First Name Theory: Now with more than just anecdotal evidence

My given name, I’ve always felt, makes me sound overly serious. Now, this next part is very chicken-and-the-egg: I’ve thought that while I used that name, I subconsciously acted in an overly serious manner. Whether I acted that way first and thus the name took on a serious tone to me, or whether the name sounded serious and I simply fulfilled its expectations – that’s a tossup.

I think everyone who knows me today is quite aware that I’m distinctly not a very serious person.

What changed? Well, when I went off to university, as a dramatic test of this theory I shortened my first name to Sully. The results were dramatic: People’s initial perception of me had immediately changed. Again, however, it was a chicken-and-egg situation: Did their perception change because of my new first name, or because I was now acting in a manner that I thought befitted it?

Most of us are pretty quick to jump to skepticism of the former – the name doesn’t make the person, the person makes the name. I wouldn’t blame you for this. I’ve repeated the idea, dubbed my First Name Theory, to many people over the years only as a joke. (Most of the fun is derived out of the examples I would give to illustrate: “You see, Johns act this way. Bruces act that way. And Michelles, don’t get me started on Michelles…” Bonus points if you don’t know the person that well and his wife turns out to be named Michelle.)

But I’ve always quietly hoped that my theory would somehow triumph over logic. Today, a British poll showed that the FNT may not actually be that crazy!

Name game: Elizabeth, James top British success poll

LONDON (AFP) — People called James or Elizabeth are perceived as likely to be the most successful, while Ryan and Sophie are seen as the most attractive, according to a poll Tuesday.

Jack and Lucy are seen as the luckiest, according to a poll based on asking more than 6,000 people for their perceptions of different names and the kind of people likely to have them.

At the other end of the scale, Lisa and Brian were seen as the least successful, Helen and John as the least lucky, and Ann and George as the most unattractive, according to the poll commissioned by a British academic.

“Past research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful,” said the authors of the poll.

As well as mainstream names, psychologist Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire also found that unusual names people give their children could also have a big influence on how they are perceived.

“Attractive female names tended to be soft-sounding and end with the ‘ee’ sound, whereas the sexiest male names are short and much harder sounding,” he said, adding that names with royal links are seen as successful or clever.

Check out the link for a list of the top and bottom five first names in the categories of success, luck and attractveness. Apologies in advance to those who now know people immediately think less of them (though those effects could possibly be avoided by not living in Britain).

No Sullys seemed to have made the lists. I think I’m happier not knowing.


  1. Kat

    I am a very different person when I’m Kat, I’m more fun, successful and people like me more.

    I now use it as my “common name” on most forms.

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