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From the Grapevine: Your name really suits you

Many factors of nature and nurture shape one’s personality. As humans, we tend to create an identity and perception of someone before we really know them. When we first meet someone, we tell them our name, our label, our call sign. It connects a word to an image, and words have meaning and history. This one word might be the foundation of individuality, so what’s in a name?

The name discussion comes up occasionally with friends asking, “What name do I look like?” It can be a fun game, but it leads one to wonder: Would a different name make me a different person? I think it can, and it has. 

My full name is Elizabeth, and not a single soul calls me by it except my principal at my high school graduation and occasionally my doctor. It wasn’t chosen from a religious standpoint; my mom liked it and wanted me to be Lizzy, like “Lizzie McGuire.” When I was born, my aunt decided I looked more like a Libby. My mom was taken to surgery after giving birth, so my aunt, the first to hold me, (supposedly) spit on me and said, “You shall be Libby!” My dad was mad his sister spit on his newborn baby, but he got over it. It stuck, and I’ve been Libby for 19 years so far. 

After celebrating my graduation and making small talk with relatives about my exciting journey for the next four years, I was encouraged to go by Elizabeth. “It’s a woman’s name,” “It’s more professional,” “It’s a chance to reinvent yourself,” they said. 

However, I am not an Elizabeth. I don’t look like one, talk like one or walk like one. When one hears “Elizabeth,” they think of the Queen of England. They think of prestige, professionalism and their grandma. It’s traditional, Christian and formal which is not a bad thing to be, but it’s not the first impression I tend to introduce. 

Similarly, I’ve met many other Elizabeths who go by a variety of nicknames I don’t quite fit, but which they seem to fit perfectly. The Lizs I have met are usually spunky, eccentric and opinionated. The Elizabeths are polite, thoughtful and romantic, and the other Libbys strangely reflect my own identity. 

The question is: How does this work, and why does it happen? There are many studies that show the relationship between names and personality. One study from The University of Calgary looked at the “bouba” and “kiki” effect in which “bouba,” or names with a softer and rounder sound such as Molly or Luna, were correlated with openness, fun and introversion. On the other hand, “kiki,” or sharper-sounding names like Katie or Piper, were associated with determination, irritability and sarcasm. This might be related to synesthesia, or sensory crossovers like hearing colors and feeling sounds.

Similarly, this effect can occur with generational trends. Names like Betty or Edith are associated with the boomer generation, while Brittany and Jessica are associated with millennials. When one hears a word, the brain makes connections to related words, concepts or images. Hearing the name Brittany, connections might be made to cultural elements of the early 2000s, such as Britney Spears and Y2K fashion. 

Another question we often ask is what one’s “almost name” was. My mom told me my name was almost Shayna, or Shay. Telling my friends how I sometimes wish she had picked it, they reassure me by saying, “You look like a Libby, though.” 

But can people really look like their name? A scientific journal from Indiana University describes clear evidence of either a self-fulfilling prophecy of one’s appearance stemming from their name over time to feel more like themselves or a name given based on the baby’s appearance, with stronger evidence for the former. 

Many similar studies prove people become what others expect or believe them to be, so if people expect a person named Bob to look a certain way, he inevitably becomes it. In relation, a study on uncommon names of CEOs claims unique names relate to higher creativity and open-mindedness. The power parents have in naming their children may be more important than they realize. 

Shakespeare said a rose by another name would still smell as sweet, but now I’m not sure I agree. My relatives might have been right about me changing my name to Elizabeth to be professional, and maybe if I change it, I will be. Keep in mind it costs around $100 to legally change a name in Ohio, but new nicknames are always free.

Libby Evans is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Libby know by emailing her at

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