What’s in a name?

I recently came across some Linkedin research published earlier this year which suggested your first name is related to your career choice – and even to the level of seniority you might achieve.

For example, the names most over-represented among salespeople are Chip, Todd and Trey while Billy, Darrell and Pete are more likely to get a job in law enforcement.

Linkedin then looked at who was likely to rise to the top and become a CEO. So for the boys, the high-achievers are Peter, Bob, Jack, Bruce and Fred and among the girls it’s Deborah, Sally, Debra, Cynthia and Carolyn. Note that short punchy names seem to work well for male CEO’s and that longer, multi-syllabic names are more common for the females. The theory proposed being that male CEO’s benefit from direct and friendly names whereas female CEO’s need to be more formal in order to gain respect.

Linkedin can also break down the data per country to identify highflyers in the UK (Charles), Netherlands (Cees), Germany (Wolfgang), France (Gilles), Italy (Guido) and Spain (Xavier).

With a database in excess of 120 million people, there’s no doubt that Linkedin has a huge amount of data at its disposal. It’s a shame then that someone is devoting energy to crackpot analysis like this. There are a number of flaws in this research. What purports to be insightful name analysis is really mundane demographic/age analysis. The primary reason that Peter, Bob Jack, Bruce and Fred are over-represented among the names of CEO’s is that most CEO’s will be aged over 40 and those particular names will be over-represented among that age group. Ethnicity undoubtedly plays a part given that the top name for engineering is Rajesh and the top name for a restaurateur is Thierry. Gender also comes into it – the top names for a career in HR are Emma, Katie and Claire. Also, to suggest that one factor like name might influence another like career is a statistical and logical misrepresentation. It makes as much sense as suggesting that horoscopes might influence your career. On which note, it’s depressing to see that, according to Forbes Magazine, the most common star sign among billionaires is Virgo (Now don’t get me started on astrology!).

While I’m sure parents like to think their choice of name will magically impart certain positive character traits upon their children (like the philosophy underpinning Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy named Sue’), a name is just a label at the end of the day. Take my own name as an example. If someone can explain the common personality traits among John F Kennedy, John Lennon, John Cleese, John Dillinger, John Galliano and Ozzy Osbourne (real name: John), please let me know.

The Linkedin name data analysis is less helpful as an insight into how names affect career but is an interesting illustration of the breadth of data buried within all those business profiles and perhaps an early indication of what further analysis might follow.


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