Laura the Lawyer and Denise the Dentist: What’s in a Name?

legal stereotypesFrom News Republic 08/01/14:

Research suggests that people choose—or are unconsciously drawn to—careers that resemble their own names.

In a 2002 paper in the journal Attitudes and Social Cognition, psychologists from the State University of New York at Buffalo, led by Brett Pelham, found that people’s first and last names may have an impact on the jobs they end up in, thanks to a phenomenon called “implicit egotism.” “The essential idea behind implicit egotism,” they write, “Is that people should prefer people, places, and things that they associate (unconsciously) with the self...people’s positive automatic associations about themselves may influence their feelings about almost anything that people associate with the self.”

We began our assessment of career choices by focusing on whether people’s first names predicted whether they were dentists or lawyers.

We searched for dentists and lawyers by consulting the official Web pages of the American Dental Association ( dentistsearchform.html) and the American Bar Association (

We began this search by consulting 1990 census records. Using these records, we attempted to identify the four most common male and female first names that shared a minimum of their first three letters with the names of each of these two occupations.

The 16 names we generated in this fashion included the female names Denise, Dena, Denice, Denna, Laura, Lauren, Laurie, and Laverne and the male names Dennis, Denis, Denny, Denver, Lawrence, Larry, Lance, and Laurence. We expected that people with names such as Dennis or Denise would be overrepresented among dentists, and people with names such as Lawrence or Laura would be overrepresented among lawyers...We limited both searches to the eight most populous U.S. states (California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas).

Their findings confirmed the implicit egotism theory:

Relative to female lawyers, female dentists were quite a bit more likely to have names that began with the letters “Den”…Though the results for men were also in the expected direction, they fell short of significance.

If the implicit egotism theory holds true, I should be Michael the milkman rather than a lawyer. Or mariner maybe? A masseuse?

Oh please!

Don’t worry – it’s not just you: I’m not particularly convinced that implicit egotism shapes career choices either.


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