Do people’s first names match their faces?

Is there any connection between a person’s first name and what they look like? The results of one psychology study suggest there is no real link.

The study, published in the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, examined the association between faces and names by asking participants to match a person’s first name to a picture of their face.

American women were able to correctly match American faces to names at above-chance levels of accuracy. But a replication of this experiment failed to produce the same results, suggesting the initial finding was a false positive.

PsyPost interviewed Robin S. S. Kramer of the University of York about his study. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Kramer: The idea that first names and faces go together is a common one, and probably something that many people believe has some truth to it. Of course, this might be because we are prone to remembering those times when a person’s name and face seemed to suit each other, while tending to forget all those other instances when this wasn’t the case. Whatever the reason, we felt like this idea was worth putting to the test experimentally, and we were unable to find any previous research addressing this specific question.

What should the average person take away from your study?

No matter how common the belief or how much anecdotal evidence exists, we found no real support for the idea that first names match faces when tested experimentally. We made sure to control for each person’s sex, age, and ethnicity, so that these additional cues were removed. Indeed, this may be why we found no evidence in our studies but real-world experiences can sometimes suggest otherwise.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

It’s possible that our particular design (showing two faces, and presenting a first name for participants to assign to one of the faces) was too stringent a test when searching for what is likely to be a small effect (if it indeed exists). Perhaps alternative ways of investigating the question might still find some evidence of an association (e.g., showing one face and providing a choice of several first names). Of course, as with any research question, it is always difficult (if not impossible) to demonstrate that an effect isn’t present.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think our studies represent a nice example of how a fun research question, taken from our everyday experiences, can lead to an interesting exploration. In addition, this is a good (and perhaps rare) instance of psychologists publishing their results when a predicted effect wasn’t found. These “null results” outcomes are all too often thrown in the metaphorical desk drawer and forgotten about, which we think is a big issue with current publishing practices.

The study, “Do People’s First Names Match Their Faces?” was co-authored by Alex L. Jones of Swansea University.