Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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JANUARY 5, 2012 7:54AM

How first names influence our dating choices

Rate: 26 Flag

 Name tag

Would you go on a date with a guy called Marvin? Or how about a girl calling herself Chantal? If you’re hesitating, then you’re not alone. According to a study published in last month’s issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science, first names serve as particularly crucial – if deceptive – guideposts once we venture into the perilous world of online dating.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once asked. A lot more than meets the eye, it seems. The study, entitled “Unfortunate First Names: Effects of Name-Based Relational Devaluation and Interpersonal Neglect,” is the work of German psychologists Jochen E. Gebauer and Wiebke Neberich in cooperation with American scholar Mark R. Leary. Drawing on 47,000 German dating platform users as guinea pigs, it comparedonline daters with somewhat unattractive versus somewhat attractive first names.” The authors found that “across all studies, negatively named individuals were more neglected by other online daters, as indicated by fewer first visits to their dating profiles. This form of neglect arguably mirrors a name-based life history of neglect, discrimination, prejudice, or even ostracism. Supporting this argument, neglect mediated the relation between negative names and lower self-esteem, more frequent smoking, and less education.” Ultimately, the report found, “Negative names evoke negative interpersonal reactions, which in turn influence people’s life outcomes for the worse.“

Why do potential mates make such unflattering associations? Part of the problem has to do with the fact that the possession of certain names points to parents who draw their inspiration in life – and their dreams for their children’s future – not from the Bible and other thoughtful works of Western culture but rather from the good old boob-tube. For example, in continental Europe the popular name Kevin is normally associated with actor Kevin Costner and the Kevin McAllister character played by Macauly Culkin in the Home Alone movies. Sure, it’s a nice enough name in its own right, but when it comes to online dating the researchers found that love-seeking women were 102 times more likely to click on dating profiles with the illustrious name “Alexander.” Charlotte and Jacob were winners too. As for Justin (Timberlake?), Marvin (Gaye?), Chantal, Mandy, Jacqueline, and Celina... not so much. In fact, in a 2008 study, German teachers associated these trendy names with dysfunctional schoolchildren.

Home Alone 

In an interview last week, psychologist Jochen E. Gebauer described this phenomenon as “Kevinism”:

This probably comes from the fact that people with less education experience enhanced enthusiasm for TV shows and call their kids after them. When parents possess little education, their children also frequently have less opportunity to get any. At this point, the effect has nothing more to do with first names. But people who encounter a Kevin automatically suspect him of being poorly educated. This can lead to additional negative consequences for a person’s life.

Gebauer goes on to explain:

First names are connected to stereotypes. When we become acquainted with people, their appearance plays a role, but so does what this person is called. That is often the first information we get. This impression has a powerful effect on how we process additional information about this person. If a person has a dubious name, we often automatically associate him with a dubious stereotype. And we proceed to evaluate all further information based on this dubiousness.

He urges parents to choose their children’s first names with care.

I suppose this is the point in this article when I should list some American names that have no right to exist, but do you really want me to? Instead I’ll just point out that the Israeli Knesset has just introduced a bill to outlaw “insulting names.” Its sponsors, Zevulun Orlev of the Habayit Hayehudi party and Miri Regev from Likud explain that their proposal "would insure the conduct of a professional examination to prevent the giving of a damaging name. Giving a hurtful and insulting name to a minor, or names of curses or negative figures, could make him an object of mockery in the eyes of his peers and damage his self-image and self-confidence."

Ultimately, the difference between an "insulting" name and an acceptable one is in the eye of the beholder - or potential dating partner. A few years back, a New Zealand judge ruled that the names "Fish and Chips" (for twins), "Yeah Detroit," "Keenan Got Lucy," and "Sex Fruit" are not permissible baby names, whereas "Number 16 Bus Shelter" and "Violence" were perfectly "awright." Not long ago, a Kiwi couple tried to name their son "4Real," but had to settle for "Superman" instead.

I’m not sure if this sort of court-supervised micromanaging of a child’s future, as it is already practiced in several countries around the world, is entirely the right way to go, although it could save a person dating stress fifteen or twenty years down the way. But who is to decide what name will be “in” in the future? As Neugebauer says, “My father wanted to name my sister Emma. Thirty years ago that would have been embarrassing, but today it’s all the rage!”

