Classically, Shakespeare questioned the relevance of names by declaring: “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet, the research is very clear, names matter. This is because names signify a lot of information, gleaned instantly upon first utterance; they convey gender, social class, ethnicity and may even connote personality characteristics such as kindness or morality. In yesteryears, a surname even described one’s occupation. But ultimately, the simple fact of one name being easier to pronounce over another can land an applicant a job, an employee a promotion, and even just mean you are more likely to befriend one person over another. When looking at new recruits, or workplace relations, it appears we are subjectively skewed to favour people with easily pronounced names, both first and last names. This effect goes beyond race, with surnames like “Smith” rating more favourably than “Urquhart”. How then does this impact the workplace, and by extension, how should you name your company?
A classic article in the New Yorker in 2013 described a famous study where researchers sent fake resumes to various employers where the only difference was a “white- or black-sounding” name, such as Emily Walsh and Greg Baker versus Latisha Washington and Jamal Jones. They found that one-in-ten “white-sounding” names receive a call-back, whereas only one-in-fifteen “black-sounding” names also received a call-back. This effect has also been seen in the classroom, where names associated with low socioeconomic-status or certain cultures, influence the expectations of the teacher for different pupils. As a result, the opportunities available vary considerably, and tell us that names really concretely signify certain attributes which affect interpersonal relationships. This is hard to avoid, as it is mostly the result of subconscious bias, but one approach could be to de-identify resumes prior to assessment. Furthermore, being aware of these subconscious biases and make an effort to correct them. After all, it may lead to recruitment of the most talented and effective workers.
Naming a company
Not only do these differences matter in terms of an individual’s career, but how you name your company can have a significant impact on your brand. While creativity is important for ensuring that people remember your company name, it is also important to have an easily pronounced name. Furthermore, you can associate your company name with certain feelings to influence your brand, such as use of the word “apple” to signify fresh new ideas, “google” to make you think of oggling pages as you search, or even simply “bing” the onomatopeoia that signifies the exchange of information and receiving of information. The name used has a powerful impact on the brand clients associate with your company, and may even have something to do with the favourability of “Chrome” and “Firefox” over “Internet Explorer” (speed of downloads aside).
Shakespeare had it right.
Ultimately, think carefully about names. Juliet might not have thought they mattered in Elizabethan times, but we are certainly not disillusioned about their relevance in modern society. Ensure you take care not to bias your selection of new recruits based on their names, and think long and hard about the name of your company in terms of catchy, easy to pronounce and associated with the right context.