We need to talk about “Kevin”

Before you name that poor unsuspecting child after your great-uncle Genghis, or something even less explicable, you might want to consider the ramifications thereof:

A poorly chosen baby name can lead to a lifetime of neglect, reduced relationship opportunities, lower self-esteem, a higher likelihood of smoking and diminished education prospects, according to a new study of nearly 12,000 people.

The research, which appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is thought to offer the firmest conclusions to date that “unfortunate” first names evoke negative reactions from strangers, which in turn influence life outcomes for the worse.

“There seems to be prejudice based on name valence (or associations),” says study co-author Wiebke Neberich.

Dr Wiebke NeberichAt which point I dropped the transcription and attempted to come up with a mental image that fit the name “Wiebke Neberich”; I wound up with “Deadly Serious Science Genius Girl.” And then, purely for the sake of illustration of course, I happened upon the picture at left, from Dr Neberich’s days at the Max Planck. But this sort of musing practically defines prejudice, so I immediately denounced myself, and then, properly humbled, I returned to the original article:

The study is based on users of the European matchmaking website eDarling, where researchers found most people would sooner remain single — and continue paying for online dating — than consider a romantic partner with an unappealing name… In one of the researchers’ experiments, online daters whose names carried the most positive valence (Alexander) received 102 per cent more profile visits, relative to opportunity, than daters whose names carried the worst valence (Kevin)… Across all tests, which drew on 11,813 adults, those with “unfortunate” first names were generally more likely to smoke, be less educated and have lower self-esteem than those whose names were considered positive.

At eDarling, I turned up two things: a better picture of Dr Neberich, and an infographic (titled “Hot or Not?”; click on “Snapshot”) which details some of the name results. Perhaps Kevin and Chantal are stuck with each other.

Still, you can always do worse. From Nancy’s Baby Names:

In 1931, a couple in Hilden, Germany, tried to name their baby girl Hitlerike in honor of Adolf Hitler. The registrar rejected the name.

The father sued. The court ruled in favor of the father, noting that similar political names such as Bolshewika (for Bolshevik) and Stahlhelmina (for the Stahlhelm) had been accepted in the past.

Along similar lines, this is the Fark headline for the study: “People with unfortunate names are more likely to be abused and get ill, reports Dave Hitler.”

(Title swiped from Lionel Shriver.)


  1. McGehee »

    6 January 2012 · 8:42 am

    I never had the temptstion to pass on my given name.

  2. Tatyana »

    6 January 2012 · 10:29 am

    “Dave Hitler” is right up there with that Wiebke woman. [Trust me, just show it to any Russian or Pole, and (s)he will choke with laughter.]

  3. LeeAnn »

    6 January 2012 · 1:05 pm

    Every Kevin I’ve ever met has been trouble. Capital T.
    Now I’m going to get called name-ist.

  4. Nicole »

    6 January 2012 · 6:40 pm

    Freakanomics actually discussed this some years past, though he didn’t place the blame on the name. His contention was that parents who name their child something unfortunate are likely to be in subpar economic situations (where the child doesn’t get a good education, therefore impacting ability to succeed, increased likelihood of smoking or other unhealthy habits), in subpar cultural situations (where the child is an outcast due to culture or other considerations) or have subpar intelligence themselves (therefore dooming the child with genetics). So it may not be the name alone that makes a child not succeed as well as others.

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