People Trust Strangers With Easier-to-Pronounce Names

Are macadamia nuts from the same family as peaches? If you heard that from Adrian Babeshko, you might believe that. From Czeslaw Ratynska? Maybe not.

That’s the gist of a new study, anyway. Researchers publishing in PLOS One found that people are more likely to trust names that are easier to pronounce than difficult ones—even if the names come from the same foreign language. Researchers created a whole bunch of name pairs of an easy-to-pronounce name with a more difficult version, with paired names being from the same part of the world. Example: Putali Angami (easy) and Shobha Bhattacharya (hard) from South Asia. Then, they tested a bunch of undergraduates, to see which names they trusted more.

In one test, the undergraduates were given a list of factoids and corresponding names and were told that it was a compilation of trivia with the name of the person who’d submitted it. They were also told that some of it was true and some was false, and asked to pick out the false statements. The undergrads were more likely to think that people with hard to pronounce names had submitted false trivial than people with easy to pronounce names.

In another test, undergraduates were given a list of names and imagine how dangerous each person on the list was, with access to nothing more than the names. In this test too, they trusted the more difficult names less than the easy to pronounce names.

Of course, the caveat here is that a name can be less difficult if you start encountering it more; given that this study was undertaken in Irvine, California, it might be interesting to replicate the study in a more multicultural place. Still, as many people with a hard to pronounce name have found (ahem), it doesn’t hurt to pick an easy-to-pronounce, easy-to-remember, non-threatening nickname.

This is a test