Health & Wellness

Do you look like your name? There's a good chance you do

Do you look like your name? Scientists say there’s a good chance you do.

What they mean is that people seem to grow into the facial features that society associates with particular names. You might actually look so much like a Fred or an Allison or a Jennifer that people can guess your name just by looking at a photo of your face, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

As a society, we have certain expectations associated with particular names, said Yonat Zwebner, the study’s lead author.

“We already know from previous research that names have stereotypes. For example, prior published studies show that in the U.S., you will evaluate a person named Katherine as more successful than a person named Bonnie. You will evaluate a person named Scott as more popular than Herman. Moreover, we know that people imagine a Bob to have a rounder face compared to a Tim.”

It’s a finding that might give parents pause as they mull over baby names for their newborns. The question is: Will this name affect how my child looks when she grows up?

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How do people choose baby names? Our survey reveals…

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How do people choose baby names? Our survey reveals…

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The implication has become abundantly clear to Zwebner, who recently had a baby herself.

“If a name can influence appearance, it can affect many other things and this research opens an important direction that may suggest how parents should consider better the names they give their children,” said Zwebner, a researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “As parents, it was really difficult for us to name our 12-day-old daughter as we are aware of the implication of names.”

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To learn whether our given names affect how we look, Zwebner and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments that involved hundreds of volunteers from Israel and France.

In each of those experiments, volunteers were shown photographs and were asked to guess the name that corresponded to the face in each photo from a list of four or five names. When shown a picture of a man named Dan, for example, the volunteers had to decide which of four names fit the photo best: Jacob, Dan, Joseph or Nathaniel.

Yonat Zwebner / Yonat Zwebner
When shown this photo of a man, study volunteers were asked if they thought his name was Jacob, Dan, Joseph, or Nathaniel. His real name is Dan.

When the researchers analyzed the answers, they found people correctly chose names more often than they would have by chance.

One of the more intriguing experiments tested the theory in computers. The machines were shown 1,000 photos of women named Barbara and 1,000 photos of women named Samantha. They were then shown 400 unnamed photos, and just like the humans in the study, they correctly identified the names more often than they would have by chance.

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So how do our faces grow into our names?

“We think that the process leading to our face-name matching effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Zwebner said. “If other people expect from you certain things, you may eventually fulfill their expectations.”​

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