A stack of nametags. A stack of nametags. You might be able to guess a stranger's name without a nametag. (Photo: Mike Flippo / Shutterstock)

Do you look like your name?

A new study found that people can match strangers' names to their faces.

Can you picture what someone named Chelsea looks like? What about Jeff? Have you ever met a Sydney and thought to yourself, "She looks like a Sydney"?

Apparently, you're not just imagining it. According to a new study, people can actually match names to faces of people they've never met. Yonat Zwebner, a scientist at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and her colleagues ran experiments to figure out whether people can accurately match names to faces. The surprising answer? Yes.

The experimenters had groups of Israeli and French students try and match names with faces. The students did better than random chance, even after controlling for age, ethnicity and other variables. The scientists also taught a computer to match names and faces using their science wizard magic, and the computer was pretty good at it.


The scientists think that people may actually change their appearances to fit their names. For instance, people might expect someone named "Albert" to be more bookwormish than someone named "Chet." So the Alberts of the world might study a lot and invent new physics theories. Meanwhile, the Chets of the world might become carpenters and end up looking so buff that they get big roles in mysteriously jokeless Starbucks webseries.

"Together, these findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look. In this way, a social tag may influence one's facial appearance," explained Ruth Mayo, a scientist from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who worked on the study. "We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name."


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