A good friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. In searching for an appropriate gift, I came across a book by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback called Bad Baby Names. The book trawls through 40 years of U.S. census data to catalog some of the most disastrous names bestowed upon American children. Examples include Acne Fountain, Emma Royd, Fanny Pack, Nice Carr, and Post Office.

Many hours of belly laughs later and I began to feel rather guilty. How terrible it must be to labor through life as Super Mann. How the schoolyard must cackle when Garage Empty is called back to class. For children with truly awful names, life is undeniably tough. Sherwood and Rayback found that these kids are more likely to require psychiatric care and to perform poorly at school. But then again, if you’re called Warren Peace, what kind of parents did you have to begin with?

Even for the majority of us not saddled with monickers such as Infinity Hubbard and Hugh Jass, names can go some way toward determining future success in life. One particularly intriguing set of analyses was conducted by Leif Nelson at UCSD and Joseph Simmons at Yale University. The authors found that individuals with the letter ‘A’ or ‘B’ in theirs initials are more likely to achieve higher grades and attend higher-ranked universities than those with ‘C’ or ‘D’ initials. Similarly, baseball players whose names begin with the strikeout-signifying letter ‘K’ tend to strike out more often. Nelson and Jackson contend that this represents an unconscious drive to produce “name-resembling performance”. Although this particular suggestion may be hard to swallow, one should not ignore the presence of name-letter effects in many walks of life.

For example, if I am called Lawrence, I am more likely to move to Los Angeles for the simple reason that our names both begin with ‘L’. If I am called Doris, I am more likely to move to Denver. This is known as “implicit egotism” and has been observed in career choice (people named Dennis or Denise are overrepresented among dentists) and choice of partner (people tend to marry those whose first or last names resemble their own). Whatever the reason, there does seem to be more to a name than meets the eye.

For many, this type of social science research only serves to fuel skepticism of the field in general. That said, the impact of broader cultural factors on cognition and cognitive decisions is undeniable. G2C Online is all about how different levels of understanding synchronize to produce human behavior – about how experiences can alter gene expression and neural connections. We receive all our experiences through the filter of culture and history and it would be foolish to underestimate them. That said, I won’t be rushing out to name my first son Aaron Aardvark.