Why Is Your Mechanic Names Bill Smith? The Beauty of a Simple Name

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Originally posted May 13, 2014.

We might not realize it, but our names hold the key to how much people trust us. Our actual name might not matter. It is how easily you can pronounce a person’s name that counts.

Imagine the following scenario. You walk into an auto repair shop to get your car fixed. A smiling man greets you at the door, shakes your hand, and says, “How are you?” You look at his uniform, which has his name printed in an oval patch. It says, “Yvgeny.” Having spent no time in Russia, you struggle to pronounce his name.

Would your botched pronunciation affect how much you trusted your would-be mechanic? It would. In a recent investigation, people with easily pronounceable names, versus hard to pronounce names, were rated as less dangerous, more positive, and more trustworthy.

The next time you struggle to pronounce someone’s name, give that person a break. We don’t pick the names our parents give us. Should we also give more credit to those who have triumphed despite having hard to pronounce names? Did Quvenzhané Wallis need to do more to earn her Oscar nomination than Naomi Watts did? We’ll never know.

Until we do, think of the people you choose to include in your life. We have limited energy and only include a few people in our social networks. Of the ones you chose, did their easy to pronounce names give them an edge?

About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”