What’s in a name?

Ryan McGowan has the name which is second bottom in the list
Ryan McGowan has the name which is second bottom in the list
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From lucky Lucy to Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, John-Paul Holden finds your name can affect your whole life

THE fate of a generation could be hanging in the balance. The Capital’s once-in-a-lifetime cup final derby is fast approaching and it seems Hibees and Jambos across the city are getting ready to name future children after the footballing heroes who will strive to bring the Scottish Cup to Easter Road or Tynecastle on May 19.

Chef Tom Kitchin hasn't been affected by having the second unluckiest boys' name

Chef Tom Kitchin hasn't been affected by having the second unluckiest boys' name

As the Evening News reported yesterday, Hibs-mad couple Kelly Hanlon and Darren Aitken have already declared they are flirting with the idea of naming their newborn baby after the match-winning goalscorer.

But what if it’s Jorge Claros or Pa Saikou Kujabi? Will Kelly and Darren’s child ever be able to say the name in public without cringing and having to spell it several times?

Hearts fans with the same idea might also wish to think carefully – Lithuanian defender Marius Zaliukas will surely play a key role in whether his team wins next month.

And if Kelly and Darren do name their child after the winning goal-scorer, is that child destined to become a winner in later life?

Elizabeth is for 'achievers', like artist Dame Elizabeth Blackadder

Elizabeth is for 'achievers', like artist Dame Elizabeth Blackadder

“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. A lot, if recent research is anything to go by.

Analysis by psychologist Richard Wiseman – who contributes regularly to the Edinburgh International Science Festival – suggests the opportunities and possibilities presented to us in life could be strongly influenced by the names we are given. He asked more than 6000 people about their perceptions of the most popular first names in the UK over the past decade – along with those in recent years – and discovered some interesting patterns.

Those called Elizabeth or James can breathe a sigh of relief. According to the professor’s research, they are the names most likely to be associated with success.

People named Lucy or Jack should also feel relieved – research picked those as the luckiest first names.

Sir Chris Hoy's parents gave him the second luckiest boys' name

Sir Chris Hoy's parents gave him the second luckiest boys' name

Lisas and Brians may have more to worry about. According to the study, their names are the ones least likely to enjoy success. Helen and John, meanwhile, were considered the unluckiest names, with Ann and George chosen as the least attractive.

But is a name really so important in shaping a life?

Yes, says Professor Wiseman, because names and their associations influence our unconscious perception of individuals, which in turn directly affects our real relationships.

“Past research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophesies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful,” he said when his study was published in 2008.

Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread Book of the Year award despite her unlucky name

Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread Book of the Year award despite her unlucky name

He added: “These new findings could help parents wishing to find the perfect name for their children.

“Traditional names with royal associations were viewed as highly successful and intelligent, and so parents hoping for successful offspring might want to avoid more unusual names.

“Attractive female names tended to be soft-sounding and end with the ‘ee’ sound, whereas the sexiest males names are short and much harder sounding.”

The professor’s findings on names are supported by other research.

Last year, scientists published the results of research into how users of a popular German dating site interacted with each other. They found that people with unfashionable names such as Kevin or Chantal were far less likely to be contacted by other users.

A site user with the most positively rated name, Alexander, received on average double the number of contacts as another user named Kevin.

In New Zealand, government officials take the power of naming very seriously indeed. They released a list of banned names after a judge chastised parents who tried to call their girl Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

But others remain to be convinced by the idea that what someone is called determines the kind of life they lead.

Dr Martin Skinner, a psychologist at Warwick University, said: “I do not buy instinctively into the idea that a name will impact on your life. I would want to look at the research.

“If you have a really silly name then, yes, it’s hard to be taken seriously.

“And there are certain stereotypes that are associated with some names. If you pick a name that’s uniquely and obviously the name of a film star or pop star then of course that will stir up strong associations.

“In that situation, you could assume what the intentions of the parents are but that name does not necessarily tell you what the person would be like.”

He added: “A name can have a range of associations and that person may not live up to the name at all. It’s not something that you can predict with any confidence.”

What’s in a name? The jury, it seems, is out – though we can probably assume Kelly and Darren are hoping next month’s winning goal is scored by Garry O’Connor or Ian Murray.

ILL-STARRED? Michelin-starred, more like. Top Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin hasn’t been affected by having the second unluckiest boys’ name.

SUCCESS Elizabeth was the name people thought most likely to be given to women achievers, as illustrated by eminent artist Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, centre.

TRAILBLAZER James was the boys’ name most likely to be associated with success. Maxwell – the father of electromagnetic theory – bears this hypothesis out perfectly.

GOOD OMEN Was Olympic champ Sir Chris Hoy given a head start when his parents gave him the second luckiest boys’ name?

RED CARD? Anyone called Ryan – second bottom in the list of successful-sounding boys’ names – may as well give up before they’ve begun. Try telling that to Hearts defender and potential Scottish Cup-winner Ryan McGowan.

PULP FICTION What you might have expected from Kate Atkinson, whose first name is among those least likely to be associated with success. Instead, she won the Whitbread Book of the Year award.