I was in three relationships in college and the girls were all named Emily. The second time seemed coincidental, but, as I learned in journalism school, three’s a trend. One friend said I had a “name fetish,” but when I tried to research it, nothing came up. Wikipedia’s list of paraphilias has 100 fetishes — everything from attraction to armpits to arousal from archery — but nothing about names.
I’m not alone in being attracted to girls with a particular name. Our culture fetishizes certain names, like Roxanne (thanks, Sting). And a running joke on NBC’s Parks and Recreation is that Ron Swanson’s two ex-wives are named Tammy, which is also his mother’s name. Swanson’s Freudian case is one explanation for the name phenomenon, but my mother’s name isn’t Emily. It doesn’t even start with an E.
More has been written about “name attraction” than “name fetish.” Psychologists explain it using “name-letter effect,” the idea that the letters in our names influence our decision-making, including who and what we’re attracted to. According to a SUNY Buffalo study, a man named Dennis might be likely to pursue a career in dentistry. George might be likely to live in Georgia. “Name-letter effect” explains why Tom Cruz and Penelope Cruz dated (that or a shadowy deal with Scientology). It’s even more obvious for people with gender-neutral names or gay couples. According to the theory, I associate the “M” in Max with the “Em” in Emily.
For an explanation outside of psychology, I turned to the Social Security baby name database. Emily was the 13th most popular female name in 1989, the tenth in 1991, and the seventh in 1992, the years my Emilys were born. So by dating a lot of girls in their early-to-mid 20s, I’m bound to date a bunch of Emilys.
Another simple explanation is that it’s an attractive name. I’m not alone in thinking this. There are 170 entries for “Emily” on Urban Dictionary, most of which involve beauty and sexiness. Plus, Esquire’s 2013 Woman of the Year was an Emily — Ratajkowski, from Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video.
But what happens if I get hung up on a different name? Do those explanations still work? Last year I briefly dated four girls named Allie or Alex. (Like Emily, those are popular names.) And back in August I dated two Margots, which shockingly had nothing to do with living in France.
There are pros and cons to dating people with the same name. On one hand, you can get away with calling out your ex’s name in bed. But the downside is that your new boyfriend or girlfriend could be a constant reminder of your former one. Usher put it best: “You remind me of a girl that I once knew / This is why I just can’t get with you.”
My friends of both genders had mixed feelings about name attraction. One female friend said she hadn’t thought about it before I asked, but she dated a Matt, Mac, and Max (not me) in a row. One guy friend said he intentionally steers clear of people with the same names as his exes.
Maybe the name fetish is really coincidence. Maybe I’m a weirdo. Or maybe I just date too much.