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Will an easy-to-pronounce name get you a better shot at partnership?

Posted Jun 17, 2013 5:40 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Does your name matter in your career? How about the descriptive words used in court?

The answer, apparently, is yes and yes. New York University marketing professor Adam Alter explains in the New Yorker.

One of his findings: Lawyers in U.S. law firms with easy-to-pronounce names rise to partnership more quickly than colleagues with names that are more difficult to pronounce. When Alter and his fellow researchers did a separate look at those with just Anglo-American names (to eliminate "xenophobic prejudice"), lawyers with the easier-to-pronounce names still outperformed those with hard-to-pronounce names.

“People generally prefer not to think more than necessary,” Alter writes, “and they tend to prefer objects, people, products and words that are simple to pronounce and understand.”

Alter describes other law-related studies:

• In a South Carolina study, women lawyers with masculine-sounding first names had better odds of becoming a judge than their counterparts with feminine names.

• A study by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer shows how lawyers’ descriptions of accident scenes could influence jurors. Students were shown traffic accident videos. Those who were told the cars “contacted” each other estimated the cars were traveling at lower speeds than students who were told the cars “smashed” each other. In another study, 14 percent of participants wrongly remembered shattered glass when told cars “hit” each other, while 32 percent had the wrong recollection when told the cars “smashed” each other.

Of course, difficult names aren’t destiny. “People with non-fluent names succeed all the time,” Alter writes, “and norms change. After three decades of fluently named presidents—a Ronald, two Georges, and a Bill—Barack Obama ascended to the presidency. Five years later, ‘Barack’ has become one of the easiest-to-pronounce names in the country.”

Hat tip to the SBM Blog.

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