I didn’t see my own name mentioned in the study, but just to play it safe I’ll hold off on changing it to Chantal until further notice.


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Watch for the legions of little girls named Bella. I know one already.
Gee...I guess I shouldn't have named my son Bucksnort and my daughter Chlamydia...
Bella... I should have seen it coming!
Chlamydia has a nice Greek sound to it, but "Latreena" is my favorite - I like that little touch of hygiene. These are mined waters, though. As with everything else under the sun, if you want a list of unfortunate names, Google is the place to go.
I heard a mom screaming her child's name in a department store one day: Tranquility!!!!!! Tranquility, get over here!!!!!!!!! ~r
Hmmmm... I always favor chicks named Butch or Sluggo on the dating sites I go to. Wonder what that means????
This is most likely a Western trend. In the culture I'm raised parents go for originality, taste, and tradition as well as nature in their selection of first names without being obnoxious. For example, no one would call their son the equivalent of Dick or their daughter Candy.

Very interesting article, thank you.

Not true. My wife's first name is Rhubarb. Didn't stop me.
Weird, but interesting. Can't imagine a first name would influence me unless it was grossly bizarre or pathetic or vulgar when enunciated.
I used to know this lesbian chick named "Parsley". She did get an occasional date, but she never got eaten!

BAH DA DUM! Try the veal! It's delish!
Nice that they documented the effects in a study, however common sense certainly informed most people that ill-effects would come from freaky names (unless you're one of the pathetic asses who screwed your kid with one)...
Sure, I would have thought most of this was common sense too, but parents still keep giving their kids unfortunate names. Perhaps a scientific study will lead some of them to change their ways, but I'm not very optimistic.
Hey...Elizabeth Kirby is my name inside out. My first name is actually Kirby and was asked by teachers on the first day of school my entire life...if I was named after a vacuum cleaner. Or if my parents wanted a boy. Mom chose the name to stand out from all the other Svenski names in Minnesota.

So when my daughter was with child, I cautioned her to be thoughtful when choosing a name. And she was. But now...the kids have the most wild names ever! I was born in the wrong time. Oh well. Thanks for this article...it's great.
Nothing to keep anyone from changing an unfortunate name later in life. I can't count the number of coworkers I have who go by something other than their given name. Also, what does the name Dulcinea connote? Did I saddle my child with an unfortunate name?
Well you call yourself Judy, which I would have considered more approachable than Judith. I would ask Judy out and would avoid Judith. I don't know why. Is your given name Judith? If it is why do you go by Judy? Couldn't get a date?
This article overlooks the importance of a person's first initial in influencing dating choices. Few people know that we are attracted to others based in part on their first initial. For example, people who have a first name beginning with a "C" will be much more likely to be attracted to others who have a first initial of C, L, U, or letters within 2 letters of those three. (i.e. A, B, C, D, E .... J,K,L,M,N..... S,T,U,V,W....). Attraction based on first initials is NOT random. Try it on yourself, with those you've ever dated or married, or even the first initials of your parents, siblings, or children.

This seems to be based on a repeating order of nine letters, somewhat like an octave in music. So find your first initial in this list, and you'll find almost all of your close relationships within one or two groupings from the one you are in:

... (etc.)

Go figure.
This awareness will help you weed out bad candidates for blind dates fast.
Boy I have always wondered about mine and I used to often think to change it to my Scottish last name Kirk and my middle name Thomas.
Thanks for the insight. Cheers!
This is hardly a revelation - earlier studies, for instance, have shown how names carry baggage - particularly racial, when applicants with identical resumes are called or not, depending on whether their names sound 'black.'

But apart from the 'made up' names, it's largely cultural, isn't it? 'Kevin,' for instance, is very popular in the US, a country with a high percentage of Irish Americans. So while the name may raise associations with Costner or Home Alone in Germany, in Eire it's very traditional and wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

So perhaps instead of 'Avoid naming your kid anything that doesn't sound like everyone else,' the message should be 'Avoid unwarranted assumptions, based on stereotypes about other people'?
My husband really wanted to name our son EZRA. Instead we gave him one of those Power Names. In his high school class of 420 students at least forty of them had the same name, boys and girls. While it is a great name, and we thought it perfectly fit our child, it appeared to be VERY popular two decades ago. One of my favorite activities on Sunday is reading our local paper which prints the names of new babies. I always share the most unusual ones with husband.
Anybody who works in certain sectors in health care as I do (pediatrics) can list numerous names. The trend that drives me crazy is the ones I cannot pronounce that are three miles long with a bunch of consonants all strung together. The parents always roll their eyes when I say ...."I want to make sure I am saying this right." If the kid is old enough I ask them and say "look I want to say your name right so I am not insulting you..." Luckily many of the kids with names that I cannot pronounce have nicknames. I am getting better at it than I was. I get wanting to be vaguely original and we all have our boundaries. Pretty sure I would not name my kid "Stalin Jr" or "Little Hitler" but as long as I can pronounce it I am happy.

