‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a well-intentioned nugget of wisdom, but the reality is we all form deep and lasting opinions within milliseconds of meeting people. We can’t help it.

The instinct to do this is engrained within us and, for thousands of years, has proved vital for our survival and personal progress. But in the modern day, there’s a valid argument to be made that it’s getting a little out of hand.   

Look no further than online dating. We’re living in an age where it’s perfectly acceptable to swipe left or right for potential partners based on extremely limited information – a few photos, a brief bio, and a name.

And you better believe that the name matters.

Cognitive Scientist, Amy Perfor, conducted an experiment on hotornot.com - a website that rates attractiveness. She posted duplicate pictures of the same people but gave them different names, and found that certain names enhanced attractiveness ratings. For males, vowel sounds made at the front of the mouth (Steve, Nick, Ryan, Will, Jack) were rated more attractive than names made with back-of-the-mouth sounds (Doug, Russ, Paul, Shaun, Luke).

Try it yourself. Say those names out loud and pay attention to your tongue position on the vowel sound of each. In terms of attractiveness, men like Doug and Russ, as lovely as they may be, are immediately hindered by the ‘ugh’ sound in their name.

Ever wondered why there are so many negative words that contain the ‘ugh’ sound? (Disgust, clumsy, muck, fuss, blunder, mud, slum.) There’s a theory that it’s to do with early humans who couldn’t quite speak, but could mimic the sound of vomit when things didn’t please them. Nice, eh?

If only more Dougs were movie stars

A survey by Love Honey revealed that your name becomes more appealing if you happen to share it with attractive lead characters in movies. Jack (again) comes out on top for men, with Mary claiming victory for women. Honorary shoutouts to all those Jamies, Jacobs, Johns and Jessies who also placed in the top 50, showing that having a J-name seems particularly helpful in creating sexual attraction.

That said, J-named men seem to be garnering a reputation for being the bad boys of the dating world. I found no real evidence to back this claim up, but search Tik-Tok and Reddit and you’ll see a common piece of advice, “If his name starts with J, stay the hell away.” There’s even an entry in Urban Dictionary and a BuzzFeed article about it. My dad’s name is Jim.  

The hard ‘e’ phenomenon

For women, there was no significant lead initial when it comes to attraction, but having a hard ‘e’ sound in your name does seem to enhance attractiveness (Mia, Julia, Holly, Lucy, Lisa, Sophie, Ellie).

The hard ‘e’ sound is actually a widely known phenomenon in language. Did you know that people evaluate things more favourably when they are asked to hold a pencil horizontally in their mouth? That’s because it forces them to smile – and it’s a muscle movement that can be replicated in language.

People tend to be friendlier towards individuals whose names contain the hard ‘e’ sound because, like the pencil in the mouth, saying those names forces you to smile.

Incidentally, brands benefit from this phenomenon too. A 2014 study identified that a disproportionate number of successful brands include hard ‘e’ sounds in their name. (Sony, LG, KFC, Wrigley, Pepsi, MTV, HP, Harley-Davidson, eBay, Barclays, Burberry and, of course, EE.)

What about unattractive names?

One survey from babynamewizard.com claims to have curated the definitive list of least attractive names. For men, the top 5 reads: Howard, Dick, Norman, Ernest and Bob.

Of course, there might be an eeeeasy fix for some of these fellas. Simply adding that all-powerful hard ‘e’ sound could take your name from dud to stud. Bob becomes Bobby, Dick becomes Dicky and, although I’ve never met one personally, surely a man named Normany would get the juices flowing?

Ladies, unless I’m wildly misjudging the demographic of those reading this, most of you will be pleased to know that the ‘least sexy’ names in the Love Honey list tend to be those that invoke a bygone era. The top five is made up of Mildred, Ethel, Agnes, Bertha and Gertrude.

Time plays a factor in these studies, of course. Carry out these experiments in another 50 years and I dare say it’ll be the Agathas and Ednas of this world that are really stirring the loins.

So, what does all this tell us?

Well, when it comes to naming something, you could look at these linguistic idiosyncrasies and shape your approach accordingly.

Or perhaps it’s better to take it all with a pinch of salt. Most of this is theoretical and there are always exceptions to the rules.

For instance, my name ends in a hard ‘e’ sound and people are rarely nice to me. And I’m yet to see the name Gary within a metaphorical mile of any ‘sexy’ lists.

So really this whole thing is bullshit.