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The Hidden Power Of Names: A Live At Google Keynote From Adam Alter
Science | August 26, 2013

The Hidden Power Of Names: A Live At Google Keynote From Adam Alter

"You'll laugh, you'll gasp, you'll shake your head in disbelief as [Adam Alter] shows you that we are all, to some degree, balls in a giant pinball machine." That's what fellow Lavin speaker Jonathan Haidt said of Alter's Drunk Tank Pink. In the New York Times bestseller, the science speaker shows us that many of our thoughts and decisions are deeply influenced by forces that we are both unaware of, and often, unable to control. In his talks, he dissects the eye-opening research featured in his book, showing us that we can use these forces to our advantage once we pinpoint how they affect us.

Here are some key takeaways from the first section of his bestselling book. He goes into detail about these factors in a video Q&A with The Guardian and in a Google Talk keynote (embedded above):

The World Within Us
  • Alter describes the sets of cues that reside within our own minds: Names, labels, words we use to describe things, symbols, images, etc.
  • What's in a name? As Alter shows us, quite a lot. Baby name books are popular for a reason—the name we give a person or object impacts how successful they are and how others perceive them.
  • Alter says we need to focus on two things when picking a name: Fluency and Sound Symbolism. 
  • Fluency (how easy a name is to pronounce) has been shown to have profound ties to promotion rates and financial stock performance. The easier the name was to pronounce, he tells us, the faster an employee moved from lawyer to partner and the better a stock did on the market. 
  • Sound Symbolism (how masculine or feminine a name sounds) was proven to be at play in the corporate and legal realms. There is a disproportionate number of female judges with masculine sounding names, Alter says. Also, he says that a large percentage of top performing companies had the hard "k" or hard "g" sound in their name (Kelloggs, Kodak, Google).


Alter's findings offer us a groundbreaking look into the complex relationship between environmental features and our thoughts, feelings, and actions. "You can use [my findings] for the good or the bad," he says,"and the trick is to use it for the good [as much as possible]." In his keynotes, Alter shows audiences the "pro-social" implications of his book. He explains how they can achieve a win-win outcome by driving sales through the promotion of products that make people happier and more productive. To book Adam Alter as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

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