Why You Should Discourage Your Children from Writing in Techspeak

by Tamara N. Jones

Techspeak is the use of common acronyms and abbreviations in lieu of fully spelled out words you wish to communicate. For example: ADN – Any Day Now, CWYL – Chat With You Later and WE – Whatever, you get the point. Are there times when it is helpful to use shortcuts? Yes! For instance, I find myself using it when I am about to go underground and know that the time I take to say “See you in five minutes”, I can say “cu in 5”. Under circumstances such as this, using shortcut works in my favor. But for children, using techspeak as their primary written communication with friends and family every single day, it is not advantageous to their developing mind. As a matter of fact, it endangers their cognitive development. According to professor S. Shyam Sundar and Drew P. Cingel, in their article Texting, techspeak, and tweens The relationship between text messaging and English grammar skills, adolescents, 13-17, are more likely to use “techspeak”. This habitual way of writing not only “rob[s] this age group of a fundamental understanding of standard English grammar”, but also affects their performance on grammar assessments. Though text messaging technologies are useful and convenient, there is “a general relationship between messaging and adolescent grammar skills”. One of Sundar and Cingel interesting findings is relationship between messages received and messages sent. It seems  adolescents adapt their language based on the messages they receive. In other words, if the message they receive reads “lol gr8 4 u” they are likely to respond in techspeak as well.

One of the most troublesome findings in their research is that adolescents are not able to successfully code switch. Most adolescents cannot switch from techspeak to correct English in the classroom. This is problem as there is an upward trend in using technology in classroom to teach adolescents and techspeak has now found itself in the classroom and “these adaptations carry over into standard writing practices”. One particular fallout that Sundar and Cingel do not cover, and I suppose it is because it is not within the scope of their research, is this written adaptation can carry over in speech. I often hear adolescents speak in techspeak to each other. With techspeak and slang, it is nearly impossible to understand what is being said. Sadly, just like in writing, these adolescents do not see that there is a time and a place for everything. When speaking to your teacher, saying “omg teach” is not the proper or respectful way of communicating with someone in a position of authority. It muddles the boundaries, if not, erase them.

How can you prevent your child/children from becoming  a victim? Require that they communicate with you in standard English. As the research noted, adolescents are likely to respond in the similar way the message was received. This includes avoiding conjugations. Write “it is” instead of “it’s”. Just as techspeak is a form of habit, standard English can also become their new habit at least when communicating with their parents and other adults.

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An Emoji for Word of the Year?

This is Oxford's Word of the Year.

More than words. 😂

The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2015 is 😂. It’s an emoji. The reaction to this news has varied from 😱 (it’s the death of language!) to 😏 (it’s a lame publicity stunt). Emojis are not words. That’s something Oxford itself agrees on, defining the word as “a single distinct element of speech or writing.” We don’t speak in emojis or write in emojis, at least not the old pen-in-hand way. But in real-world conversation, we don’t rely solely on words; body language is said to make up 55% of communication . So perhaps the emoji is the digital equivalent, enhancing the tone of our message beyond words. If so, is it possible to distill the huge gamut of complex human emotion into a series of comic faces?

And why the “face with tears of joy” emoji? Oxford said it “best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.” Is this the same 2015 defined by climate change talks, terrorist attacks, and a migrant crisis? These seem at total odds. However, together with Swiftkey, a mobile tech company, Oxford found 😂 was the most frequently used emoji of 2015. Could it be our tears of a collective clown? Or perhaps it is no reflection of our moods at all. Instead, emoji-speak is a self-contained discourse and we tailor our conversations and emotions to fit its limits. And this is the crucial shift that Oxford has acknowledged with their choice.

Seeing comes before words.

Using images in communication is nothing new. The first sentence in John Berger’s Ways of Seeing proposes that we understand images before words. “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak.” So the popularity of emojis in digital conversations is not so surprising. Perhaps it allows us to return to a pre-linguistic form of expression and understanding.

This return to the dialogue of images is clear from the rise in photographic platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Berger goes on to say that “It is seeing which establishes our place in the world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.” It’s always a challenge to explain our world with words. But even a photograph is taken from an angle chosen by the photographer. Emojis are constructed by a certain group of people and used by people in a certain way. They are not as pure and simple a medium as they appear.

A picture paints a thousand words.

