Assuming it is not a joke at the expense of celebrity media, actress Uma Thurman’s announcement yesterday that she has named her daughter Rosalind Arusha Arkadina “Luna” Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson (the “Luna” is for short) brings to mind a recent European study on baby names. The German investigation found your name influences whether you get a date. Or a job. Or, really, anything nice. Which is no shock. What’s less clear is whether Thurman’s daughter’s mouthful of a moniker is appealing, unappealing, or just long.
The EU-based research isn’t encouraging. Psychologist Jochen Gebauer, of Berlin’s Humbolt University, first carried out a survey of 500 teachers, asking them to rate the appeal of each name on a list. He then took those results and applied them to a German dating website, eDarling.
The eDarling site apparently doesn’t use photos, “so a suggested contact’s name is the only information daters can really use in choosing whether to purse a contact,” according to a report on the study by the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.
The main finding here was that people with unfashionable names like Kevin or Chantal were dramatically more likely to be rejected by other users (i.e. other users tended to choose not to contact them). A user with the most popular name (Alexander) received on average double the number of contacts as someone with the least popular name (Kevin).
For the right person, Chantal seems like a perfectly charming name. Still, the German study continued, people with unpopular monikers had lower self-esteem, left education earlier, and were likely to smoke. “The link between the popularity of their name and these life outcomes was mediated by the amount of rejection they suffered on the dating site – as if rejection on the site were a proxy for the amount of social neglect they’d suffered in life.”
So is little R.A.A.A.F.T.B doomed to unhappiness? The German research looks grim, but is not the only indicator. The new work follows on from studies several years prior, conducted by UCLA psychologist Albert Mehrabian, who wrote a book on the subject The Baby Name Report Card: Beneficial and Harmful Baby Names.
Doctor Mehrabian told UCLA Today last year that he had some experience with Hollywood name mania, including aspiring actors asking him for advice on stage names, and many parents turning to him for help naming kids. His approach is mathematical. In the early 2000s, Mehrabian created a numerical system for rating names, which judges them by five categories: Ethical-Caring, Popular-Fun, Successful, Masculine-Feminine, and Overall Attractiveness.
Like the German study, Mehrabian gave a list of names to a survey body, and asked the subjects to rate the names from 0 – 100 in each category, with zero being awful and 100 being appealing.
In a finding that one assumes had to be influenced by the UCLA fraternity system, a key comparison rests on a contrast of the two male names Chad and Bud, with Chad earning a 90+ score as “Popular-Fun,” while Bud scored abysmally. Chad also scored better in other categories, and apparently carries a suggestion that its owner is ethical and attractive overall. By the numbers, you’d rather be Chad than Bud.
Unusual names defy the scale, and, it would appear, skew low. Baby Thurman will have the advantage of being raised by a famous millionaire, but none of the existing research appears to have explored whether being the daughter of monied, attractive people counteracts the emotional risks of your name being 51 letters long. Mehrabian’s scale, per the usual reading of celebrity baby-name insanity, assumes narcissistic motives behind moves like Thurman’s:
Peculiar and idiosyncratic family circumstances or special life experiences with certain people and names can all come into play and prevent one from making a clear-headed choice. In most cases, it doesn’t even occur to a parent to ask, “What kind of an impression will this name make on others?” Instead, choices typically are made on the basis of, “I like it,” “I had a dear friend (or relative) with that name,” “That’s the name of my favorite TV personality,” “It was the name of a terrific little boy in a novel I read,” “I just love the sound of it,” “It’s funny, people will get a kick out of it,” or “It shows the kid has a creative parent!”
Neither study appears to have controlled for cultural or linguistic differences. Malagasy names are routinely twenty or thirty letters long. Javanese people routinely have six or seven names, then a shorter nickname. Portuguese children, if named traditionally, have a given name, plus each parent’s family name, plus each grandparent’s name, plus, often, the name of the family’s historical region or town.