Do you look like your name? Science says you do

What's in a name?
What's in a name? Photo: Getty Images

Can you tell what a person's name is just by looking at them? Scientists think that you can.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people seem to grow into the facial features that we associate with particular names. So you might look so much like an Alison or Jennifer that people can guess your name just by looking at you.

Speaking to TODAY Parents, Yonat Zwebne, lead author of the study, said that as a society we have certain expectations that we associate with different names.

"We already know from previous research that names have stereotypes. For example, prior published studies show that in the US, you will evaluate a person named Katherine as more successful than a person named Bonnie.

"You will evaluate a person named Scott as more popular than Herman.

"Moreover, we know that people imagine a Bob to have a rounder face compared to a Tim," he explains.

So does this mean that the name you pick for you baby will effect what they look like when they grow up? It's certainly a prospect that concerns Zwebne, who recently became a mother herself.

"As parents, it was really difficult for us to name our 12-day-old daughter as we are aware of the implication of names," she says.

"If a name can influence appearance, it can affect many other things and this research opens an important direction that may suggest how parents should consider better the names they give their children."


To find out whether names really do effect how we look, Zwebne and her colleagues at Hebrew University of Jerusalem designed a series of experiments using volunteers from Israel and France.

During the experiment, participants were shown photographs and asked to guess the name of the person from a list of five options. For example, when shown a picture of a man named Dan, participants had to guess whether his name was Jacob, Dan, Joseph or Nathaniel.

When the team analysed the results, they found that people guessed the correct answer more often than they would have done by chance.

In another even more startling experiment, the team tested the theory on computers. The machines were shown 1000 photos of women called Barbara and 1000 photos of women named Samantha. They were then shown 400 unnamed photos. Echoing the results of the human participants, the computers were able to pick the correct name more often than they could by chance.

Zwebne thinks that our faces grow into our names through a "self-fulfilling prophecy" process.

"If other people expect from you certain things, you may eventually fulfil their expectations," she says.