Emojis are loaded with meaning beyond the sum of their parts. Almost a century ago, Ferdinand de Saussure, a pioneer in the field of linguistics, wrote that language is a system ofsigns, and words are only part of this system. For Saussure and other semioticians (studiers of signs), anything at all that forms meaning is language. Meaning is coded in so much, from the clothes we wear to traffic lights changing color.

A word is a string of letters that is assigned a meaning, and this meaning is arbitrary to the word. In English, the word for a canine is dog. In French, it is chien. But both words signify the same object. However, images have a more natural relationship to what the are signifying. A photo of a house reflects the image of the house. In this way, emojis can transcend words and be understood across all cultures.

However, as emojis increase in popularity, their meanings become more layered. Roland Barthes, critical theorist, explored these layers of meaning and the idea of connotation. He used the example of a dove. A picture of a dove is the sign, while the bird itself is what is being signified or denoted. We link the image of the dove with its connotation: the concept of peace. This is as arbitrary a relationship as words have with their meanings.

In emoji land, new connotations are emerging. For example, the eggplant 🍆, has become more than a picture of a vegetable. It is now the phallic emoji. And not to be used in the wrong contexts.

Liberation through limitation.

The limited choice of emojis is inextricably linked to their success and personalities. We are confined to the images available in order to express ourselves. How often do we actually laugh so hard that we cry? Probably not enough in real life, but apparently we are digitally hysterical. As Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, explained in announcing the decision, “Not only did we see a dramatic spike in usage of ‘Face with Tears of Joy,’ we felt the character captured a sense playfulness and intimacy that embodies emoji culture itself.”

The same images are reproduced over and over again, like emoji clichés or speaking through kitsch. Out on an emoji farm called Unicode in California, new crops of emojis are grown and their limits are established. Anyone is able to suggest new emojis to Unicode. Each proposal must include a case for the new creation and is then put to a committee who decides its fate.

The medium is the message.

This well-known phrase was coined in 1964 by communications philosopher Marshall McLuhan. Although the quote is often misunderstood as meaning that the vehicle is everything and the content is irrelevant, McLuhan actually meant something quite different. He used the example of a news story about a crime. The message, he says, is not the story itself, or the delivery, but the sense of fear that evolves from hearing the story. It’s noticing these “messages,” or shifts in culture (the “ground,” as he put it), that is crucial.

So perhaps Oxford Dictionaries, in naming an emoji as the word of the year, has noticed the McLuhan message—the shift in our discourse. Acknowledging this shift allows us to monitor and check the effect it may create, good or bad. Once viewed as juvenile and left to the kids, emojis have now been adopted by politicians. In a recent tweet, Hillary Clinton called for people to describe their feelings on student loans in three emojis. Even so, few politicians would use an emoji on a matter of serious public concern. Even Clinton’s emoji attempt received criticism for treating the topic of debt with flippancy. Emojis are light and playful, and can imbue an otherwise serious message with irony or wit.

Esperanto reincarnated?

It’s strange that these emojis, which have been around since 1999, have surged in popularity in 2015. This year, we have seen global political upheavals and threats, a huge migrant crisis, and the effects of climate change. But, as in any time of trouble or war, escapism is sought through art and culture. During World War II, musical films surged in popularity; Hollywood produced seventy-five musicals in 1944. So perhaps it’s not surprising that we are adopting this universal discourse in an effort to lighten the mood. The language of emojis allows us a certain tone that we cannot grasp through words or other imagery. And what’s more, in its transcending of cultures, emojis are a unifying language. This digital expression can fuse together cracks in failing traditional systems: a reincarnated Esperanto.

Image rights:
Copyright 2016, Grammarly, Inc.

A Harvard linguist reveals the most misused words in English

Some languages, like French, have an official body that decides how words can and cannot be used.

English, as a flexible, global language, has no such designated referee.

Therefore, there is no definitive answer to whether you’re using a word “correctly.”

It’s all a matter of taste and context. But there are opinions. And some count more than others.

Steven Pinker is probably as good an expert to ask as anyone. Helpfully, the renowned Harvard linguist and best-selling authorrecently wrote a book, titled “The Sense of Style,” that aims to help readers improve their use of the English language.

If you’re in the market for an update to , old Strunk and White, it’s probably a good buy. But if you just want to spot-check that you’ve not been making embarrassing language mistakes for years, a monster list of 58 commonly misused phrases covered in the book that recently appeared in the UK’s Independent newspaper is probably a good place to start.

