Choosing the Right Name: The Deep Dive Into How Names Shape Lives

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What effect does a name have on a person’s life? While our names are woven into nearly every facet of our daily existence and interactions, we rarely stop to think about the ways the monikers we’re given at birth mold our lives. It turns out that a person’s name can impact everything from their personality to their career. For parents, that means that the name you pick can quite literally spell out a child’s future! Here’s what you need to know about the importance of choosing the right name.

What Does Research Say About the Importance of a Name?

Nominative determinism is the idea that people are predisposed to choose occupations or interests that are similar to their own names. Under this theory, you might picture a man named Denny becoming a dentist, a woman named Stormy becoming a meteorologist, or a woman named Paige Turner becoming a famous novelist! While the concept of nominative determination may seem mystical, it is deeply rooted in science and research.

One of the most surprising pieces of research on the impact of names reveals that just the first letter alone can be enough to determine someone’s life path. From the moment they become conscious of the world around them, a child’s linguistic development causes them to begin to associate their name with similar-sounding words. Researchers believe this is why so many people end up choosing everything from professions to places to live that begin with the same letter as their first initial.

One 2023 study that examined the idea of nominative determinism found that there was consistent evidence of the relationship between people’s preference for major life choices and their names. In fact, the idea of a boy named Denny growing up to be a dentist isn’t very radical at all. It turns out that there are about 85% more dentists named Dennis that can be explained by chance alone!

This study isn’t the first time researchers have looked at the idea of names impacting life choices. A commonly cited 2002 study that examined implicit egotism and major life decisions found that people gravitated toward things that sounded like their own names. Evidence for this includes countless examples of neurosurgeons being named Dr. Brain, a notorious drug lord named Christopher Coke, a higher-than-average number of geologists named George, and a disproportionate number of people named Louise moving to Saint Louis!

The Negative Side of How Names Can Shape Lives

While nominative determinism helps to explain why so many people gravitate toward careers, cities, and interests that sound like their own names, the long-term effects of a name aren’t always necessarily in the hands of the person who possesses the moniker. Outside perceptions of a name can also have long-term effects that are imposed on a person.

A 2011 study conducted by researchers from New York University found that people with names that are easier to pronounce may be favored in the workplace. According to the study, people with “common” names occupied higher-status job titles compared to people with difficult-to-pronounce names. The researchers behind the study ascertained that people tend to form more positive impressions of easy-to-pronounce names compared to hard-to-pronounce ones.

Do People With Traditional or Trendy Names Have Better Lives?

Recent research also gives parents reasons to pause when it comes to selecting trendy names for their children. Through his research, Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA has been able to pinpoint a total of 20 male and female names that carry connotations of success. This means that people assume that individuals with these names already possess prestige or success without knowing any detail about them other than their names. This is the list:


  • Jacqueline
  • Morgan
  • Elizabeth
  • Katherine
  • Victoria
  • Lauraine
  • Susan
  • Catherine
  • Kate
  • Madeleine


  • Steven
  • Ross
  • Christopher
  • James
  • Robert
  • David
  • Kenneth
  • Parker
  • Thomas
  • Madison

The general dislike that many people have for trendy names may come from the general lack of connection that people have with these names. When someone meets a person named Alexander, they subconsciously think of a larger-than-life figure like Alexander the Great. When meeting someone named Victoria, imagery of a posh and dignified queen may form in the back of one’s mind.

Can Your Name Impact Your Appearance?

While this may seem strange, research seems to back up the fact that a person’s name can actually impact what they end up looking like later in life. According to at least one expert, there are eight studies that link a person’s name with appearance. How does it work? What gives weight to this theory is that study participants were able to predict the correct names of strangers more accurately than the outcome would normally be based on probability alone.

Naming Regret Is Real

In recent years, a new trend of naming regret among parents has cropped up. One survey found that 18 percent of parents feel they chose the wrong names for their children! However, just 2% actually walked back the decision by legally changing their child’s name to something a little more palatable. It appears that the most common reason for name changes is to update spelling. After spelling fairly common names in uncommon ways, parents are increasingly reverting back to traditional spellings to avoid frustrations and misunderstanding related to constant mispronunciations and misspellings.

Final Thoughts: A Name Can Be a Blueprint for LifeChoosing a name that someone will carry for their entire life is a big responsibility! While parents are often excited to pick out unique names that “stand out” from the crowd, it’s important to remember that a name will shape a child’s interior perceptions, interactions with others, and the ways they experience the world! What’s in a name? The answer may be a person’s destiny!

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Emily Mendez, MS, EdS

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