Do I Look Like A “Samantha”?

It is common knowledge that people look like their dogs (my beloved dog Panda and I bear an uncanny resemblance). Less well known is the research showing that people come to look like their names.  

In a set of fascinating experiments, participants were given a photograph of a stranger’s face accompanied by a short list of names.  They were then asked to select the one they believed corresponded to the person in the photograph.  The participants were surprisingly good at this task.  In fact, they were significantly better than chance at making the correct match.  Not surprisingly, the findings were culturally specific, meaning that a French person would be pretty good at matching a French name with a French face but not so good at matching, say, a German name with the correct German face.  An “Antoine” will probably look like an “Antoine” to a French person but he or she would be stumped if asked to match “Helga” or “Hans” with the correct face.   

Researchers theorize that cultural expectations associated with a name ultimately influence appearance, suggesting that because my name is Samantha, I have unconsciously conformed to what a Samantha should look like.  As one of the researchers commented, “We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name.”   

Related research shows that we like it when people look like their names. A round face is thought to go well with a “round” name like “Bob,” “Lou,” or “George.” An angular face is thought to go well with an “angular” name like “Pete” or “Kirk.”  Intriguingly, we prefer people whose names and faces match and the opposite hold true too. We actually don’t like it when there is a mismatch– “Kirk” is not “supposed to” have a round face. These findings have real world implications.  Researchers found that well-named political candidates (those whose faces matched their names) had an advantage in elections.  

What can you do if you don’t look like your name? Consider using a middle initial. It will make you sound smarter and more appealing.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman