You might notice something a little different about my byline this month. Gone is the old Chris, replaced with my new moniker, Kit. This personal rebranding exercise has been timed almost meticulously to coincide with Chemistry World’s own overhaul, along with a host of changes in my life. I won’t go into the reasons behind it (frankly, it’s none of your beeswax) but, while it’s trivial in the grand scheme of things, the change means a great deal to me.
My choice is hardly unique: millions of people around the world change their names every year. But it takes only a quick glance at the literature to see how names can have startling implications on someone’s career.
Fans of the bestselling book Freakonomics will recall baby names can be a predicator social class (and thus income and attainment), but let’s skip past that and look at the job market itself. Unsurprisingly, this is rich loam for psychology papers, with the literature going back 60 years. You can find studies suggesting that length of name (shorter the better), perceived ethnicity (in US studies, ‘white’ sounding names tend to do better) and even rarity (more common names are associated with success) all matter. In 2011, a study by Simon Laham, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues found that easy-to-pronounce names were judged more positively, regardless of the above factors.1 This is, perhaps, just another part of the tangled web of unconscious biases that we all hold.
But for those unwilling to change their moniker to John or Jane Smith, there’s a far simpler way to use your name effectively: say it. UK doctor Kate Granger won a legion of fans throughout the UK’s health service for her #hellomynameis campaign, started after she noticed the healthcare staff treating her terminal cancer didn’t introduce themselves. A simple introduction, Granger argued, would have shown the patient the doctor cares. Granger died last month, having spent the remainder of her life blogging about her experiences, providing an important reminder to everyone that names are more than identity. They are a way for you to make a personal connection with clients, colleagues and beyond.
So hello, my name is Kit. And you are?
1 S Laham, P Koval and A Alter, J. Exp. Soc. Psychol., 2012, 48, 752 (DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.002)