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Your name actually affects what you will end up looking like, according to science

POSTED: March 9, 2017 8:52 a.m.
Kristina Tieken/

Research says there’s a reason some names have a stereotypical “look”.

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Have you ever been told you look like an Emily or a Michael? Or maybe you go by your middle name or a nickname because you just don't "look" like your first name. As weird as it sounds, there's a good chance that others can guess your name based on your appearance — Science has found your first name can change the way you look.

In a recently published study, scientists found when people were shown a picture of a stranger’s face and given a choice of five names, 35 percent of the time they could pick the correct name. That number is higher than expected; A random chance would be closer to 20 percent, says Cathy Mondlock, a psychologist at Brock University involved in the study.

People with the same name share similarities

In another experiment, a computer algorithm analyzed 94,000 faces and could identify the person’s correct name 60 percent of the time (when given two options).The computer pinpointed similarities around their eyes and mouths; Researchers speculate the muscles around your eyes and mouth are easily adjusted by personality and lifestyle.

The results astounded the researchers. They assumed the participants or computer algorithm would, at one point, fail their reliable consistency.

“We ran more than a dozen studies, and each time we had this feeling like, ‘Oh boy, maybe this time it won’t work.’ And each time, it worked,” says Yonat Zwebner, the lead author on the study and a social psychologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “That was really surprising.”

It’s a two-way street

A book should never be judged by its cover, but we do it… all the time. Social perception of a name can impact our physical appearance, just how a name changes to align with social perception. This phenomenon goes both ways.

Other people affect how you look

Think about it: your facial muscles begin to change your appearance to match your name according to people’s perception of you. Zwebner gave us a good example: if your name was Joy, your parents and society would naturally treat you in a joyful way. Your name, Joy, would develop a specific appearance of happiness from smiling because of society’s positive feedback. When people meet other Joys, your qualities will remind them of the name Joy and think you both look alike. The same could happen for any name.

Face-name matching is culture-dependent

After several experiments, scientists concluded the name and facial matching only works within a common culture. For example, Israelis could match Israeli faces to the correct name, and French people could do the same for other French. However, when they tried to cross over, the Israelis could not identify French names (like Pierre) to the correct face and vise versa.

Do you fit the mold?

Hopefully you like your name but if you’ve ever felt your name doesn’t “fit” who you are, perhaps you do not match the stereotype for that name, says Melissa Lea, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Millsaps University. You might adapt your name from Rebecca to Becky or David to D.J. to suit you.

“Living up to your name” now takes on a whole new meaning. Others who have shared your name have created some sort of expectation; but despite these studies, it really is up to you to decide who you are and how you will live your life.
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