Normans not the norm

December 18, 1998

Give a child a bad name and they do better at university, new research suggests.

Research by Phil Erwin, of Nene College of Higher Education, has found students with unattractive first names do significantly better at university than students with average or particularly attractive first names. His research was reported to this week's British Psychological Society London meeting.

Dr Erwin looked at the results of 68 students with Anglo-European names in the second year of a psychology degree at a British metropolitan university. First names of students were evaluated for attractiveness on a seven-point rating by student volunteers. These were then compared with results gained in assessed coursework scripts, which were named, and exam scripts, which were anonymous.

Dr Erwin found that those students with unattractive names scored on average higher, with a mean of 59.63 per cent, compared with 56.5 per cent for those with attractive or average-rated names. The differences, significant at the 5 per cent level, were found for assessed course work that bore the author's name, but also for anonymously marked exam scripts. According to Dr Erwin, this suggests the differences in marks are not solely the result of biases on the part of the examiner, but are real - the actual quality of work produced differs between students with unattractive and normal names.

"Having an unattractive name makes people more noticeable," he adds. "It appears that where some may retreat and give up, for others a very unusual or unattractive name may spur them to higher levels, they seem to become the star and perform and achieve."

To underline the effect of names on development, Dr Erwin adds: "If you call your child Norman, he will probably grow up to be a very different child than if you had called him Steven. If you go on a blind date and are told you are going to meet an Agnes, you will probably have more reservations than if she were called Alison. It's all cultural, but it can also be crucial."

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