The Power of Names

Over the years, fantasy has explored the power of names, and the degree to which knowing someone’s “true name” can give a wizard or witch or someone else the power over that individual. Even if that’s a dubious proposition in the real world, studies and practical experience suggest that names do have certain impact.

Studies show that, in general, voters prefer politicians with simpler names, and that, even in the legal profession, supposedly devoted to legal impartiality, attorneys with easier to pronounce names were more likely to make partner, regardless of the ethnicity of the name. Again, in an overall sense, stocks of start-up companies with easy to pronounce names do better initially than those with names harder to pronounce (later on financial performance tends to take over).

Just calling someone by name can get their immediate attention.

But how much do names tell you about someone? Does what someone was named affect who they are and who they become?

I have to admit that, if someone had asked me those questions thirty or forty years ago, I would have said that names tell some things about a person, or at least their background, but I would have been dubious about names affecting personal behavior. Now… I’m not so sure. But is that just what we want to see? Or do names shape how people develop?

Just because every “Summer” either my wife or I have ever met has been bright, but ditzy, does that reflect just the coincidence of our meeting ditzy “Summers” or does the name do that to them? Likewise, why is every “April” we’ve met flighty and lacking even a semblance of a work ethic?

Then there’s the name/nickname trade-off. I’ve encountered a number of men with the birth name of “Richard.” All of the ones who went by the nickname “Dick” (despite current connotations to the contrary) were solid, bright, individuals. Those who went by “Richard”… not so much so.

On the other hand, I haven’t had much luck with guys named “Bob,” and neither did the composer Menotti, whose weak-willed drifter in his opera The Old Maid and the Thief was also named Bob.

As for “Donald”… the “Dons,” so far anyway, have been good people. As for the “Donalds…” you can probably guess my thoughts about them.

And I have to admit that I’m not consistent. I address all of my children by their full names, although most all of them have names that can be and often are shortened – except the eldest, who’s named after me… and I call him by the same nickname that my father had and that I have. That just might be the reason why he didn’t name either of his sons after me. And, as you all know, I don’t write under either my full name or my nickname.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Names”

  1. Richard says:

    I’m glad that the pattern of Richard vs Dick does not apply to me (I hope!)

  2. Bob Deen says:

    Okay I’ll bite. What’s your shared nickname?

    1. It’s a pretty standard nickname for Leland — Lee.

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