People Don't Trust You If Your Name Is Hard to Pronounce

Bad news for people like me, and good news for the Dicks and Janes of the world: When your name is hard to pronounce, you lose a little bit of credibility.

Matti Vuorre, writing for Scientific American, explains:

A team of researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada, led by Dr. Eryn Newman, asked precisely this question: To what extent are our evaluations of people's credibility swayed by how easily we can pronounce their names?

In a new study, published in PLoS ONE, the researchers asked undergraduate volunteers to rate the pronounceability of real names from 18 countries, and then used these ratings to generate a set of difficult to pronounce names, such as Yevgeni Dherzhinsky, and a set of easy names, such as Putali Angami.

Apparently, when subjects were given statements attached to names (for instance, "'Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump,' Yevgeni Dherzhinsky said") they were more likely to believe the statement if the name associated with it was easy to pronounce.

Of course, "hard to pronounce" is contextual and relative, and the research takes that into account. (The research paper, which you should check out, also cites an Onion story.) But when it comes down to it, when people don't have a lot of information about a stranger, they use the information they do have, and a hard-to-pronounce name can have an effect. Humans are dumdums: If it's hard, it must be shady! As the research states:

…It is surprising that our subjects evaluated the accuracy of other people's general knowledge or crystallized intelligence based on phonetic features of their name.

Of course pronunciation ease is just one route to a feeling of easy or difficult processing. For instance simply furrowing one's eyebrows can make something feel disfluent or difficult to process.

Anyway, for Quvenzhané Wallis, Saoirse Ronan, Mia Wasikowska, and all of you out there who spend half of your day spelling out your name for people or explaining where it's from — and are now finding out people think you're suspect — know this: I feel your pain.

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