At Work, Do Sexy Names Help or Hinder?

Signs point to “hinder.”

While Deborah Linville was a grad student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1984, she asked a group of students to “rate the perceived sexiness of 250 female names” on a scale from 1 to 7. Below are the biggest winners and losers. (Remember, this was the 1980s!)

Most Sexy Names Least Sexy Names
Christine (5.08)
Candace (4.92)
Cheryl (4.91)
Melanie (4.91)
Dawn (4.83)
Heather (4.83)
Jennifer (4.83)
Marilyn (4.83)
Michelle (4.83)
Susan (4.83)
Ethel (1.00)
Alma (1.08)
Zelda (1.16)
Florence (1.5)
Mildred (1.5)
Myrtle (1.5)
Silvana (1.5)
Edna (1.66)
Eurolinda (1.66)
Elvira (1.69)

Linville then had a different group of students to “rate the job applications of eight equally qualified women — submitted under particularly sexy and unsexy names.”

The result?

Linville found that a “sexy” name can hurt a woman’s chances of furthering her career. Conversely, an unsexy name may give her an advantage.

The study…found that men are more likely to hire women with names they perceive as non-sexy for managerial positions and give these women higher salaries. Women hiring other women are less influenced by the sound of the name.

Why might men be biased against sexy names in the workplace? “[P]erhaps because men particularly expect female managers to possess strengths, such as motivation and decisiveness, that they don’t associate with sexy-sounding names.”

Linville’s suggestion to women was to use initials rather than first names on their résumés. (Good suggestion, as this could also help job-seekers avoid other kinds of name discrimination.)


2 thoughts on “At Work, Do Sexy Names Help or Hinder?

  1. Sounds like a short cut. There is more in the name than just sexiness, most importantly age. Maybe they were just judged to young and unexperienced for a manger job?

    Good test design is a hard task, and even university researchers fail remarkably often in this. But the ill-designed studies get the biggest press echo.

  2. The most sexy names is a good list of popular baby names from 18 years before she did the study. The least sexy names is a good list of their grandmothers.

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