Studies have shown a relationship between names and résumé success, the types of career paths chosen—even whether or not a child will be recognized as gifted early on in school.
And let’s be honest—talking about names is just plain fun.
To find out the names that are most likely to ensure future success academically, professionally and, eventually, financially, we spoke to Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of Nameberry, a baby-naming site based on the ten books she co-authored with Linda Rosenkrantz.
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Here are the six things Satran says matter most when it comes to naming a future billionaire/CEO/President of the United States—or whatever title you attribute success to.
1. Think About the Unique Factor
“Names that are unusual can be an advantage, especially in creative businesses and fields. Names that would get your child noticed in Hollywood or the art world are often unique and stand out on their own,” says Satran.
The New York Times reports that many parents are now doing a quick Google search of their child’s potential first name and last name to see how common the combination is (not to mention whether the name already belongs to a “serial killer, pornography star or sex offender”).
Choosing a unique name will ensure your child will eventually rise to the “top of future search results,” writes The Times. So it stands to reason that doing a quick Google search for potential name combinations to make sure there aren’t 1,000 other prominent people with the same name could be beneficial. If it turns out that there are, it might be a good idea to consider choosing another favorite first name on your list.
One thing to avoid? Creating your own variation on the name through unconventional spelling choices. “Olivia’s a popular name, so you see some parents creating variations, like ‘Alyvia,’” says Satran. “This is basically never a good idea. People will always be misspelling your child’s name, and they’ll assume that you, as the parent, didn’t know how to spell the name correctly … which doesn’t reflect well on you or your child.”
2. Pick a Name Without Ethnic or Cultural Associations
“Traditional names likes Caitlin, Claire, William and Henry are not necessarily associated with a particular class or ethnic group and are socially acceptable to a wider range of people,” says Satran. “This makes them easier to understand in a corporate setting.”
Additionally, a study published in the American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with names perceived to be more common in the black community received 50% fewer callbacks after sending résumés than applicants who sent out identical résumés with “white-sounding” names. It’s regrettable, we agree, but we’re just reporting the facts.
3. Check out the ‘Most Popular’ Lists—Then Avoid Those Names
“Choosing a name at the top of the ‘Most Popular’ lists is an effective way to sidestep the prejudices against an ‘ethnic’ name,” says Satran, as those names transcend class, cultural and racial boundaries, but she actually advises that mothers-to-be avoid those names.
“One negative effect is that very popular names tie your child to a certain time period, leaving them subject to ageism,” she says. “People will assume that they’re either young, hurting them at the beginning of their career, or old, hurting them later on.”
This effect is easy to understand: If you heard that you were going to meet a woman named Tiffany or Jennifer, would you imagine a woman in her teens, 30’s or 50’s? Chances are, you would guess 30’s … and you’d stand a good chance of being right, as these names were some of the most popular for babies born in the 1980’s. Check out the most popular lists for 2011 here.
4. Consider Masculine Names for Girls … But Don’t Give Your Son a Feminine Name.
Satran points to a study by Professor David Figlio of Northwestern University that observed sisters who were both naturally good at math and sciences. “Girls with more androgynous names were more likely to study math and science than girls with more conventionally feminine or frilly names,” she said.
Considering that engineering, science, and computers and mathematics are some of the best majors for steady work and high earnings, a more masculine name for a girl could really pay off in the long run. Additionally, a study from Clemson University showed that women with more traditionally male names made more successful lawyers and judges than women with more feminine names.
The reverse (giving your son a more feminine or androgynous name) proves to be a less successful tactic. Figlio, the same author of the study mentioned above, found in a separate study that boys with names like Ashley, Shannon, Jamie and Courtney were more likely to have behavioral problems in middle school.
5. Seek Out Positive Initials (or, at the Very Least, Avoid Negative Initials)
“Positive initials are initials that spell out a word that we associate with something good,” says Satran. “This could be something like G.O.D.,” or A.C.E., H.U.G., J.O.Y., etc. Negative initials spell “bad” words, like A.S.S., P.I.G. or D.I.E.
Satran warns parents to avoid negative initials, pointing to studies like the one published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research that showed that males with negative initials died almost 3 years earlier than control subjects, while men with positive initials lived nearly 4.5 years longer. For women, positive initials led to an almost 3.5 year increase in longevity (negative initials were not found to have an effect on female subjects).
6. Don’t Forget About Baby’s Siblings
To ensure that your child has the most harmonious experience growing up, think about how your baby’s name will fit in with his or her siblings’ names. “Names should be distinct enough so that the child feels like an individual but compatible with his siblings’ names,” says Satran. “Jane and John and Joan may be overly matchy-matchy, but having some unity of style and feeling can promote family unity, which is usually a positive.”