Doctoral research - narratives and identity

It's been quite some time since I've written a blog for this site. I've been busy over the past few years with supervising student's research projects and managing the private practice. With the start of the new year I'll be beginning a new journey focusing on conducting my own research, and I intend to update this blog with my progress more regularly. 

In brief, the focus of this research project is to explore how dramatic narratives within film and television influence the development of an individual's identity construction. This will involve conducting interviews to examine how people remember influential media narratives from their childhood and how they narrate their adult identity. 

PhD research is a lot of work, and there will probably be times when it becomes overwhelming and frustrating. However it should also be a highly rewarding experience and will most likely contribute valuable knowledge about how media affects individuals over their developmental lifespan. Social and personality research doesn't exist within a vacuum, and I'm grateful to my supervisors and colleagues for their hard work on related topics. 

For now, I have a lot of reading to do and paperwork for gaining the necessary approvals to collect data with participants. If you have any questions about this research, you're welcome to contact me to discuss the theory or implications of studying media effects on personality. 

Names and need for uniqueness

Recently I conducted a small survey to practice skills with survey design and analysis. I’d like to express my gratitude to the people who participated in the survey and who provided comments and feedback. For your interest, I've summarised the results in this post.

This study examined the relationship between name popularity and an individual’s sense of uniqueness. Heibert (2007) suggests that in the age of the internet we now have the ability to locate other people with the same name and argues that this fractures our identity, saying:

"We are bound to our names, bound consequently to a named deferral of precisely the uniqueness of individualized belonging... to something that defies our self-conception, rendering each and every individual in excess of themselves." (p. 171).

Some individuals possess more salient personal attributes which distinguishes them from others, and increase their sense of being differentiated or distinctive. Lynn & Harris (1997) suggest that names are one example of a salient attribute. Awareness of the uniqueness of a name may be moderated by exposure to others with similar names, especially if an individual is aware that they were named after a family member, or a media figure such as a celebrity or fictional character. To further explore whether the uniqueness of a persons' name influences their perceptions of their individuality, a survey was designed to test the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: People who have unusual names may perceive themselves as more unique, people with fairly popular names may not. 

Hypothesis 2: The relationship between given names and need for uniqueness may differ by factors such as gender or the inspiration for being named. 

Hypothesis 3 (Null hypothesis): Sense of uniqueness may be unrelated to an individual's given name. 



Participants were convenience sampled from friends, family, and peers of the researcher. Respondents were asked to provide their current official given name and to complete the questionnaire about self-perceptions using an online survey. Survey questions were designed in Qualtrics Research Suite and distributed electronically by email and social media over a two week period in June, 2014. Participants were informed that the current study had not sought approval from an ethics committee or Institutional Review Board, however ethical considerations were considered in the research design and analysis.  

Measures and procedures

To ensure that studied names were a valid measure of named identification, questions were asked to determine whether the participant had ever been known by another name or had created an alias. To ensure homogeneity of named identification, participants were also asked to indicate the person who chose their name, with the assumption that most individuals are named by their parents; however some may choose a new name for their self, or may potentially be given a name by an institution. All respondents in this sample indicated that they were named by their parents.

To control for participant’s perceptions about their names, respondents were also asked to rate how popular they perceived their name to be on a likert scale from 1 (very popular) to 5 (very unique), and whether they liked or disliked their name on a likert scale from 1 (dislike extremely) to 5 (like extremely). Only 14 participants indicated the inspiration for their name. Of these, 3 respondents indicated that their parents liked or created the name, 4 indicated they were named after a relative, 6 were named after a media or literary persona, and one suggested their nickname was a way to differentiate from others with a similar name.

Popularity of given names was determined using the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) website which publishes the prevalence of the top 1000 baby names for each year. Given names were converted to a numerical value by searching for the exact spelling of the name in the SSA baby name lists for males and females’ year of birth, and the corresponding number for the ranking of the name was entered into the dataset (1 - 1000). Names were then deleted from the dataset to protect participant privacy and confidentiality. Names that were not in the top 1000 list of names were determined to be highly unique and were coded as ‘1001’.

Alternate names and aliases were also ranked if they were different to the current given name. Of those respondents who indicated that they were also known by a previous name, nickname or alias (n = 10), all indicated an alternate name that was an abbreviation or derivative of their current official name. Of these, 1 participant had a current name that was somewhat more popular than their previous name, and only 1 participant had a nickname that was somewhat more unique than their official name. However as these alternate names were similar to their current name and were therefore related to this named sense of identity, analyses were conducted only on current official given names.    

