Putting a Face to the Name — Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Hi, what's your name? Wait, don't tell me...

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What's in a name? Your entire appearance, apparently. We look so much like our names that participants in a new study were able to match names to the faces of strangers with surprising accuracy, according to new research from the American Psychological Association.

In a February 2017 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers analyzed 94,000 faces throughout eight different studies. Six of the studies had participants match true names to a face in different setups, while two used computers to test whether distinct parts of our faces revealed our names. The findings? People are able to accurately match someone's true name to their face beyond blind luck.

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To some extent, this is based on stereotypes, the researchers said, but not necessarily in the way you'd expect. The research team found that we are more likely to correctly identify the names of people from our own culture — French participants were better able to match French names and faces compared to Israeli, and vice versa for Israeli's shown native names and faces compared to French.

But even within the reasoning of stereotypes, the nuances are so subtle that we're still surprised by the findings. One study, for example, gave people the option of matching a face with the names Jacob, Dan, Josef, or Nathaniel. Try it for yourself:

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These monikers aren't all that different culturally, yet participants still guessed the right one (Dan) 13 percent more often than random chance.

What makes this research so interesting is that while we may look like our names, our parents had no way of knowing those two would align when they dubbed us at birth. In part of the study, researchers used computers to analyze common features among same-named people, and the results actually suggest (preliminarily) that our names might serve as some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for our appearance.

No, your nose and jaw don't grow differently if you're named "Emily" rather than "Jasmine." (Although researchers did even find surprising similarities among these kinds of features.) Instead, folks of the same name had crossover in a highly controllable aspect of appearance: their hairstyles. This was so predictable, in fact, that participants matched names to hairstyles correctly 90 percent of the time.

The explanation? We are given social signals related to our name as we age, and most of us adapt to these, the researchers explained.

Sorry Shakespeare — a rose by any other name might not actually smell (err, look?) as sweet.

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