Can Your Name Make You A Liar?

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Here’s a piece of potentially bad news. Your name, which you are likely stuck with for the rest of your life, can have a significant effect on whether other people believe you.

This effect isn’t due to ethnic or religious prejudices, either, though in specific situations those could play a role, too. Rather, variations in credibility based on a person’s name are due to our old friend, fluency. Some of the more bizarre human biases we discuss here at Neuromarketing have their roots in cognitive fluency, in essence the ease or difficulty with which our brains process information. We’ve seen that fancy fonts make us think an activity will take much longer, and that eating popcorn makes us forget brands.

Now, a new study, People with Easier to Pronounce Names Promote Truthiness of Claims, adds a new dimension to the literature of fluency: people are more likely to believe something said by a person with an easy name vs. one that’s hard to pronounce.

So, for example, a statement written by “Andrian Babeshko” was judged to be more credible than one by “Yevgeny Dherzhinsky.”

Years ago, I often did business with foreign nationals who adopted an “American” name. Someone named “Hirotsugu” might become “Harry” for his U.S. customers. I was amused by this, and usually tried to learn the person’s real name and use it to show respect. This new research suggests that the “Harry” strategy went beyond convenience and perhaps helped the credibility of the “renamed” individuals among their U.S. counterparts.

Time for a Name Change?

The effects are probably mild enough in the real world that you shouldn’t rush out to initiate a legal name change. But, if you are from Kyrgyz and your first name is Dzhyrgal or Zhubanysh, you might want to go with a short, easy nickname (you probably have one already!) on your business cards. Dee or Zuzu, perhaps? You may get a bit of a credibility boost, and you’ll definitely save some time spelling your name every time you leave a message or make a new contact!

Brands Should Be Fluent, Too

It’s not just people who get better the more fluent they are. A few years ago, a study showed that fluency effects could increase brand preference. (See Of Frog Wines and Frowning Watches: Semantic Priming, Perceptual Fluency, and Brand Evaluation.)

The original paper on names is worth a glance – it’s the only scientific study I’ve encountered that cites The Onion to open and close the paper! It’s probably the only study I’ve seen that cites The Onion at all!

Meanwhile, spare a thought for The Onion’s Grg Hmphrs, a resident of Sjlbvdnzv: “With just a few key letters, I could be George Humphries. This is my dream”.

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— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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