Morgan Jones | Name that identity


Nuggets of Wisdom | Not just astrology: names actually do have the potential to impact your life path


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Morgan Jones
Nuggets of Wisdom

Photo by Morgan Jones


Do I look like a Morgan to you?

Because I was almost a Sara. Which means I was almost on the path to becoming a biologist instead of a television producer. I don’t want to be a television producer, but it’s what’s in the cards for Morgans everywhere.

Yes, that is correct: names have the potential to predispose a child toward a certain destiny. And now for only 99 cents, you can download the new phone app Nametrix to tell you yours. It uses metrics derived from United States government and Freebase data, which means it’s actually somewhat legit. And more useful than Temple Run.

Pairing an identity with a name is not a new phenomenon, but now researchers have the data to recognize and support name trends with statistical analysis.

So thanks for raising me, Mom and Dad, but you did most of the heavy lifting just by slapping a name on that birth certificate.

And “Thanks to the app, I now know that I’m raising a gangster, a model, [and] a screenwriter,” wrote — wait for it — KJ Dell’Antonia last week in the New York Times. Fellow students and future parents, this is something actually worth doing your homework for.

Parents who associate a certain identity with a name can now access resources like Nametrix, as well as Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s nonfiction book “Freakonomics,” to find out who their child may become. Or rather, they can set their child on a certain path before he or she takes his first breath.

If my parents wanted a philanthropist, they should have named me Jill, and if they were hoping for an XXX performer, Brandi (or Luxx).

According to “Freakonomics,” though, they were smart to stick with an easy-to-pronounce name to help ensure my success. People form more positive associations with names that are easier to pronounce, and this unrecognized bias can push a Peter to a higher position in his firm’s hierarchy than a Vougioklakis (real name, guys, real name).

Names also locate a person in time, anchoring him or her to a generation and giving a first indication of whether another individual is in your age bracket and potential friend group.

It may seem superficial, but think about it. Rarely are we going to meet a Lois our age. Which makes sense considering her name reached the height of its popularity between 1929 and 1930 — but it also means we assume all Loises to be over 80 years old, and therefore we don’t immediately identify with them.

Names, Glen Weldon states on the National Public Radio website, cycle in and out of fashion and grow “thick with the dust of years.” I don’t know Glen, but my guess is that he was born sometime between 1934 and 1940 and would be better off as an ice hockey player. He does, however, have a point.

“The names of fictional characters [also] help to anchor them squarely in a specific time and place,” Weldon writes. “You know where you stand with a name like Hester. And when.”

Are all Hesters doomed to walk around with scarlet As on their chests? No, you can change your destiny.

But if I were not Morgan, my life would be different. I don’t know exactly how, but I do believe a name is the most personal form of language and creates a basis of mind from which thoughts and experiences flow. We define ourselves through our names just as much as external forces — they are brands that we adhere to daily.

That’s not to say my life would be so different that I wouldn’t be at Penn or have similar values, but there are expectations that come with names. And those expectations influence how people treat you, and in turn, those interactions can play into your views, interests and where you go in life.

Whether or not you think names have the potential to affect lives, you probably have an obscure understanding of what someone is getting at when he says, “You look like a Carson,” or “You seem more like a Lindsey.”

And it might be interesting to consider for a moment what would be different if your name were too.

Morgan Jones is a College junior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at morganjo@sas.upenn.edu or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears every Thursday.

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