Every month my primary school would have an assembly to give awards to the achievers of the month. Those who were awarded the small yellow certificates signed by the principal would run straight to their parents after school, their grins essentially indestructible.
The student assigned to read the names on the certificate would do so effortlessly, and one by one the students trotted out to the front of the stage. Then, he paused. The auditorium paused. “Staff-a…Stepha…Stefatina?” The only Stefatina in the school got up, looked at the certificate and shook her head. It wasn’t hers. I knew exactly who that certificate belonged to but I sat quietly waiting in the hope that they would eventually pronounce the nine letters in the name with ease.
In a recent study by Laham et al, it was found that in general those with easy to pronounce names have things a bit easier.
In the five studies conducted it was found that compared to those with difficult to pronounce names, people with simpler names are judged more positively, tend to be hired and promoted more, receive more positive impressions and even occupy a higher status in law firms.
Names shape thought more than we may consider. In 2009, a study by Coffey and McLaughlin tested the Portia Hypothesis — that females with masculine sounding names were more likely to become judges simply because of a certain androgynous character of their names.
Names after Portia, from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, who disguised herself as a man in order to attend legal proceedings, the researchers found women with more masculine sounding names, or names that are unisex, fare better than females with typical feminine names. However, their data did not show whether the overrepresentation of males played a role in skewing the results.
It was Wolfgang Köhler who showed us that words tend to share other ideas beyond their meaning. he tested people with two words Malumas and Taketes asking them to correspond each to a shape. Naturally people related malumas with a rounded shape, and taketes with the jagged shape. Maluma is a rounded sound, taketes more jagged. Apply this kind of rationale to names and people, and some very interesting ideas can be formed.
The simpler something is to pronounce, the easier it is to understand, or so we may feel.
Back to the assembly, where I was drowning in embarrassment of my difficult to pronounce name, the student at the front was still struggling himself. Eventually the teacher had to come up and assist him, where he finally said, with some of his own muffled embarrassment, Stamatina.
Stewing, I reluctantly got up to claim my certificate, aware of the sniggers in the background. The award my have been mine, but so was a longstanding battle of having to repeat myself when meeting someone new, or having to correct people when they read out my name. But such is life, and life was not meant to be easy, so we march on, with too many vowels and awkward mixes of consonants to fight the good fight.
featured image: New Media Days / Peter Erichsen