You Might Have Changed Your Face to Suit Your Name, Says Science

By Holly Brockwell on at

Some people really look like their names. That guy in the open-necked shirt saying "ya" into his BlackBerry between sips of artisan coffee - he's a Jolyon. The mother angrily staring down whoever got the parking space before her? Totally a Sandra. And the toddler running rampant in the supermarket is 100% named Harmony - but we know that because her mum won't stop yelling it.

A study by the American Psychological Association has shown that we do, in fact, look like our names: because the people they tested were much better at guessing someone's name than they should be by chance. Even weirder, it might be because we subconsciously alter our appearance based on cultural assumptions about our names.

Wired reports:

The students were given a mix of French and Israeli faces and names. The French students were found to be better than random chance at matching only French names and faces, whereas the Israeli students were better at matching only Hebrew names and Israeli faces. On average, participants in the experiment achieved 25 to 40 per cent accuracy, whereas random chance would have predicted an accuracy of 20 to 25 per cent.

While this suggests that humans are really good at matching faces to names, perhaps because of cultural assumptions about what a Tom, Dick or Harry looks like, the next part of the experiment is where it gets weird. A neural network was trained to pair people with names, and it scored significantly better than both chance and humans, with a hit rate of between 54 and 64%. What?!

While the scientists apparently put this down to coincidence (again - what?!), it seems that we do actually adapt a bit to look like our names. As study author Yonat Zwebner told Wired:


"Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look. For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim. We believe these stereotypes can, over time, affect people's facial appearance."

If you're already wondering what someone with your name 'should' look like, putting it into Google image search is a good start. Mine was spot on - apparently I'm prickly as hell. [Wired]

Main image: Pexels