Name associations

I might have blogged about this earlier, but am too lazy to check, so here I go again. The concept is one of “name-person associations”. To start with an example, when you know that you are going to meet a person called say “Pamela”, what would you expect? If you’re honest, I bet that most guys would expect the woman they are going to meet to be like the most famous Pamela.

The basic concept is that for every name, you have a default person in mind, and it is usually the person with that name you know best. And when you meet a new person with that name, you tend to assume that that person is like the default person of that name you know. And this need not be constant, and can change as you meet new people, and get to know them better.

And the thing is that the “default character” need not be someone you know personally, or even somoene real. At the beginning I took the example of Pamela Anderson – I don’t think most people for whom she is the default Pamela will know her personally. Similarly, the default for a particular character may be some character in a book, or in a movie. For example, if you hear the name Kalia, I’m sure most of you will instantly think of the crow (from tinkle). If you hear the name “Gabbar”, you’ll be reminded of the dacoit in Sholay.

And it’s not just being reminded. If there is a person called Jack whom you’ve never met, you’ll assume that he’s like your “default Jack” in everything. And when you build a mental picture of the Jack that you are going to meet, I’m sure most of the characteristics will be drawn from the default Jack.

This kind of name associations is inherent in creating a bias about people whom you don’t really know. And in some situations it might prove to be crucial – such as in job interviews or arranged marriages. If I’m going to interview a guy called Raja, even before I meet him, I’ll have formed an opinion about him based on my “default Raja” (which, in my case, is the telecom minister, and so the guy is effectively screwed). Similarly if you know that your parents want to set you up with a girl called, say, Lakshmi (random default name), and the only Lakshmi you’ve known so far is your maid, you are extremely unlikely to hook up with this Lakshmi.

Looking at it from the other side, one thing that you don’t have much control over – your name – does have a major impact on your life. People may not make it explicit, but the reason you didn’t get that job, or that girl, may just be because they associated your name with bad people. So, parents, here is another thing you need to keep in mind while naming your kid – make sure he/she has a name that is more likely to create a positive impression in people’s minds.

I’ll end this with two examples. There was this junior female in school who I was supposed to have been hitting on. I knew that she liked me, though she didn’t particularly approve of my supposed hitting on her. Now, she’s engaged to another guy named Karthik. I’m sure the reason she initially got so interested in him was that, thanks to me, the name Karthik gave her good vibes!

The second is to do with the name Payal. I personally don’t know anyone by the name Payal. However, I still remember this story from some Champak that I had read some 15 years ago, and that had a character called “Payal the pig”. So whenever I see or hear the name Payal, I instantly think of a pig! (another insight here – when you are writing a story that might just become popular, choose the names of the characters carefully)

One thought on “Name associations”

Put Comment