Here are some highlights:

  1. Adverse means “detrimental.” It does not mean “averse” or “disinclined.” Correct: “There were adverse effects.” / “I’m not averse to doing that.”
  2. Appraise means to “ascertain the value of.” It does not mean to “apprise” or to “inform.” Correct: “I appraised the jewels.” / “I apprised him of the situation.”
  3. Beg the question means that a statement assumes the truth of what it should be proving; it does not mean to “raise the question.” Correct: “When I asked the dealer why I should pay more for the German car, he said I would be getting ‘German quality,’ but that just begs the question.”
  4. Bemused means “bewildered.” It does not mean “amused.” Correct: “The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused.” / “The silly comedy amused me.”
  5. Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. The adjective is clichéd. Correct: “Shakespeare used a lot of clichés.” / “The plot was so clichéd.”
  6. Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: “Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabra and agenda long ago ceased to be plurals,” Pinker writes. “But I still like it.”] Correct: “This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it.”
  7. Depreciate means to “decrease in value.” It does not mean to “deprecate” or to “disparage.” Correct: “My car has depreciated a lot over the years.” / “She deprecated his efforts.”
  8. Disinterested means “unbiased.” It does not mean “uninterested.” Correct: “The dispute should be resolved by a disinterested judge.” / “Why are you so uninterested in my story?”
  9. Enormity refers to extreme evil. It does not mean “enormousness.” [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.] Correct: “The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears.” / “The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work.”
  10. Hone means to “sharpen.” It does not mean to “home in on” or “to converge upon.” Correct: “She honed her writing skills.” / “We’re homing in on a solution.”
  11. Hung means “suspended.” It does not mean “suspended from the neck until dead.” Correct: “I hung the picture on my wall.” / “The prisoner was hanged.”
  12. Ironic means “uncannily incongruent.” It does not mean “inconvenient” or “unfortunate.” Correct: “It was ironic that I forgot my textbook on human memory.” / “It was unfortunate that I forgot my textbook the night before the quiz.”
  13. Nonplussed means “stunned” or “bewildered.” It does not mean “bored” or “unimpressed.” Correct: “The market crash left the experts nonplussed.” / “His market pitch left the investors unimpressed.”
  14. Parameter refers to a variable. It not mean “boundary condition” or “limit.” Correct: “The forecast is based on parameters like inflation and interest rates.” / “We need to work within budgetary limits.”
  15. Phenomena is a plural count noun — not a mass noun. Correct: “The phenomenon was intriguing, but it was only one of many phenomena gathered by the telescope.”
  16. Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk are past participles–not words in the past tense. Correct: “I’ve shrunk my shirt.” / “I shrank my shirt.”
  17. Simplistic means “naively or overly simple.” It does not mean “simple” or “pleasingly simple.” Correct: “His simplistic answer suggested he wasn’t familiar with the material.” / “She liked the chair’s simple look.”
  18. Verbal means “in linguistic form.” It does not mean “oral” or “spoken.” Correct: “Visual memories last longer than verbal ones.”
  19. Effect means “influence”; to effect means “to put into effect”; to affect means either “to influence” or “to fake.” Correct: “They had a big effect on my style.” / “The law effected changes at the school.” / “They affected my style.” / “He affected an air of sophistication to impress her parents.”
  20. Lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to “recline”; lay (transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to “set down”; lie (intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to “fib.” Correct: “He lies on the couch all day.” / “He lays a book upon the table.” / “He lies about what he does.”

It should be noted that while it’s always good to polish up your writing, one of the joys of language is that it isn’t fixed in time. It evolves. Nor is there a single “correct” style (in English, at least).

You’d neither connect nor impress if you chose your words like an Oxford don at a rap battle (though, actually, someone please make that YouTube video), and you’d be unlikely to get a job at an investment bank today speaking like Shakespeare.

Why is this important? It’s easy to get too caught up in being perfectly “correct” and become a tedious language snob. Remember you probably want to come across as intelligent and thoughtful, not uptight and pedantic. So don’t get so worked up over the little things that you miss the larger point of good writing — to communicate clearly and engagingly with your chosen audience.

8 Things to Consider When Looking for a New Job

IMAGE CREDIT: ISTOCK

When deciding on whether a new job is right for you, it’s important to look past the paycheck. While salary is important, it doesn’t always spell happiness. Here are eight things to consider while weighing the pros and cons of that new position.

