LinkedIn Tells Us the Names that Sell
PR reps often send me "exciting sneak previews!" of name-related announcements. A company realizes that it has a list of names (typically clients), and figures that it can get some publicity by slicing and dicing the list and revealing the "names most likely to" -- to get rich, get married, get a job.
I'm all for new name data, but most of these pitches end up in my trash folder. Some are just junk, like the folks trying to peddle data on adults with land lines as baby name info. Many others share a subtler flaw: they're reporting demographic effects in the guise of name effects. A finding that, say, Susans have higher average incomes than Maddisons tells you a lot more about age than names. (A 2005 Barclays Bank press release gives you an sample of this genre.)
At first glance, LinkedIn's new report on the typical names of different professions follows the demographic fallacy. For instance, take a look at the historical popularity of names they report as over-represented among CEOs vs. athletes. (CEO names are on the top, athletes on the bottom.)
The red lines show the the popularity peaks of the two lists, a generation apart -- 1950s vs. 1980s. This just in: CEOs are older than athletes! Umm, yeah.
Other LinkedIn name lists are proxies for ethnicity. Engineers, for example, are disproportionately named Rajesh, Ravi,and Vijay; restaurateurs are named Thierry, Philippe and Laurent. I don't consider this a name story at all. It just says that there are a lot of Indian engineers and French chefs.
But not all the LinkedIn data is that simple. Buried in the profession lists are a few insights that you couldn't glean from a table of ages and ethnic origins. Take a look at the top names of American salespeople. (The full lists are actually global, but through the quirks of LinkedIn's geographic reach half the names on the sales list are American and half Danish/Swedish. I've skipped the Jespers, Fredriks and Henriks for this discussion, but Scandinavian readers are welcome to chime in on them!)
Most Overrepresented Names in Sales:
There are certainly demographic tendencies in that list of swift little names. The names are most common in the upper Midwest and largely white. But the sales list is different from the CEOs and athletes in key ways. It has a somewhat broader age spread. It's heavier on "names of choice" -- names like Chip and Trey which don't necessarily come from your birth certificate. And significantly, it's not a list of super-popular choices that cut a broad swath through their generations. The sales names are defined by style. They're not just demographic profiles, they're personality profiles.
Look at Chip, the #1 most typical name of salespeople. It's a nickname, preppy but not elitist, confident but not cocky, and above all chipper. It's a name that strides up to you with an open, ingratiating smile, hand offered in warm greeting. And the other sales names walk right in its footsteps. Reading them, don't you feel a sudden impulse to join in a round of golf?
Is it nature or nurture? Parents who call their sons Chip and Todd are likely to share certain qualities of background, taste, perhaps income and personality as well. Their upbringings might have been conducive to warm handshakes and golfing. In the case of nicknames, the individual's own choice to stick with Chip or Trey could also reflect a personal style suited to sales.
But couldn't the names themselves have helped nudge them in that career direction? Short names, especially nicknames, tend to make men sound friendly, approachable and likeable. Couldn't a lifetime spent sounding friendly and approachable help you feel at ease meeting new people, as a salesman must? And wouldn't a school advisor or an employer reviewing resumes find it easy to picture Chip and Todd in sales? Or perhaps the friendly name gave the young Chips just enough of a leg up in their early sales efforts to encourage them to make a career of it...and to post their sales profile to LinkedIn.