Sexy Psycholinguistics: Think naming a business is tricky? Try naming yourself.

By Burt Alper

September 25, 2007

Forget about the hair, the clothes, the bod. Ever consider if your name has sex appeal? According to a study by MIT grad student/cognitive scientist Amy Perfors, beauty may well be in the ears, and not just the eyes, of the beholder. Perfors posted photos of men and women—labeled with fake first names—on the site “Hot or Not,” and viewers rated their attractiveness. The same photos were then reposted with different first names, and voilà—they scored differently. For men, names with constricted vowel sounds (think “Ben”) had more sex appeal than names with fuller vowel sounds. For women, the reverse was true. (As if Angelina didn’t already have it all). The sampling’s small enough to raise questions about the particular lessons drawn (in my mind). But the notion that a first name with the right phonetic structure can generate some sizzle all by itself . . . well, that’s no surprise to those of us who specialize in strategic naming. So while the Teds and Tinas of the world can relax, maybe the Bobs and Beths should consider a little name makeover? For more details, see this summary in New Scientist. And the full story is here, but you’ll have to subscribe to Premium plus to get it.

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