1. BENEFITS

Remember that your base salary is just one part of your compensation package. Insurance, retirement contribution and matching, paid time off, equity, bonuses, and more should all be considered—and negotiated—before signing on the dotted line. It’s important to also ask your potential employer about perks the company offers: Are there wellness plans (including discounts on things like gym memberships), pre-tax travel options, or reimbursement for relocation costs at your disposal?

2. HOURS

Not every office job is a 9 to 5. Before committing to a job change, reach an understanding with your potential employer of expectations for regular working hours. Beyond whether your start time is 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., try to get an idea of how much after-hours work is considered normal.  And when considering a job with different hours from what you’re used to (such as a weekend schedule, evening hours, or an early-morning shift) make a list of how this change will impact your life—maybe you’re not as much of a morning person as you thought.

3. OFFICE CULTURE

Getting a handle on your new position’s hours can also be your window into one of the most elusive decision-making factors: the company’s office culture. Are the employees at your new job happy? Do they enjoy working for the company—and with one another—and do they feel like their work is valued? While something intangible like “office culture” and “vibe” can be tricky to figure out prior to your start date, the answers to questions about flexible hours, team-building events, and regular reviews (opportunities to give as well as receive feedback) can be a valuable litmus test.

4. THE TEAM

Nothing affects office culture more than your co-workers, which is why it’s a good idea to meet as many as you can during the interview process. While the hiring manager can speak to the team’s talent and dedication, your peers—if it’s possible to talk to them—can shed light on group dynamics and management as well as share their own reasons for choosing the company. Consider all interactions, including email responses (are they timely and courteous?), when determining whether these are people you’d like to work with.

It’s also important to take a look at personnel higher up the ladder. Do some research to learn a bit about the people who will be your managers.  Do you see mentorship potential in any of them? Do they have a track record of supporting more junior talent? And look outside the immediate hierarchy—if there were to be a management shakeup, would you be happy with new leadership?

5. PASSION

One good indicator of your future team’s happiness is how passionate they are about the work they’re doing. Having a unified vision and values can buoy the office atmosphere. Ask yourself if the company’s mission excites you the same way it (hopefully) does your potential co-workers—this can be a good indicator of whether the job will be a good fit.

6. GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

During the interview process, be sure to ask about advancement opportunities within the company. Doing so will not only help paint a better picture for you of what a future with that employer may look like, but shows the hiring manager that you are looking to invest your time and talents in the company long-term. It’s also worth perusing the social media pages of employees at your potential organization; look for things such as how long they stay in the same position

And while the traditional growth trajectory includes promotions to more senior roles within your department, it’s also smart to ask about horizontal opportunities. As your skills and interests evolve, you may find you want to pursue a lateral move to a different area within the company.

7. EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

The bottom line is, you want to work for an organization that supports and encourages your growth—and sometimes, in order to grow, you will require additional education. Ask about whether the company provides stipends for continuing ed courses or professional degrees—and also whether employees are encouraged to take advantage of these resources.

8. COMPANY HISTORY AND STABILITY

It can’t be stressed enough that you need to do a bit of research on your potential employer before making anything official. Do they have a track record of layoffs and cutbacks? Are they making headlines for the right reasons (such as reaching new audience milestones or expanding the business) or ones that raise red flags (legal issues, financial troubles)? While joining a startup can be exciting, it’s also a huge risk—be realistic about whether it’s a good time for you to take one.

“Teachers! Please Do Not Make Your Students Use Synonyms for Said,” I Blurted

151201_CBOX_Middle-School
Photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock
 

My fourth-grade English teacher employed a list of words he called “D.N.U.’s,” for “do not use.” It was about a dozen words long and included get, nice, very, and thing. If he saw one in our papers he would flag it and make a tutting sound, although he didn’t always notice. The point, I assumed, was to make us think about the words we were using—to elevate our writing above the leaden defaults of a 9-year-old’s communicative needs.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this reasonable pedagogical technique has spawned a movement. And as with so many essentially humane causes before it, that movement has metastasized into a perverse and deadly totalitarianism. Its chief proponent is California middle school teacher Leilen Shelton, whose manual Banish Boring Words has, according to the Journal, sold 80,000 copies. Among the words Shelton has declared dead: said.

