What’s in a Name?


March 4 is National Unique Names Day, according to people who make up these kinds of holidays. Your name is part of your personal brand and deeply connected to your identity. But does it have any effect on your career success? Maybe, according to a 2013 study by TheLadders.com, a career advice site for people seeking jobs that pay over $100,000 a year.

The study examined TheLadders’ nearly 6 million members’ industry, salary level, and location. They compiled a list of C-level executives and the highest (self-reported) earners. Then they looked for patterns in their first names.nametag

Here are the names that appeared most often in C-Level executives for women: Christine, Denise, Cindy, Shannon and Sharon. For men, the top names were Bob, Lawrence, Bill, Marc and Martin. In an interesting twist, the top earning names did not overlap with the C-level names, with the exception of one female name: Christine.

Highest earning names for women: Lynn, Melissa, Cathy, Dana and Christine. Highest earning male names: Tom, Rob, Dale, Doug and Wayne. The top ten, highest-paid, C-level executive names earn, on average, ten percent more than other names; the highest earning names make, on average, about $7,000 more than the rest of the list. Females make, on average, 22 percent less than their male counterparts in all comparisons.

Some of the pattern is coincidence, of course. Melissa and Robert have been among the most popular baby names since the 1960s, so the odds are that many top earners  – and bottom earners, for that matter – will share those names. I predict that in a few years, we’ll see Jessica and Ashley as top earners, since those names became the most popular in the 1980s.

But names do matter. Your name is linked to first impressions from a very early age.  A survey of 30,000 teachers revealed that 49 percent make assumptions about kids based on their names, and that they perceived some names as trouble makers (hint: don’t name your rambunctious boy Jack.)

Exotic names can be hard to pronounce and create unnecessary challenges in the workplace, and that goes for taking a common name and making it special by some odd spelling. Even common variations can be maddening when your nametag at a conference is always spelled wrong. I know what I’m talking about; my name is also commonly spelled Candice.  Joann, Terry, Traci and Bryan will back me up on this.

If you choose the most popular baby name in the year your baby is born can date him or her later in life.  Shirley was the 4th-most-popular name for girls in the 1930s because of the enormous popularity of Shirley Temple. Today, the name is so rare that you can accurately guess the age of any Shirley you hear about. The year before I was born, “Tammy and the Bachelor” was a popular movie (you’ll have to do your own research.) I only escaped being named Tammy by luck; my mom’s best friend delivered her daughter first. Close call.

If you’re stuck with a name that doesn’t feel like you or that causes confusion, you can always just use your middle name. It worked out fine for Mary Farah Fawcett and Troyal Garth Brooks, among others.

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