Easy names could be key to workplace success

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A simple name, like Sue or Bob or Billy, could be an advantage for employees looking to climb the corporate ladder.

If you’ve got an easy-to-pronounce name, you are more likely to win friends and favor in the workplace, according to a study by Simon Laham at the University of Melbourne and Adam Alter at New York University Stern School of Business.

“Subtle biases that we are not aware of affect our decisions and choices,” said Laham, lead author of the study. “Research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce.”

In the first study of its kind, and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers analyzed how the pronunciation of names can influence impression formation and decision-making.

In particular, they demonstrated “the name-pronunciation effect,” which occurs when people with easy-to-pronounce names are evaluated more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names.

The study found that people with more pronounceable names were more likely to be favored for political office and job promotions; political candidates with easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to win a race than those without, based on a mock ballot study; and, attorneys with more pronounceable names rose more quickly to superior positions in their firm hierarchies.

Alter, who conducted the law firm analysis, said this effect probably also exists in other industries and in many everyday contexts.

“People simply aren’t aware of the subtle impact that names can have on their judgments,” Alter said.

Researchers conducted studies both in lab settings and in a natural environment using a range of names from Anglo, Asian, and Western and Eastern European backgrounds.

The results have important implications for the management of bias and discrimination in our society, Laham said.

“It’s important to appreciate the subtle biases that shape our choices and judgments about others,” he said. “Such an appreciation may help us de-bias our thinking, leading to fairer, more objective treatment of others.”