What's in a Name? It's Not Just Anthony Weiner Who Should Wonder

Last Updated Jun 22, 2011 9:09 AM EDT

Okay, so your last name isn't Weiner. Still, your name may hold some important clues to your future, according to research from John Waggoner of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Previous research has shown that the names parents choose for their children varies with their socioeconomic status and their education level. Waggoner wondered, if, in turn, people's names also broadcast some sort of expectations to others. He recruited 89 undergraduates, about half of whom were prospective teachers, and asked them to predict, on a scale of one to ten, about how well a student with a given name would perform academically.

The results? Participants in his study had lower expectations of people whose names were associated with lower education (on the part of moms) and lower socioeconomic status. "What future teachers expect is that Cody will do a lot worse in school, relatively, than Benjamin and Samuel," Waggoner said.

The 10 highest-ranked names were:

  1. Katherine: 7.42
  2. Samuel: 7.20
  3. Madison: 7.39
  4. Alexander: 7.16
  5. William: 7.12
  6. Benjamin: 7.07
  7. Robert: 7.07
  8. Andrew: 7.03
  9. Alexandra: 7.06
  10. Julia: 6.89
The 10 lowest-ranked names were:
  1. Briana: 6.41
  2. Heather: 6.36
  3. Alyssa: 6.31
  4. Tyler: 6.19
  5. Justin: 5.98
  6. Brandon: 5.94
  7. Kayla: 5.85
  8. Amber: 5.74
  9. Cody: 5.66
  10. Travis: 5.55
A two-point difference in the score is about equal to a 20 percent difference in academic achievement, Waggoner says.

Waggoner said certain names were more likely to show up at different types of colleges, highlighting the link between names, socioeconomic status, and education level. "Katherine" tends to go to private school, Waggoner said, while "Lauren" goes to public school and "Briana" goes to community college. And to those who dream of emulating movie stars and giving their children highly unusual names, Waggoner warns, "Sierra and Dakota, they don't go to college."

Do you think your name has affected your success in life? If you have children, was that a consideration when you named them?

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Image courtesy of flickr user Mosieur J. [version 5.1.1]
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.

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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.