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Choosing a child's name? Their future happiness (and exam success) may be at stake; Welsh research discovers link to self-esteem.

Byline: Robin Turner

WHAT'S in a name? Future happiness, self-esteem and peace of mind, according to research carried out in a Welsh university.

But Jochen Gebauer, lead author of a new psychological study, warns that people really have to like their own names before the peace of mind, happiness and selfesteem kick in.

He claims to have uncovered a clear link between name-liking and overall self-esteem.

"People who have high selfesteem tend to like their name more," said Mr Gebauer, a PhD student in the school of psychology at Cardiff University.

"The reason is known as the 'mere-ownership effect'which essentially means that if we like ourselves, we prefer things that are ours to other options.

"Another study established this effect years ago when people were given toasters and other household appliances to compare. No matter what they were given, they always preferred the item that was theirs.

"When you own a certain object, then you put the value you have for yourself into this object."

But he says the connection to name-liking provides a better way to assess self-esteem.

According to Mr Gebauer, selfesteem is one of the most heavily studied psychological concepts and "the Holy Grail of modern times".

He said, "If you have high self-esteem, everything is good. You have no social problems, you are less aggressive, you feel better about yourself, you have more friends and people like you more."

His paper on the link between name-liking and self-esteem will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Mr Gebauer says popular culture has even tackled people's fraught relationships with their names, including an episode of Friends in which the character Chandler decides he hates his name and wants to change it.

And in his paper he points to an episode of the hit US comedy series Seinfeld, in which one of the characters, Cosmo Kramer goes to great lengths to conceal his first name.

Social networking website Facebook is home to a group called "I Love My Name" which boasts more than 2,200 members, most of them with distinctive names like Queen, Keiva, Passion, Mctony and TeQuilla.

More research into names at America's Yale University conducted by Joseph Simmons, assistant professor of marketing, indicates that people subconsciously make decisions based on their names.

In a paper titled Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success, he says someone called Sandy is, for instance, more likely to buy a Saturn (a type of car), move to San Diego, and marry someone called Sandler.

A person called Richard, he argues, is more likely to buy a Renault, move to Richmond, and marry Ricarda. He said,"This phenomenon is called the name letter effect (NLE), and appears to be an unconscious effect."

In America, baseball strikeouts are represented by a K and he found batters with K initials struck out more often than others.

Similarly, he discovered C or D initialled students tended to have lower exam results than A or B initialled students.

Mr Simmons says future parents should consider the nameletter effect but shouldn't panic. He told a conference in the US, "I will be the first to admit that the effects that we have observed are quite small, and so there's no need to panic if you recently named your child Christine or Diana."

The ups and downs of Jack and Chloe

People's names are constantly changing in popularity. Jack and Chloe were the most common names given to boys and girls born in England and Wales in 1998 (according to the Office for National Statistics).

However, neither of these names featured in the top 50 most popular names in 1984, and they were not even in the top 100 names 10 years before that.

By contrast, John was a very popular name for boys in the first half of the 20th century but was in fifth place in 1964 and by 1998 was outside the top 50.

Similarly, Margaret was a popular girls' name earlier last century but by 1964 it was the 39th most popular name and was also outside the top 50 in 1998.

The 10 most popular babies' names for boys in Wales last year were (in order of popularity) were Jack, Dylan, Thomas, Joshua, Rhys, Daniel, Ethan, Oliver, William, James. The top ten girls' names were Ruby, Megan, Grace, Chloe, Emily, Ffion, Olivia, Seren, Ella and Sophie.

In 1904 across England and Wales, William and Mary were the most popular names for boys and girls, by 1934 John and Margaret were the most popular and in 1964 the top choices were David and Susan.


NAME GAME: People subconsciously make decisions based on their names, according to a US study Picture: Rob Browne
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 26, 2008
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