- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

He looks like a Bob, not a Frank. And he’s certainly no Bill. Uh-oh. Name discrimination may be just around the corner. Bob, Bill et al conjure up undeniable images, according to research released by Miami University that confirms we stereotype certain names with certain faces.

Good old Bob, for example. Utter the name “Bob,” and folks invariably imagine a man with a round, possibly large face.

“It’s the first time this has ever been shown quantitatively, beyond anecdotal evidence. Every one has had the experience of thinking, ‘Hmm. Now, he just doesn’t look like a Bob.’ ” said lead researcher Robin Thomas, an associate professor of psychology at the Ohio school.

“So if you want to be thought of as lean and angular, don’t be called ‘Bob,’ ” she added.

Ms. Thomas tested the Bob theory by asking groups of students to match male names with men’s faces created with photos and facial-reconstruction software used by police in eyewitness identification. In a Bob vs. Tim matchup, 100 percent of the study participants matched a lean-bearded face with Tim and a chubby face with Bob.

Indeed, the most predictable name-face matches were Bob — along with Bill, Brian and Jason.

“These prototype faces that seem to exist for different names are not just idly occupying space in our mind, but have implications for how easily one learns the names of individuals,” Ms. Thomas said.

The findings, released Wednesday, should interest political consultants, who often go to excruciating length to control a candidates’ image and voter appeal. In recent years, just changing hairstyles is enough to cause a commotion in the press.

Cathy Allen, a Democratic political consultant with the Connections Group in Seattle, agrees that personal names can be a weighty matter on the campaign trail. She counsels female candidates with names that do double time in the male realm — such as Chris and Bobbie — to include their middle name on ballots and yard signs.

“I have also had candidates named Belcher, Bummer, and Laden — which was slurred into bin Laden — and know all too well what the public sees when they see these names,” she said yesterday.

Parents-to-be may also be interested in face-name connection. The choice of baby names has become a science, measuring the greater meaning of first name choice and if its rhythm enhances or detracts from the family surname. Mom and Dad may now be forced to divine the visual implications of “Emily” and “Jacob,” the most popular names in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“People choose names for their babies not knowing how they will look later in life, but it seems society has an idea of what people’s names might be merely by looking at them,” Ms. Thomas said.

Could Bob discrimination be just around the corner? The researchers plan future studies to determine whether there are negative consequences to the “name-face prototype.” They also wonder whether the sound of a name plays a role in it all.

“There may be some interaction,” Ms. Thomas said. “Bob, for example, is simply a round-sounding name.”

The research will be published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, an academic journal.

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