Most of us are quite oblivious to the many different things that shape our personalities, our psychologies and our lives. We tend to think (and hope) that we are the masters of our fate, but actually there are many much more powerful forces at work that define our destiny.
I’m not talking about metaphysical forces here either – rather I’m talking about the huge effect that some of the tiniest things can have on our decision making and even the very fabric of who we are.
Take your name for instance – did you realise that it actually influences the way others see you, the way you get treated, and even your personality?
The Way Others See You
You may well have heard about how names can affect the way we perceive people, and it probably doesn’t come as a surprise if you have ever been a parent and tried to pick a name for your baby. When doing this, you will no doubt have discovered that every name you suggested made you think instantly of a particular type of person which will have made it very difficult to choose.
The reason for this is that we have come to form associations with people we have met in life, which will be difficult to shake when we come to pick a name later on. If you used to get into fights with a boy called ‘Jason’ at school, then you’re hardly going to want to call your child ‘Jason’ for fear that he might end up the same. By that token then, it may make sense to name your child after a very popular celebrity as the name would be more likely to have more positive connotations for more people. You could even pick someone with a particular reputation in order to encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy: want your child to be a bodybuilder? Calling them ‘Arnold’ could increase the chances of that happening…
There may also be something more fundamental going here too – it’s possible that we like or dislike people more based on their names due a certain amount of ‘synaesthesia’ – which is our tendency to associate different modalities such as sound with colour and shape with personality. Someone with very hard sounding letters and sounds in their name for instance might sound less approachable than someone with gentler letters and more vowels, and we might then decide whether we like that person based on whether we prefer people who fit that description.
The Way You See Yourself
This can all affect self-esteem in an obvious way – if people warm to you more because of your name and treat you in a certain way, then that will make you more likely to value yourself (or less likely) and more likely to see yourself as they do: we tend to use the views of others as a mirror for deciphering who we are.
But studies suggest that there is yet more at work here, and interestingly the ‘name letter’ effect shows that even just our initials are incredibly important. Specifically, the first letter of our first name has been shown to correlate with confidence – where those with letters at the start of the alphabet appear to be more confident than those with letters at the end.
The reason for this is most likely a simple result of being put first or last in many alphabetical lists and even having our names read out either first or last in registrations. Combine this with an innate sense that letters like ‘A’ and ‘B’ are ‘important’, and you could easily start to think of yourself as more or less worthwhile on the basis of an initial alone.
So next time you’re beating yourself up about your low self-esteem, remember that it’s not entirely your fault: the wheels might well have been put in motion before you were even born. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it now that you know…