“You might use barked,” she said. “Maybe howled. Demanded. Cackled. I have a list.” She certainly does. On the cover of Banish Boring Words—Amazon’s No. 1 best-seller in the Elementary Education category as I write, although that might reflect a surge of interest from the Journal story—is a crude cartoon of a boy thinking, “Instead ofsaid I could use … snarled, professed, argued, cautioned, remarked, cried.” A Canadian school district similarly offers a list of 397 “verbs to substitute for ‘said.’ ”

To which anyone who has ever had to read a slush pile or a self-published autobiography will thunder, cry, retort, rejoin, or fume: No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Replacing the word said with “colorful” or “lively” synonyms is a ubiquitous symptom of bad writing. Individual instances are usually redundancies: “I’ll never cheat again!” is recognizable as a promise without “he vowed” after it. But a procession of she explained and he chuckled and I expostulated—the reporting verbs that clog your dialogue when you follow the “never say said” rule—is worse, because they force the reader’s attention away from the content of the writing and onto the writer’s hunt for synonyms.

“There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,” Shelton told the Journal’s James R. Hagerty. “ ‘Said’ doesn’t have any emotion.” The assumption here is that emotion is a desirable quality in every word of a sentence, that a rich word is always more appropriate than a plain one. You don’t have to invoke Hemingway, who made a fetish of plain words, to recognize that successful writing modulates the lavishness of its diction for effect, rather than cranking the dial all the way to maximum floridity and leaving it there.

Defenders of these restricted-word lists might argue that they’re an intermediate step for writers-in-training: First we’ll teach students to vary their vocabulary, and then to modulate their tone appropriately. The problem is that, on the evidence of all those slush piles, step two never takes place, and Shelton’s students go out into the world commanding and boasting and suggesting in the belief that they’re making their writing “more sophisticated” rather than less.

I once tutored a high school student who had written, in a biographical essay, the blameless clause “After becoming a teacher.” Her own teacher had “corrected” the phrase to “After achieving success as an educator.” This person was failing as an educator, as is the Powell River Board of Education and Leilen Shelton and everyone else who teaches this destructive rule.

Four best jobs for work life balance

More workers are looking for work life balance than ever before. These four jobs are the best for maintaining the peace of mind that comes with good work life balance.

  • Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

More and more Americans want better work-life balance. In the U.S., 57% of full-time employees indicate that their spouse or partner works 35 hours or more a week, too.

However, no other group craves a better work-life balance more than millennials. While 78% of full-time working millennials have a spouse or partner also working full-time, only 47% of full-time working baby boomers and 68% of Gen X experience this scenario. With two full-time working parents, quality couple time, family time and “me time” are becoming more and more scarce.

If your employer doesn’t sympathize with your desire for a more flexible arrangement, it may be the time to switch jobs. To help you escape the rat race, here are the four best jobs for work-life balance.

Recommended: Fifteen best entry-level jobs of 2015

1. Data Scientist

According to Glasdoor’s 2015 list of best jobs for work-life balance, the role of data scientist provides the best work-life balance. With an average 4.2 rating out of a possible 5.0, data scientist took the top spot in work-life balance across users of the recruiting site over the past year.

If you keep on hearing everywhere about the “power of big data,” this is what it’s all about. A data scientist uses the power of algorithms to process large amounts of data and use those findings to make recommendations that drive customer engagement and monetization. You’ll have to be comfortable working with monster spreadsheets and databases (think millions of rows and several terabytes), develop mad SQL and SAS skills, and keep up with the latest data mining tools and techniques.

Companies well-known for providing great perks and flexible schedules, including Facebook and Google, are hiring data scientists. With an average salary of $114,808 (according to Glassdoor), data scientist is one attractive career to look for.

2. Web Developer

U.S. News maintains a list of 100 best jobs in the nation. The list uses seven criteria, including 10-year growth volume, employment rate, and work-life balance, to rank the jobs. While U.S. News gave the dentist occupation the top spot in its list of best jobs, a closer look to the job satisfaction reviews shows that the web developer occupation provides better work-life balance.

According to U.S. News, web developers tend to have above average upward mobility, below average stress level, and high flexibility. Interviewed employers indicate that often their web developers don’t have to punch a clock. “We set deadlines, and as long as they get their work done, we’re flexible with hours.” two employers said to U.S. News.

