Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Rose by any other name

Being named Enda outside of Ireland is tricky. I thought the election of Enda Kenny might lower the incidence of strange looks when I tell people my name. No luck there. Yesterday Enda Stevens made his debut for Aston Villa against Manchester United. There wasn't much luck there, either.

Research by John Kulig (2012) in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests we over-estimate the uniqueness of our names:
Kulig asked 153 female students and 94 male students to rate how common their first name was on a scale from 0 to 100. The scale featured nine "anchor" names placed at the appropriate places as a guide, based on actual name frequencies obtained from the university's registrar.

Participants consistently rated their own first name as rarer than the estimates provided by participants in the control group (and as rarer than they really were, although this wasn't tested statistically). This was the case for names that were common and rare, according to university records, although slightly exaggerated for rare names. "People are motivated to be different from others," Kulig said. The phenomenon wasn't explained by the fact that some people spell their names in unusual ways.

A clue as to the cause of the effect came from the fact that participants with (genuinely) rarer names tended to be happier with their names, consistent with Kulig's idea that we have a subconscious motivation to feel special.
Those particularly interested in the popularity of their name can look at the CSO's Baby Names report or run a Wolfram Alpha search.
(H/T Marginal Revolution)

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