positions for political candidates, they often select the candidate with the more fluent “smooth-sounding name.” [O’Sullivan, C.S., Chen, A., Mohapatra, S., Sigelman, L., and Lewis, E. (1988).]
    • An analysis of lawyer names and law firm positions showed an interesting correlation. For lawyers with 4-8 years of experience, 50% of fluently-named lawyers were partners, compared to only 4% of those with disfluent names. [Laham, S., Koval, P., and Alter, A.L. (2012.)]
    • Stocks with fluent company names or fluent tickers tended to outperform stocks with disfluent names, at least in the early stages of trading. [Alter, A.L., and Oppenheimer, D.M. (2006.)]

So, how on earth does this information translate into a courtroom setting?  It might not.

But social sciences research clearly illustrates that names communicate much more than a series of letters. With any given name comes a perception of credibility, trustworthiness and comfort. And how easily a name rolls off the tongue matters.

If representing a company, corporation or witness with a hard-to-pronounce name, consider using a nickname or acronym that is more fluent. If applying for a job, consider using your traditional given name rather than a more trendy nickname. And while I’d never suggest keeping or striking a juror based strictly on his or her name… if the juror’s name just happens to share initials or letters with that of your client?

Well, you just never know…



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