Friday 9 March 2012

The Friday Column - Is Your Name Holding You Back From Success

This week, whilst out and about in London,  I picked up a copy of the Stylist Magazine. Inside was an article by Anna Hart entitled 'Who Will Grow Up To Be The Most Successful?' with a picture of 3 babies and three names - Layla, Elizabeth and Sophie.

The gist of the article was that your name, not intelligence, looks or even personality could be the most influential in determining your success in life.

I love articles that appear to analyse things like names, star signs, position in the family and enjoy reading about how all these can appear to affect or map out the destiny of the person that we will ultimately become. I find them really interesting and then start comparing how my life is different or mirrors what the research has shown...

Apparently research has show that what we are called influences the treatment we receive from our friends in the classroom to teachers and later employers.

Anyone remember headlines like this in 2009 'British teachers make assumptions about a child based on their names, it has been revealed, with boys called Callum likely to be billed as the most naughty'? They also perceived a child named Alexander to be a bright child.

Apparently teachers were giving higher marks to those with attractive names and employers more likely to promote those who sound successful! Food for thought... But is it really true, I am off to think of those in my class and people I have worked with.

Research also showed that females with less feminine sounding names were most likely to go into the sciences and those with softer sounding names were more likely to excel in creative jobs.

A name can also determine whether people think you are attractive..for example in online dating some names turn people off, or conjure up an image of the person before they have even seen a photograph! Those with 'cooler, more attractive names receive more profile visits than those who have names deemed as plain or boring.

I must admit to scribbling on my school exercise books and matching my first name with boys that I fancied and seeing if our names went together, and then moving on to their surnames and seeing if it flowed nicely with my first name and if it looked pretty as a signature *laughs*.

My name

It got me thinking about my own name 'Bettina' When I was growing up it was quite unusual, and for that reason memorable. People rarely forgot my name and I never went to school or even came across someone with the same name. I often received and still do comments like 'oh that is a pretty name' So in a way, following on from above it seems that it was in my destiny to gravitate to more creative subjects - like English and Drama. Although I am quite simply awful at Art or using my hands for creative pursuits.

When it came to suitors I was never short of any, but could that really have been attributed to my name?.. the jury is out on that one!


I found this section even more interesting than the research on first names. I admit to having a vested interest in this as before I married, and took my husband's name, I had a long, hard to pronounce surname that began with a Y!

Notable research conclusions -

A study of the progress of 500 international university graduates concluded that those with more pronounceable surnames were fast-tracked over their peers.
In 2006 American economists found a link between surnames and academic prominence stating those with initials nearer the beginning of the alphabet were more likely to work in prestigious university or win a nobel prize!

In essence those whose surnames started with an A or B were more likely to be successful in general. The thought behind this was that at School the teachers would start at the top of the register and therefore they received more attention. In time this could have a psychological effect of these people used to being the first at things.

This resonated with me, I hardly ever got seen by the teachers as my name was the last in the register, rarely would I be asked to read to them or show them my work By the time it was my turn,the bell would ring for the end of the day. This was the 1980's though, I am sure things have changed now... However, it didn't stop me from learning, I was a good reader before I started school and had lots of support at home.

As it happened when I started my working life I did shorten my surname to make it easier to pronounce for others. One friend of mine had an unpronounceable first and surname, he submitted 100's of applications and received no interviews. They did an experiment by submitting the same CV with a much plainer name and got called for interviews. He changed both his names for professional purposes and is now quite eminent in his chosen career. Have you adapted your name for career purposes? Plenty of people in the arts do.

More worrying for me was the research that showed that women who take their partner's name at work are regarded as caring but less intelligent, less competent and less ambitious! I only got married, I didn't lose brain cells overnight...

My new surname is MUCH easier to pronounce and is nearer the start of the alphabet ;-)

Have you ever felt that your name has held you back, has had a detrimental effect? Or do you have a name that has had a positive effect on your life?

Do you think there is something in this, or do you think your life is in your hands and has nothing to do with a name?

Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I think I have quite a memorable name so was very reluctant to change it when I got married. In the end I told people I was too lazy to change my name but the truth is, I just didn't see the point in changing it. Keeping it has caused several arguments with my in laws though! That said, our kids will have his name - starts with B and has one syllable, way quicker to spell.

  2. Absolutely agree with the findings. This kind of thing has always fascinated me too. We all make judgements about people, including their names, whether we intend to or not. As a teacher, of course, I have to be open-minded, although 99.9% of the time I've been right. I often start at the end of the register by the way! Don't like having gone from a C to a W myself though! One of the reasons we gave our kids quite traditional names was
    because of people's perceptions. I think my name's been positive, although if I shortern it, it has the complete opposite effect! Better stop now:)

  3. I was always first at school having a name at the beginning of the alphabet. Needless to say it sucked. I've always dislike my name both first and surname and wish I'd been called something more intelligent like Katherine rather than Katie (now you know my name)

  4. Wow what an interesting topic. Whilst both my first and surname are in the middle of the alphabet I don't believe that had much to do with me being called on by my teachers in school at all. I do dislike my surname, just another reason for me to find my Prince Charming so I can take his surname! :)

  5. My name has been the bane of my life! I grew up in Cornwall where everyone second surname was Bray. My maiden name was Debbie Dray. I spent the first 23 yrs of my life saying "No Dray, not Bray". Then I married someone whose last name is Smyth, his parents are Irish and pronounce that Smith, he and his brother - delusions of grandeur - pronounce it Smythe. I now spend my entire life saying "it's Smith with a y, no e". Not to mention my initials being DD so everyone sang "Double Diamond works wonders, works wonders" (very old 1960's/70's advert for beer!) whilst I was at primary school and then when I was a teen my large boobs caused much hilarity when combined with my initials, if only I had had the smarts to say "actually guys, these are a G cup, not teeny little double d's!" shame!! x

  6. My surname was always first on the register, even now at uni and because of this I always got picked first for tasks etc

    My daughter has my surname and is a favourite of all of the teachers and I believe this is due to her name always being the first one they see!

    I do think names can hold you back, my daughter often comes home with stories about her friends, as soon as I hear some of the names I get a picture in my head about the sort of family they come from and area they live in which I know is very naughty of me - thing is though 9/10 I'm always right!

  7. I completely agree with the points in your article.

    I have an Iranian name - in school it was a nightmare to pronounce and it was not helped by the fact that I was in a predominantly "white/British" school. When I finished law school and started applying for jobs, nothing happened despite my friends with similar experience and qualifications getting interviews.

    Thats when I changed my CV and put "Grace" as my first name and kept my Iranian surname. Instantly I got call backs from the same places I had previously heard nothing from. I dont think it was a "racism" issue, it was just that no one wants to be embarrassed and pronounce your name wrong and so its easier to skip to the next CV.

    I dont have any children but if I do one day I will have to think very long and hard about what name to give them!

    Great post!
    Grace (or Ghazaleh- my real name)



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