Jane Bradley: Job choice can be all in the name

The aptly-named Usain Bolt. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The aptly-named Usain Bolt. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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I HAVE a doppelganger. Actually, more like a tripleganger. A couple of weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that there was another Jane Bradley, working as a journalist, who, like me, originated from the north of England.

I tweeted my excitement at finding a Jane Bradley twin and a colleague from another office responded: “I follow you both. It is often confusing.”

I checked out the Jane Bradley he was referring to and did a double take. He didn’t follow the same one I had discovered: there were three of us! All working in journalism, all from somewhere well north of the Watford Gap. What’s more, we all have dark hair and pale complexions. I was beginning to get confused as to which one was actually me.

I found that quite a number of my Twitter friends were equally confused: either Jane Bradley Two and Three and I have an awful lot of mutual friends, or there were quite a few out there also unsure which was which and who followed us all to be on the safe side.

On noticing the conversation with my colleague, Jane Bradley Three responded: “We also have a famous make-up artist with the same name! It’s enough to give someone an identity crisis…”

A make-up artist. Hmmm. That kind of ruined my theory that people with the same name gravitate towards the same jobs.

However, academics have backed up my beliefs. A study published by US Professor James Bruning from Ohio University found that a person’s name actually can have an effect on what job people choose to do.

“Who would be a better American football player,” he asked. “Someone whose name is Bronco or Colt, or someone named Francis or Percival?”

I remember once reading a novel where the character, originally called Daisy, had changed her name to something much more mundane.

She claimed that her parents, in selecting the name Daisy, did not expect her to be a success in life – insisting that no-one in a serious job, the prime minister, for example, would ever be called something as frothy-sounding as Daisy. It was an interesting idea.

Another study, written in 2002 by psychologist Bruce Pelham, found that a person’s name actually has a direct influence on their career – and life – choices. The report talks about the “name letter effect” – where the initial of people’s names affects a range of their life choices.

People called Dennis or Denise are over-represented among dentists, he found, while there were many more Georges and Geoffreys working in geoscience than was statistically likely.

Alliteration also prevailed in types of businesses. People whose surnames began with C were more likely to be in the computer business – for example Campbell’s Computer Repair.

The same applied to chosen place of residence. People called Louis were disproportionately more likely to live in the US city of St Louis and women whose names were Mildred and Virginia seemed to gravitate towards Milwaukee and Virginia Beach.

Interestingly, there was more of an affiliation with the initial of the first name for a woman and the surname for a man.

So three Janes (we can ignore the Bradley bit as we’re women) choosing journalism as a career shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

However, I suppose we 
could have equally opted for jobs in joinery, or as janitors or jockeys. We just probably wouldn’t have been very good at them.

A quick straw poll in the office revealed that three out of five of my immediate colleagues’ surnames begin with ‘R’ – and they all work as reporters. Spooky. However, we almost all live in Edinburgh and none of us sports the letter ‘E’ as an initial anywhere in our names.

Other reports have claimed that academics – and other professions – have a tendancy to gravitate towards areas of expertise which reflect their names. Usain Bolt, for example.

Whatever is in a name, it seems unlikely that it alone would have a major influence over drastic life choices. But who knows?

Clearly no-one told that to Drs AJ Splatt and D Weedon, who once wrote a research paper on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology. Google it if you don’t believe me.

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