The median annual salary of a web developer was $63,160 in 2013, with individuals earning between $33,320 and $110,350.

3. Tutor

In a study from Ernst & Young, respondents pointed out that the option to telecommute(working from another location other than the office or client site) is an important flexibility issue. In the same survey, millennials are more likely to say it’s important to be able to telecommute one to two days a week.

Tutoring enables individuals looking to telecommute as much as possible to really own their schedule. For example, since 2006 I have been tutoring business professionals to prepare for the GMAT, a standardized admission test used by most MBA programs around the world. I have been able to consistently tutor students first in Mexico and now in the United States. Currently, I work with Kaplan, a test prep company, and I’m able to teach students in person and online on my own schedule. (See also: The 3 Best Jobs for Expats and Travelers)

With the advent of several online tutoring sites, such as Tutor.com, Skillshare, and Wyzant, you’re not limited to your geographic area and can find students across the world. Some sites, such as Tutor.com, require you to commit to tutor at least five hours per week. However, you decide when those hours happen.

Having the ability to do their job in any country is key for millennials as 38% of them would make the sacrifice to move a country with better parental leave benefits.

4. Talent Acquisition Specialist

Ranking third on Glassdoor’s list, the talent acquisition specialist has a rating of 4.0 out of 5.0 in work-life balance satisfaction. Also known as recruiters or human resources (HR) specialists, talent acquisition specialists are in charge of finding, screening, interviewing, and recommending the best candidates for a job opening. One key requirement for talent acquisition specialists is people skills. If you can’t get along with different people in different settings, then this may not be the field for you.

While Glassdoor says that the average salary for this position is $63,504, U.S. News puts the median salary at $56,850. One of the main advantages of this occupation is stability, given that employment in this field is expected to balloon 15.5% from 2012 to 2022.

To some, it may come off as a surprise that respondents to the Glassdoor survey gave such a high rating to the work-life balance satisfaction of this job. However, those critics should keep in mind the following points:

  • Like web developers, talent acquisition specialists have to meet deadlines and have flexibility as long as they can hit their numbers.
  • Like tutors, talent acquisition specialists can leverage the web and their cellphone to do the bulk of the work remotely. With cloud-based HR software becoming the industry norm, a recruiter can do her work as long as she has an Internet connection.
  • Depending on their field of specialization, HR specialists have different hours and hiring seasons. Many recruiters welcome the break of pace and opt to work only during hiring seasons or on a part-time basis.

 

Your Name Affects Your Opportunities In Life

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

People tend to stop caring about their names once they get past certain life landmarks: getting teased for an unfortunate last name in high school, agonizing over a nickname in college, wondering if a spouse should change their name. After all, it’s just a name. Right? Wrong. Psychological studies have proved, time after time, that our names have a real impact on our fiscal, educational, and personal success.

Which is what makes the recent trend of bizarre baby names even more confusing. Many European surnames evolved from occupations — Glover, Baker, Smith, Abbot, Draper — and the plethora of first names that now exist is actually a pretty modern phenomenon; according to a BBC report, until 1800, 50 percent of all men in England shared the same four first names. You were most likely named after your parent, or a common saint. Looking to celebrities and book characters for inspiration is a very modern preoccupation, as is wanting your kid to be “different”. As we’ll discover, for some kids, that can actually backfire pretty badly, with far-reaching consequences for future education and success. You’ve got to be wise when you’re naming your kid.

As somebody who’s named her cat Eglantine (after Angela Lansbury’s dignified but clumsy character in Bedknobs & Broomsticks), I’m not one to talk. But at least Eglantine won’t have to navigate preschool, college acceptance, resumes, or changing her maiden name. What’s in a name? As it turns out, rather a lot.

1. You Earn More If Your Name Is Shorter

A large quantity of research has gone into what many adults worry about: is their name holding them back from professional success? According to a survey done by an online job search site, perhaps. The top-earning names for men among the site’s six million members were Tom, Rob, Dale, Doug, and Wayne, while top-earning women were called Lynn, Melissa, Cathy, Dana, and Christine. Seeing a pattern? Shorter — albeit, “whiter” names, which we’ll get to in a second — seem to be the key to a successful career. Five letters, in fact, was the optimal length.

