Names and faces

According to an study at Miami University in Ohio, we tend to associate particular names with particular face types. If a name ‘matches’ a face, we tend to find it easier to remember, while face and names that are not perceived as ‘matching’ are more difficult to remember.

In the study, 150 college students were asked to construct faces for 15 common male names using facial construction software. A second group was asked to rate how well these constructed faces seemed to fit their names. This group thought that there was a good match between many of the names and faces, with the best matches for the names Bob, Bill, Brian and Jason. The name Bob, for example, was associated with round faces. Perhaps this has something to do with sounds of the name.

To test whether names that fit faces are easier to remember, a third group of students was shown the constructed faces with their names. Later they were asked which names they could recall, and it was found that the better the match between name and face, the better they could remember the names.

Another study is planned to try to discover why there are such associations between names and faces. One possible reason is apparently that parents may name their babies to fit their general features, including the shapes of their faces.

This entry was posted in Language, Memory.

8 Responses to Names and faces

  1. TJ says:

    In our culture, we have something called “the knowledge of names” or “the science of names”.
    This is a science or a wisdom that is combined most of the time with the numerology of letters (Arabic of course), and it has something similar as to modern numerology which explains the traits and character by the number of the name.
    Moreover, it is a strong belief in fact that we have, that names affect their owners. Sometimes, names are not good for some people while good for others. A relative of mine changed her name into something else and, as they say, her life changed from black to white if I can say, all of that just because all of these years her name didn’t fit her!! I believe in fact in such metaphysical theories, if they are tried.
    A kid in the family also was named Noah (which means in Arabic: the crier) and as the name says, he almost never stops crying and almost always in bad mood, thus some scholar advised the family to change his name to something else.

    In summary, I believe that the name affects the personality and the traits of the person even the face. And I had a period in my life that I could have imagined some people’s names just by looking at their faces!

  2. Polly says:

    My first question is whether race/ethnicity was a factor. Whether it’s the face being matched up or the one doing the matching.

    The president of Armenia is named Robert. “Bob” is, of course, short for “Robert.” That strikes me as almost comical. It really doesn’t seem to fit.

    I have some really strong feelings about what an “Olga” should look like despite the fact that I’ve been wrong every time! 🙂

  3. TJ says:

    Olga gives me an imagination of … a blondie girl (or woman) with fairly good built body …. hmm and strong bones …

    hmm maybe i can imagine too …. that she has a sharp jaw bone that makes the lines of her face sharp as well !

  4. Polly says:

    Wow, TJ, that shows just how cultural it is.
    When I think of an Olga, I think of a really big lady with dark hair, a large mole, and rather extensive nasal protuberance.

    What I’ve actually encountered is more like what you described, if by “good built” you mean slender and strong.

  5. TJ says:

    Exactly …. strong! 🙂

  6. Sorry to be late commenting on this, but I actually bought a sci-fi book once because the character on front looked strikingly like my character Erik–and his name was “Arekhon”! The coincidence was so close it put a chill down my spine! (Then of course I read the first few pages of the book and was hooked.) I wonder if it was a case of my Erik LOOKING like an Erik…

  7. P Terry Hunt says:

    Touching on this, my current job includes running a Helpdesk (Engineering & Facilities Services, not I.T.) for a couple of business sites employing in total up to 500 people and with significant turnover in the 7+ years I’ve been doing it.

    Most contacts are by phone, perhaps 40-70 calls (in and out) per day, and although I have met some of the contacts face-to-face, I know many only by their voice.

    I always form a mental image of the person I’m talking to (and their surroundings) on the phone; in fact I find that phone conversations take place in a sort of ‘mental cyberspace’ (which, inter alia, is why I think car-phone use by drivers is so much more dangerous than talking to an actual passenger).

    When I haven’t met a caller, my image of them is necessarily imagined and based only on their name and voice. If subsequently I meet them I’m often surprised by the mismatch between my construct and their actual appearance. (Often I will have seen them previously but not known who they were.)

    The odd thing is that, even after having met someone whose appearance I’ve previously imagined, I find it very difficult in subsequent phone conversations to replace my construct with ‘reality’. In fact, I begin to think of the ‘phone them’ and the ‘face-to-face them’ as two different people.

    Does anyone else experience this, or is it just me who’s mad?


  8. Polly says:

    Does anyone else experience this, or is it just me who’s mad?


    You are not mad, or maybe we both are. I experience pretty much everything you said. My company (that I work for) has offices all over the U.S. and even after finally meeting some of my long-distance co-workers after years of tele-conferencing I continue to imagine them as I always had before I met them. Some have strong southern accents.
    Sometimes, in my mind, they look like actors, sometimes just randomly constructed faces from my imagination. I haven’t encountered an unexpected ethnicity, yet. That would be funny.

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