Here's Why You Think Someone "Looks Like" Their Name

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
What's in a name? Well, probably more than you think.
If you've ever looked at someone and thought, "you totally look like you'd be a Jessica" or something of the sort, you're not alone — and there's apparently a scientific reason for why someone's face matches their name.
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According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there could actually be some truth to the idea that a person "looks like" their name. For their experiment, a team of researchers pulled data from eight different studies that suggested cultures have assigned certain characteristics to names that then manifest in someone's physical appearance.
In one experiment, researchers found that when people are shown a stranger's face and given a selection of five names, they pick the right name about 35% of the time — pretty good odds. The team ran several more experiments of a similar nature with different conditions and found that participants still did a pretty good job of matching strangers to their real names.
"We ran more than a dozen studies, and each time we had this feeling like, 'Oh boy, maybe this time it won't work,'" Yonat Zwebner, a social psychologist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lead author on the paper, told NPR. "And each time, it worked. That was really surprising."
In another experiment, researchers also trained a computer to find similarities in thousands of faces of people with the same name, and their algorithm found that people with the same name often have similarities around their eyes, or at the corners of their mouths.
Zwebner concluded that people could actually be using their facial muscles to change their appearance in a way matches the characteristics of their name.
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Take, for example, someone with the name "Joy," Zwebner told NPR.
"The moment she's born, her parents and society treat her in a way that befits that name," she said. "They say, 'you really are so joyful, smiling just like your name.' She develops a certain look maybe because she is smiling more because of all the positive feedback she gets when she smiles."
Long story short, our names might actually be influencing us more than we think, shaping who we come to be based on what society expects from someone with our names.
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