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Name liking measure

Author: Dr Simon Moss


Individuals who like their full name tend to experience less depression and anxiety. In particular, individuals who like their full name tend to associate themselves with desirable attributes. In other words, they genuinely, even unconsciously, perceive themselves positively. As a consequence of this positive perception of themselves, they are more resilient, and less defensive, which enhances their wellbeing.

Evolution of this measure

Many researchers have developed measures of implicit self esteem--that is, tasks that indirectly rather than explicitly assess the self esteem of individuals. Implicit measures afford two benefits. First, implicit measures are less sensitive, or perhaps insensitive, to deliberate attempts to distort the results to appear socially desirable. That is, some individuals might attempt to portray themselves as proud and confident, endorsing items like "I feel proud of my achievements", merely to appear favorably. Implicit measures circumvent this problem, because the purpose of this task is often ambiguous (see Olson, Fazio, & Hermann, 2007).

Second, responses to measures of explicit self esteem are often contaminated by deliberate cognitive processes. For example, individuals might intuit they are unconfident and unworthy, but then decide their intuitions tend to be inaccurate and might, thus, correct or amend this attitude (Jordan, Whitfield, & Zeigler-Hill, 2007). Implicit measures might circumvent these cognitive operations.

A variety of procedures are assumed to represent implicit self esteem. For example, the extent to which individuals like their initials is assumed to reflect self esteem implicitly (Nuttin, 1987 & see Name letter effect). In addition, a version of the Implicit association test is often used to gauge self esteem implicitly (Greenwald & Farnham, 2000). Word completion tasks (see Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000) and evaluating priming techniques (see Spalding & Hardin, 1999) can also be used to gauge self esteem implicitly.

Three problems challenge the legitimacy and utility of these procedures. First, most of these procedures are lengthy--certainly more time consuming than explicit measures (Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, & Maio, 2008).

Second, the various procedures do not seem to correlate with each other (Baccus, Baldwin, & Packer, 2004;& Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000;& Jordan, Spencer, & Zanna, 2003). As a consequence, these measures might not reflect global self esteem, but attitudes towards more specific facets of the self. For example, the name letter effect might primarily reflect attitudes of the self in a social context (Wentura, Kulfanek, & Greve, 2005).

Third, and indeed another explanation of these limited correlations, the psychometric properties of these procedures tend to modest. Only the name letter effect and implicit association test seem to show acceptable psychometric properties (Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000).

Justification of the name liking effect

According to Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, and Maio (2008), the extent to which individuals like their name could be an implicit measure of global self esteem--a measure that circumvent the limitations of previous methods. The argument is that individuals with a high self esteem tend to extend their positive evaluations of themselves to any objects that correspond to the self (Koole, Dijksterhuis, & van Knippenberg, 2001), such as their name.


To validate the name liking procedure, participants were asked to answer the question "How much do you like your name, in total" from (1) not at all to (9) very much (Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, & Maio, 2008).. They were asked to evaluate their first name, surname and full name. Study 1 showed that name liking was correlated with two other implicit measures of self esteem--the name letter effect (Nuttin, 1987) and the implicit association test (Greenwald & Farnham, 2000), which in turn were not significantly related to each other.

Study 2 revealed that name liking was correlated with both explicit measures of global self esteem (e.g. "In general, I hold myself in high regard") as well as explicit measures of more specific facets of self esteem, relating to ability, social interactions, and physical appearance (Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, & Maio, 2008). These findings indicate that name liking might represent a measure of self esteem that transcends specific domains.

Study 3 examined the psychometric properties of the name liking effect. Test-retest correlation was about .85 over a 4 to 6 week period (Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, & Maio, 2008). Study 3 also showed that name liking was inversely related to depression.

Studies 4 and 5 showed that name liking was highly correlated with an explicit measure of global self esteem as well as wellbeing. More importantly, this relationship was especially pronoucned in individuals responded to these explicit measures rapidly rather slowly--or when individuals were distracted by another task (Gebauer, Riketta, Broemer, & Maio, 2008).

These findings confirm the proposition that explicit measures might represent two distinct facets: automatic associations, which name liking also gauges, as well as more deliberate, controlled cognitive processes. When individuals respond rapidly to explicit measures--or when individuals are distracted by another task--the deliberate processes are thwarted (Koole, Dijksterhuis, & van Knippenberg, 2001).

Finally, Study 6 showed that name liking is positively related to self deception but not correlated with impression management. Thus, deliberate attempts in individuals to portray themselves positively does not affect name liking.

Related concepts

The effect of unfortunate first names

People tend to associate specific names with undesirable attributes. For example, in Germany, teachers tend to associate with name Kevin with quarrelsome people. Individuals with names that people associated with undesirable attributes are more likely to be rejected by other people. In addition, their self-esteem tends to be lower, and they are more likely to smoke.

These possibilities were demonstrated by Gebauer, Leary, and Neberich (2013). In one study, participants of an online dating service completed a questionnaire that assessed their self-esteem, their frequency of smoking, and their level of education. They also indicated their name. The number of people who decided to read their profiles after spotting their name and photo, called visits, was assessed.

If the names of participants tend to be associated with quarrelsome behavior, these individuals were not as likely to attract visits, reflecting interpersonal neglect. Perhaps as a consequence of this neglect, these individuals also reported a lower self-esteem, a tendency to smoke, and limited education. Subsequent studies showed that names that are popular with babies now--many of which are usually perceived favourably--also attract more visits and increase self-esteem and reduce smoking.


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Last Update: 5/27/2016