I don't see Chantal as being all that odd but I live in the South and have met several. Maybe the more you come in contact witht he name the more acceptable it sounds. I have met multiple young men named "Hunter" a name I originally thought was dumb and a name I would never assign my child but now I am a bit "meh" about it.

Names 25 or 30 years later simply mirror the culture at the time they were assigned as has already been suggested.
That's really amazing! I think there's something to it. Maybe it's worth a blog posting...?

Ezra is a fine name. As far as the fashionable names are concerned, maybe there should be some sort of quota system for distributing them to newborns (e.g. that no more than 50% of baby girls can be called "Bella" in any particular year).

I think giving children unpronounceable names is like putting a curse on them. Just think of all those hours they'll have to spend explaining how to others how to say it, and people still won't get it right. Better to call them Jack or Jill rather than to expose them to all that.
I like the fact that older names are coming back. I have heard of 3 baby girls being named Evelyn in the last month. I have had to live with the curse of a weird name and I am tired of being referred to as the holy mother.
rated with love from Mary
Had a student once: Tpyge (Tuh paj a). Egypt spelled backwards.
this almost sounds like an Onion story and Im a little bit skeptical of these findings & wonder about the credentials of the researchers. for those who are familiar, real scientific results are usually not so dramatic.
"Sure, it’s a nice enough name in its own right, but when it comes to online dating the researchers found that love-seeking women were 102 times more likely to click on dating profiles with the illustrious name “Alexander.”"
102 times more likely than what? huh? that little factoid alone sounds suspicious.
The Onion is truer than true most of the time. In this study the point was that dating platform participants associated "Kevin" with a lower class person (since it's connected to Anglo-American movies and TV shows) and "Alexander" with wealth and education. Regarding credentials, they are all university-employed researchers in Berlin and at Duke University who have done considerable work on names and identity.
What about last names? Butts, Suggs, Slutsky, or with too many consonants stuck together. Why not improve the dating chances of your children by changing your last name? And if everyone ends up named John Smith, so will a famous movie star and they, like the Paul Newman, I once knew will get good tables at restaurants.
I remember one of my college psychology courses described a similar test. They took a set of student portrait photos of women and had navy men rate them for attractiveness. They used the same photos in all the tests. One test had no names associated with the pictures, and the attractiveness rating for all the pictures was about the same. Another test had "pretty" names under some of the pictures (like Elizabeth, Christine, Jennifer) and "ugly" ones under the others (Bertha, Gertrude, Agnes) and the third test had the "ugly" and the "pretty" names swapped. In the second and third tests, the ones with pretty names were rated more attractive than the ones with ugly names, and vice versa. Note that these were all the same pictures - only the names were swapped.

So this has nothing to do with TV directly. It does make you wonder how the names were determined to be "pretty" or "ugly". I mean, the examples make perfect sense to me, but why? I'm sure these examples are names that were popular probably about 80 years previously, and/or were pretty in some cultures but unfamiliar in others.
I totally concur. My parents named me "Trudge" and all it has ever gotten me was a lot of hard work. :) All kidding aside, it is important to think well before naming a child.
I have to admit - I've always wanted to date a man named Fred or George. I feel like that's a man who had to deal with some teasing on the playground and hopefully developed a big personality and a sense of humor. Of course, I could be wrong. In which case, I have given this way too much thought.
hmmm....first thing that comes to mind is Ima Hogg, aka The First Lady of Texas....don't know that there's been another Ima since.

a friend of my folks wanted to name their daughter after a relative named Agnes. not wanting to saddle the child with an "old" name, they turned it backwards and called her Senga, which is actually kinda pretty.

geekycougar- when I hear Dulcinea, I immediately hear the song from Man of La Mancha- a lovely thing to summon up, methinks!