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How Your Name Can Determine Your Opportunities, With Xian Zhao

The Namedropping podcast logo, a coffee cup with a scratched-out name
Art by Tara Jacoby

A name influences how people interact with you. That much is evident. But is it possible to get more granular about how much influence it has on those interactions? On this week's episode of Namedropping, we spoke with Dr. Xian Zhao, a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern University with a PhD in social psychology. The discussion covered his relationship to his own name, but we also spent time talking about his academic research on whether the origin of a name can affect self-esteem, opportunity, and choices in a life-or-death scenario.

In one of Zhao's studies, he emailed a group of professors with either his name, Xian, or an anglicized name, Alex. (He explains why he settled on "Alex.") In another, he studied whether Chinese college students feel more overlooked when they don't adopt Anglo names. In a third study, he put participants in a series of hypothetical transportation disasters and asked who they'd save first, depending on their names. Outside of his work, Zhao also explained how for a little while, he went by the name "WTO."

A transcript for the episode can be found here.

If you've never listened to the pod before, check out our season opener with comedian and mathematician Sridhar Ramesh.

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