How Our Names Determine Success at Work

Parents wanting to give their children a leg up in the workforce can start early by giving them a simple name like Michael, Tom, Jane or Mary, new research suggests.

A study by professors at the University of Melbourne and New York University revealed that people with simple, easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to be favored for a promotion at work.

"The effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce," said Simon Laham, the study's lead author from the University of Melbourne

In the first study of its kind, researchers analyzed how the pronunciation of names can influence impression formation and decision-making.

The findings were especially strong among lawyers, with attorneys with more pronounceable names rising more quickly to superior positions in their firm hierarchies.

New York University's Adam Alter, who conducted the law firm analysis, said that effect likely also exists in other industries and in many everyday contexts.

"People simply aren’t aware of the subtle impact that names can have on their judgments," Alter said.

While President Obama may beg to differ, the research also found that political candidates with easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to win a race.

Laham said the results have important implications for the management of bias and discrimination in today's society.

"It’s important to appreciate the subtle biases that shape our choices and judgments about others," he said. "Such an appreciation may help us de-bias our thinking, leading to fairer, more objective treatment of others."

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was based on research using a range of names from Anglo, Asian, and Western and Eastern European backgrounds.

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter before working in public relations. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

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