Forbes, which analyzed the study, pointed out that the most common names among “C-level executives” (that is, CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and other big guns at the very top of any company ladder) were names like Lawrence, Marc, Denise, Cindy, and Sarah. Commonality didn’t guarantee you a top-level salary, though; having an easy-to-pronounce, familiarly short name did. Part of this may be that shorter names are seen as more sociable, because we as humans like easily understandable bits of information. It could also be that giving yourself a nickname makes you seem more “human” and less Christian Grey.

If you think this is nonsense, the study even put it in cold hard cash: every extra letter a C-level executive had in their name above the five-letter “ideal” cost them $3,600 in earnings per year.

2. A “White” Name Is More Employable Than A “Black” One

This famous but seriously upsetting bit of information comes courtesy of a 2003 study that demonstrated just how much harder it is in America to get employed with a so-called “ethnic” name. The study, “Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal?”, sent out resumes in response to Wanted ads in Boston and Chicago. The resumes either had a stereotypically “white” name or a stereotypically “black” one, and were of either respectable quality or high quality (you know, sterling references, lots of experience, the things that make a resume shine). The results were pretty sobering.

“White” names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than “black” names, and even if “black” names were attached to the really stellar resumes, they still received a seriously low level of interest. “White” names on the awesome resumes, however, got a 30 percent jump in callbacks. The scientists pointed out that having a “white” name equated to having eight more years of experience on your CV.

In case you were wondering if things have changed since 2003, a 2014 research paper found that employers are just as racially discriminatory now as they were then. It’s a seriously unfair world, and white privilege and racism are very real.

3. An Easy-To-Pronounce Name May Get You More Promotions

A 2011 study found something interesting: if your name’s easy to pronounce, it may help you get ahead. And that applies to both first names and surnames. Apparently we form more “positive” impressions of words that we can pronounce and process easily; our brain rewards the name for being easy as opposed to driving us slightly nuts.

The study pointed out that even drugs with simpler names are seen as safer and more effective than ones with complex names. The scientists did experiments with name association that proved that people “like” shorter names better in others — and found that people with easy-to-pronounce surnames tend to have higher-up jobs in law firms.

4. A Last Name At The Beginning Of The Alphabet Might Help You Get Into College

There’s a caveat on this one: it was done in the Czech Republic, where names obviously differ in some significant ways from America, complete with cultural associations. But a study, done in 2007, found that if your last name is at the beginning of the alphabet, you’re more likely to be accepted into both application-only high schools and into college.

It’s likely this is because, in some places, applications are processed alphabetically, and that quotas are filled early on, leaving spaces few as the alphabet progresses. Of course, this depends on how your college processes applications, so don’t count on it helping you out.

5. Highly-Gendered Names Influence How You Do In School

It seems that social expectations of gender actually have a predictive role in how a kid behaves, at least when it comes to their name. According toresearch by Northwestern University reported by TIME, linguistically “feminine” and “masculine” names actually may predict a girl’s interest in more male-dominated subjects like math and science. Studies of twins showed that girls with less girly names were more inclined to stick with STEM subjects.

And there’s a flip-side, too. The studies also showed that boys with stereotypically “feminine” names, like Ashley or Courtney, often exhibited significant behavioral problems in middle school, likely in response to bullying. Poor kids.

6. Keeping Your Maiden Name May Earn You More

In an interesting revelation from 2011, a Dutch study revealed that people assess women who keep their maiden names as smarter and more career-focused than those who don’t. Part of this is likely the result of social change and evolved expectation: there’s a clear statistical link between high levels of education, marrying later in life, and the practice of keeping maiden names.

So it could just be a case of (albeit highly-problematic) connect-the-dots. But the research also found something more concrete: women who hadn’t changed their names earned higher salaries overall, often by up to $6,000 more a year. It seems that public perception about maiden names may be keeping married women who remove theirs from reaching their full earning potential.

7. Using Your Middle Initial Makes People Think You’re More Intelligent

If you’ve ever read an academic paper by “Professor A. E. X. Whatever” and wondered why they felt the need to cram every little initial into their title, there may be an answer in public perception. The practice in academia often comes from an attempt to distinguish your name from similar ones, butresearch in the European Journal of Social Psychology has revealed that using the initials of your middle name actually makes people think you’re smarter.

People rated essays as better-written and more intelligent if the writer was given a middle initial, or three. I didn’t know this before I started to go by my initials, but I’m pretty damn glad I did now.

Images: Evelyn Giggles/Flickr, Giphy, QuickMeme

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