The surprising way your name affects your physical appearance

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Susan Devaney

As if picking a baby name wasn’t hard enough, prospective parents may now have something other than inadvertent puns to think about.

According to research from the American Psychological Association choosing a name could be a lot more important than we think – as our first name could possibly have an effect on the way we look.

Dubbed the ‘Dorian Gray effect’, academics found that cultural stereotypes associated with names can actually change our facial appearances and our personality to fit. In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the titular character’s oil portrait changes over time to reflect his life.

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers found that we commonly link people’s names to certain traits and facial characteristics, which in turn can alter our faces and personalities over time.

The researchers carried out eight studies across two countries (France and Israel) to see if strangers could identity the names of people by looking at their faces. Every experiment found that the participants had a better hit rate matching a name to a face (up to 40% accuracy) than random chance (20-25%).

Therefore the researchers concluded that our faces could “live up” to expectations.

“Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look,” Dr Yonat Zwebner, one of the study’s authors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Telegraph.

“For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim.”

The author added that these “associated characteristics [...] may eventually manifest in our facial appearance. We develop the personality that other people expect us to exhibit.

“The study implies that people live up to their given name.”

It’s the first study to show the effect that the social preconceptions and expectations we have around names can have on the way we look.

The study also shows that computers can be programmed with algorithms to match up names and faces. 

“Together, these findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look. In this way, a social tag may influence one’s facial appearance,” said co-author Dr Ruth Mayo.

“We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name.”

Images: Rex


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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