Can Others Guess Your Name based on Your Appearance?

Nicole Gilbert

Have you ever been told that you look like your name? You, like me, probably thought that was a bunch gibberish parents tell you while explaining why they named you what they did. But what if there is a scientific relationship between a person’s name and their facial features? In a new study led by Yonat Zwebner from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this exact relationship is explored. In this study, multiple experiments were conducted where a photograph of one’s face was presented with a choice of names, one of which was the person in the photographs. The study found that the results of correct name to face matches were around 25-40 percent higher accuracy than pure chance (20-25 percent accuracy).

What’s in a name?

These results show that there seems to be a direct correlation between name oriented stereotypes, and the factual representations of said stereotypes in one’s facial features. Though a concrete explanation for these results has not been proven, two possible explanations may include that certain cultural stereotypes cause specific names to be assigned based on physical appearances; certain physical appearances developing due to cultural stereotypes. The first possibility, that certain cultural stereotypes causes specific names to be assigned based on physical appearances, has some faults. Our names are usually assigned to us at birth, and a newborn’s physical traits have yet to show any significant resemblance to those of adults. So naming a newborn based on their physical traits, causing said child to carry these traits and stereotypes through life, seems rather unlikely.

The second possibility, that we develop certain facial features throughout our lifetime due to the cultural stereotypes caused by our name, poses a better option. These physical traits can include controllable aspects such as hairstyle, but can also include more permanent traits such as bone structure. For example, if a person is assigned a cultural stereotype, based on their name, that they are amicable and friendly then said person would be more likely to develop softer facial features than if his same corresponded with stereotypes of hostility or anger. A third explanation is also prevalent, that name stereotypes in relation to personality, when combined with physical stereotypes in relation to personality, causes certain features to develop. For example, if someone with a name stereotype correlated with humor, may develop a personality trait of being funny or humorous. This personality trait of being funny, may cause certain facial traits to develop in response to the stereotypes of one being funny.

Name, physical features, and aspects of our personality prove to be related in ways that allow our peers to judge us with surprising accuracy based solely on how we appear physically. So, not only might you look like your name, but you may act like it too, and it is all caused by the cultural stereotypes given to us along with our name at birth. In other words, you may be able to judge a book by its cover after all.

By Hanna Davis ’19


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