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Name Impression Influence on Employment Opportunities

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Name Impression Influence on Employment Opportunities
Tracy M. Sysk
Saint Leo University

A person’s name has been found to have a significant influence on other’s perception of their characteristics. This may be due to the impact of first impression phenomenon that can occur such as in the case of seeing a name on a resume. An individual with a perceivably attractive name may be more apt to gain employment than one with a less desirable name (Gueguen & Pascual, 2011). Upon first impression, judgments are made about personality traits such as friendliness, attractiveness, intelligence, and honesty or even reliability (Mahrabian, 200I; Steel & Smithwick, 1989; Aura & Hess, 2008). So, what makes one name more desirable than another? Coleman, Hargreaves & Sluckin (1980) determined that one particular psychological aspect determining name likeableness is familiarity based on commonality (Karlin & Bell, 1995).
Albert Mahrabian (1990) developed an approach he used to measure attractive versus unattractive name connotation (additional idea or emotion connected with a word): the Name Connotation Profile model. The four evaluation traits of the NCP model are: 1- “Successful” indicating competence, 2 – “Moral” indicating trustworthiness, 3 – “Popular/Warm/Cheerful” indicating likeableness, and 4 – “Masculine/Feminine” indicating culturally accepted norms for gender. Mahrabian (1997) also compared name attractiveness impressions between genders and found that they were comparatively consistent with cultural expectations of men and women. Men’s names were consistently associated with Masculine-Successful traits and women's names with Ethical-Caring traits.
Garwood, Cox, Kaplan, Wasserman & Sulzer (1980) scrutinized name impressions of women by using photographs. They attached attractive names with attractive facial images in one analysis and then paired less attractive names with images of comparable attractiveness as in the first group. They randomly selected nearly 200 university students in a mock voting contest to rate beauty queens. The participants were exposed to six images that were preselected for equal physical attractiveness and then half were given likeable names and the others were given less likeable names. As per their hypothesis, the name had a significant consequence on physical attraction perceptions: Girls with attractive names were given nearly three times the votes as were the images with less attractive names. If pageant contestants may be demoted due to name perception, then how may name impressions affect people in other ways?
In a study on low socio-economic individuals, Gueguen & Pascual (2011) randomly extracted 100 names of persons on welfare whose information was stored in a database of an employment agency. These individuals were then given an opportunity to interview for employment. They compared interview results on the variables of age, gender and ethnicity. Age and ethnicity had no significant influence on the outcome of job obtainment for the applicants. The last stage of their examination looked at name impression impact and produced their predicted outcome as name likeability was strongly related to a person having been hired. They found no significant difference or influence on employment outcome due to ethnicity or age; possibly due to the population sample being limited to a certain socioeconomic group. However, it has been noted globally that a name indicating ethnicity may negatively impact job outlooks (Riach & Rich, 1991; Leo & Manger, 2011). Likewise, the impact of one’s name was found by Bertrand & Mullainathan (2004) to carry a significant influence due to ethnicity. They discovered that a fictitious woman with a name such as Emily has a 50% greater chance of getting an interview than does one with a name of Lakisha.
In the famous Bertrand & Mullainathan (2004) field study, local ads for employment in Boston and Chicago were sent spurious resumes with notably White names, and notably African-American names. A typically White name like Greg only needed ten resumes out in the field in order to obtain at least one response compared to fifteen for a typically African-American name like Jamal. A note of interest here is that the cities where this study was took place are located in the northern region of the US where the north compared to the south is commonly considered to be less racially biased. They also discovered that there was not a significant difference between government sectors that were actually listed as Equal Opportunity Employers compared to private sectors that were not.
Aura & Hess, (2008) examined the overall impact of a person’s first name. Their results showed that when a person’s name indicated ethnicity, that it was strongly associated with a lower socio-economic status than non-ethnic named persons. This included the perception of potential labor productivity attached to a person due to their name. Their study was different in that it did not solely focus on typically “Black” names vs. typically “White” names as did the study by Bertrand & Mullainathan (2004). By using data samples from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, Aura & Hess (2008) were able to look at a broader spectrum of the population. Also, the information attached to each name included several determinates of socio-economic status; such as formal education, income, and personal happiness.
Similar to the Garwood, Cox, Kaplan, Wasserman & Sulzer (1980) study mentioned earlier - Steele & Smithwick, (1989) conducted an investigation into the first impression effects of a name. They added a facial image to a name to discover if there might be an effect. As per their prediction, they discovered a more fragile correlation between mere name impression and name impression connotation with added information (such as a photograph). Their study was much larger than the fictitious beauty queen survey (Garwood et al, 1980) but in contrast to it, they concluded paired photographic images with names greatly reduced first name impression phenomenon.
Since unfamiliar names are less likeable than familiar names (Coleman et al, 1980; Karlin & Bell, 1995), then that negative first impression effect of an unfamiliar name should also be reduced by adding a photographic image to the name (Steele et al, 1989). So then adding a photo to the unfamiliar name of a job applicant should also reduce possible negative effects from other’s perception of that person’s name found on a resume. Also, the level of attractiveness in a photographic image may impact first impression perception of an unfamiliar name.

Auara, S., & Hess, G. D. (2010). What’s in a name? Economic Inquiry, 48(1), 214-227. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.2008.00171.x Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. American
Economic Review, (94), 991-1013. DOl:10.1257/0002828042002561
Coleman, AM., Hargreaves, D. J., & Sluckin, W. (1980). Psychological factors affecting preferences for first names. Names, 38, 113-1 53
Gueguen, N. & Pascual, A (20II). Are people with attractive names more employable? An evaluation in a field setting. European Journal of Economics, Finance and Administrative Sciences, (38), 164-166
Karlin, N. J. & Bell, P. A. (1995) Assessing commonality and favorability of first names.
Psychological Reports, Vol 77(1), Aug 1995, 97-98.
Leo, K., & Manger, C., (20I I) Ethnic discrimination in Germany's Labour Market: A Field
Experiment. German Economic Review, Doi: I0.Ill J/j.I468-0475.20 II.00538.x
Mehrabian, A. (200 I). Characteristics attributed to individuals on the basis of their first names.
Genetic, Social, And General Psychology Monographs, 127(I ), 59-88.
Philip, E. G. (1993). First Names and Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness. The Journal of
Psychology, 127 (6) 625-631 Doi:I0 I080/002239801993 991490I
Riach, P. A., & Rich, J. (1991). Testing for Racial Discrimination in the Labour Market.
Cambridge Journal of Economics, 15(3), pages 239-56
Steele, K. M., & Smithwick, L. E. (1989). First names and first impressions: A fragile relationship. Sex Roles, 21(7-8), 517-523. doi:l0.1007/BF00289101
Garwood, G. S., Cox, L., Kaplan, V., Wasserman, N., & Sulzer, J. L. (1980) Beauty Is Only "Name" Deep: The Effect of First-Name On Ratings of Physical Attraction. Journal of
Applied Social Psychology, 10(5), 431-435, October Doi: 10.1111/j.l559-1816.1980.tb0072l.x

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