From a recent issue of scene: “even sadder is the idea that I am old. I’m almost 22 — practically an old maid.” Thank you, Bradley Bailey, thank you so much for making me feel ready to be carbon-dated.
Having been thus dumped into a slough of despond, I was pulled out only by an invitation to join thefacebook.com, which, for a 26-year-old singleton, was the gateway to a bright shining upland of youth and happiness. At the click of a mouse, I found that I can know all about hundreds of people without having to bother actually talking to them. I can identify the other 21 Yalies who like Watership Down and wonder if maybe we could form some sort of support group. And I am now linked to 786 people, nearly one-third of whom were added (this is absolutely true) when Steve Abramowitz agreed to be my friend.
Obviously the facebook isn’t, strictly speaking, a dating agency, but it would still be nice to see what some people look like. I say this with utter hypocrisy, as my profile currently carries a streetmap in place of a photo. But this is actually a rather cunning move because, according to one of those surveys that makes you realize some institutions have too much money, my name — unlike my photo — is inherently sexy. A researcher from MIT posted the same photos on hotornot.com, changed the names she attached, and then compared the scores. Apparently, women prefer names with vowels produced at the front of the mouth, such as the short e and i, to names with fuller, longer sounds such as o and u. Hence, it was reported, “names such as Rich, Nick, Lee, Elliot, Mike and Sam would do better than Tom, Roger, Sean, Mohammed, John, Raj and Rob.”
This would be a useful theory if it weren’t self-evidently bullshit. All the Robs I know are better-looking than I am, and a friend has a theory that all people called Tom are attractive — which would also be bullshit if it weren’t, in my experience, experientially true. And according to the MIT research, incidentally, the theory works in reverse for men, who find women more attractive if they have names with longer vowel sounds, such as Laura, Moira or Paula. No reason was given for this male propensity, so maybe it’s just because these women are used to widening their mouths.
Of course, it’s undeniable that certain names conjure up certain images: Norman and Clive, for example, are not exactly brimming with testosterone. Parents can ruin their children’s lives by thoughtlessly saddling them with outlandish names or unintentionally comic initials. Then there are meanings to consider: Nicholas means ‘people’s victory,’ which I rather like, and my surname is Old French for Baghdad. It’s a good thing nobody at the Department for Homeland Security speaks Old French or I’d never have gotten a visa. And if you happen to be called Arnold, by the way, tomorrow is your day of celebration in Poland.
Anyway, all this got me thinking, so I conducted my own completely non-scientific survey and filled in a lot of spare time on the flight back from England by following a Yale lead and compiling a personal list of the 50 Most Beautiful People I know. This is trickier than you might think, but, after serious thought, I decided the most important criterion for preliminary qualification was that I could reasonably be expected to stop and talk to them in the street (hence, no Claire Danes). And that’s just the beginning: then you have to weigh up the difference between people you know to be good-looking, people you subjectively find attractive, and people you just wanna shag.
Eventually, and with a lot of agonized crossings-out and debating exactly when a different spelling becomes a different name, I settled on a list of fifty, twenty-five of each sex to be fair. This list reveals that being called Katherine (and variants) is a clear indication of beauty — as Henry VIII would agree — and that attractive women have a greater variety of names: the male list included three Toms, three Marks, and two each of Christopher, James, Alex, Robert, William and Matthew. Except one of the Williams was a Will, and one was a Bill. And there was an Alex on the female list too. And one Beautiful Person was named after a local river, an idea that to my eternal gratitude didn’t occur to my parents, or I’d now be called Mersey. Anyway, go figure. Or go make your own list. But do not, like Mr. Bailey, restrict it to those under 20. We may be old, we may be ‘riddled with senility,’ we may resent the freshmen for being born in years that we can remember with startling clarity — we may be many things, but we’re still here. We’ve been there and done that, and we’d like to do it again before we forget how. And some of us have really sexy names.
Nick Baldock didn’t make fun of lacrosse players in his column. In fact, several are on his list. Who wear their varsity jackets to Toad’s.