How a Person’s Name Biases Our Perceptions

The satirical newspaper The Onion often derives its great sense of humor from presenting seemingly absurd scenarios that are actually grounded within very real phenomena.

One of their classic articles from almost 20 years ago, ranked here as one of the top 10 stories on their 25th anniversary, focuses on the way that we perceive people based simply upon their name.

Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia

Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients

Before an emergency joint session of Congress yesterday, President Clinton announced US plans to deploy over 75,000 vowels to the war-torn region of Bosnia. The deployment, the largest of its kind in American history, will provide the region with the critically needed letters A,E,I,O, and U, and is hoped to render countless Bosnian names more pronounceable.

“For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world,” Clinton said. “Today, the United States must finally stand up and say ‘Enough.’ It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words. The US is proud to lead the crusade in this noble endeavour.”

The deployment, dubbed Operation Vowel Storm by the State Department, is set for early next week, with the Adriatic port cities of Sjlbvdnzv and Grzny slated to be the first recipients. Two C-130 transport planes, each carrying over 500 24-count boxes of “E’s,” will fly from Andrews Air Force Base across the Atlantic and airdrop the letters over the cities.

Citizens of Grzny and Sjlbvdnzv eagerly await the arrival of the vowels. “My God, I do not think we can last another day,” Trszg Grzdnjkln, 44, said. “I have six children and none of them has a name that is understandable to me or to anyone else. Mr. Clinton, please send my poor, wretched family just one ‘E.’ Please.”

Said Sjlbvdnzv resident Grg Hmphrs, 67: “With just a few key letters, I could be George Humphries. This is my dream.”

The airdrop represents the largest deployment of any letter to a foreign country since 1984. During the summer of that year, the US shipped 92,000 consonants to Ethiopia, providing cities like Ouaouoaua, Eaoiiuae, and Aao with vital, life-giving supplies of Ls, Ss and Ts.

Interestingly enough, there is growing research evidence that the ease with which we can pronounce a person’s name significantly impacts the way that we perceive them—such effects include how positively or negatively you describe the person, and how likely you are to believe the things that they tell you.

These research findings demonstrate a subtle but important way that hidden biases can undermine the value and fairness of decision-making processes.

hidden biases can undermine the value and fairness of decision-making processes

Efforts to overcome biases in decision-making will become increasingly valuable as organizations look to reduce liabilities and increase their competitive advantage.

Next-generation technologies are changing the way that important decisions can be made. Cangrade offers the Candidate Assessment Platform—a hiring tool that allows companies to assess and rank job candidates before ever seeing their names or faces.

Perhaps someday in the near future, the reality of that Onion article won’t hit quite so close to home.

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