Some people in life look like they fit their names. You know what we mean, right? There’s something about a name that holds more weight than just being a sound we use to holler at someone when we want their attention. It’s almost like the name itself helps form the person, even down to the way they look.
According to a new study, there might be some truth to this. The research, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this week, found that when strangers were shown a random picture of a face, and were presented with five names, they picked the correct one 35 per cent of the time. (Choosing the right name because of random chance should only be about 20 per cent).
“We ran more than a dozen studies, and each time we had this feeling like, ‘Oh boy, maybe this time it won’t work,'” Yonat Zwebner, lead author of the study and a social psychologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told NPR. “And each time, it worked. That was really surprising.”
Names aren’t just a bunch of letters strewn together — they have cultural significance. Researchers performed several experiments using different countries and residents, too. In Israel, for example, the locals had no trouble matching culturally common names like Ilan, Ofir and Yael with faces, but when asked to match French people, they couldn’t determine a Véronique from a Pierre. And the Francophones were the same — Yael and Ofir could very well be the same person for all they knew.
The study also went beyond humans guessing other humans’ names. In one of the experiments, a computer was trained to match names with thousands of different faces. The piece of tech ended up having a 60 per cent success rate, and interestingly, found that people with the same name had similarities around their eyes and or corners of their mouths.
So just how does this work? One theory, according to this study, is that we change and alter our facial expressions as we age in order to suit our name because of how people perceive us. “Our facial features may change over the years to eventually represent the expectations of how we should look,” the authors wrote in the paper.
It’s like your name is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may come out of the womb looking like a Sarah, but after years of being a Betty, you may just start to fit the part.