Is your name spiky or round? Scientific study shows people judge you based on the sound of your name

The bouba-kiki effect (aka the maluma-takete effect) is the name of a phenomenon in which people map certain verbal sounds to shapes, no matter the language. For example, b, m, l and o sounds are associated with rounded shapes while k, t, p and i sounds map to jagged or spiky shapes. Now researchers have shown that people's perception of certain first names as "round" or "spiky," due to their sound, might cause them to judge your personality without knowing anything about you. From the BBC:

Cognitive psychologist David Sidhu at University College London and psycholinguist Penny Pexman at the University of Calgary have found that people perceive certain personal names such as Bob and Molly as round, and others such as Kirk and Kate as spiky. In French, they and a collaborator showed the same effect with the "round" Benoit versus the "spiky" Éric. In a separate study, participants pictured people with those names as having metaphorically rounded or spiky personalities.

"The basic thing we find is that if you compare these very smooth, soft-sounding names, like Molly, to these harsher-sounding names like Kate, that the smoother-sounding names like Molly get associated with things like being more agreeable, more emotional, more conscientious, whereas the harsher, spikier-sounding names are thought of as being more extroverted," says Sidhu.

These far-flung associations may originate in how these sounds feel in our mouth, according to Sidhu. "If you think about pronouncing an 'm' versus a 't', for example, that m-sound feels much smoother, and that, by analogy, captures the smoothness of the rounded shape versus the spiky shape." Sounds like 't' and 'k' may feel more energetic, capturing an extroverted, perky, lively quality[…]

Uncovering these hidden associations holds one important real-life lesson: we probably read too much into other people's names. After all, Sidhu and Pexman found no evidence that Bobs are actually friendlier, or Kirks more extroverted. Their findings may lend weight calls to remove names from important processes altogether, and anonymise CVs or scientific papers under review, to counter unconscious bias. Sidhu supports the idea.

"I think that makes a lot of sense," he says. "Whenever someone is being judged, taking away all of these extra things that could bias the judgment is always a good idea."

"What the sound of your name says about you" by Sophie Hardach (BBC Future)

image (cropped): Nick Gray (CC BY-SA 2.0)