Participants’ sense of uniqueness was assessed using the Uniqueness Scale (Snyder & Fromkin, 1977), a 32 item survey measure which assesses an individual's need-for-uniqueness, emphasizing a sense of independence, anticonformity, inventiveness, achievement, and self-esteem. These items are not affected by social desirability responding, and were found to have a .87 Kuder- Richardson 20 coefficient of reliability (Snyder & Fromkin, 1977). The measure of need for uniqueness is found by reverse scoring 15 negative items and summing the scores of all 32 items, to gain a total uniqueness score. Prior studies using the Uniqueness Scale found this measure correlates positively and significantly with self-esteem, and results in 3 factors; lack of concern regarding others' reactions to one's different ideas, actions, etc.; a desire to not always follow rules; and a willingness to publicly defend personal beliefs (Lynn & Harris, 1997; Snyder & Fromkin, 1977). Snyder and Fromkin (1977) report means ranging from 98 to 108 (normal range). Individuals who score lower than 98 may be more likely to conform compared to other people (low uniqueness); however those who scored higher than 108 may be less likely to conform compared to others (high uniqueness).


Descriptive statistics

Thirty four surveys were started however only 25 respondents answered the questions about their names, and only 23 respondents completed the survey, a completion rate of 60%. Of the respondents who either partially or completed answered survey questions, 5 were male and 20 were female and respondents’ ages ranged from 21 to 65 years old (Mage = 40.96, SD = 12.35).

Twenty respondents’ names were found in the SSA top 1000 names and ranged from being ranked 5th to 698th in popularity for their respective year of birth, and 5 individuals had names which were not on the rankings list (coded 1001). The average and median ranking was 354, however the distribution was positively skewed with a greater frequency of popular names. These rankings were used as two variables, a continuous variable (name uniqueness) ranging from 5 to 1001 and a categorical variable (name popularity) with three categories; popular (n = 14), average (n = 6), and unique (n = 5). All respondents indicated positive perception of their names (M = 3.93, SD = .759) and there was a fairly equal distribution of perception of name uniqueness (M = 2.84, SD = 1.24).

In this sample, need for uniqueness resembled a normal distribution with total scores ranging from 68 to 112 (M = 94.8, SD = 9.8). These ranges are slightly below the normal ranges reported by Snyder and Fromkin (1977), which perhaps indicates that this sample is slower than average on uniqueness or that there was some degree of self-censorship within this sample’s responses. It should also be noted that the sample size of 23 cases was unlikely to yield statistically significant results, however analyses were conducted in SPSS to suggest possible trends which could be further verified using a larger sample.  

Statistical analyses

Two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to explore the relationship between name popularity and gender on need for uniqueness scores, results are summarised in Table 1 below. There were no main effects or interaction effects for gender and name popularity. Males showed no linear trend for need for uniqueness scores, however the group sizes were too small for statistical comparison. Females’ uniqueness scores tended to increase with more unusual names, however these results were not statistically significant (F(2,17) = .417, p = .665, hp2 = .047). This may be due to the small effect size and low observed power, which indicates there was only a 10% probability of finding a significant difference between groups.

Table 1.

Need for Uniqueness in Males and Females





Name popularity


M (SD)



M (SD)



97.00 (3.61)



92.00 (12.61)






     96.40 (5.59)






98.67 (13.50)


A second two-way ANOVA explored the relationship between name popularity and name inspiration on need for uniqueness scores. Similarly, there were no significant main effects or interactions effects for name inspiration and name popularity (F(2,14 )= .403, p = .685, hp2 = .118), which can also be explained by low effect size and low power (9% chance). These results suggest that with a larger sample size, it may be possible to adequately examine an interaction between gender and name popularity, in the direction that females with unique names may demonstrate a greater need for uniqueness.

Correlation analyses were explored to examine whether any other variables independently predicted uniqueness scores, which verified that were no significant correlations between age, gender, and name uniqueness rankings (as a continuous variable) with participants’ need for uniqueness. A significant relationship was found between SSA name rankings and perception of name uniqueness (r=.743, p=.000) which demonstrates that respondents were accurate in their perception of name uniqueness.


Considering that we are named before we are aware of ourselves as an individual, the hypotheses of this study assumed that given names may predict a sense of uniqueness. In acknowledgement of the research limitations, this survey was a cross-sectional design and could not definitively provide evidence for a causal relationship. Additionally, the method of convenience sampling in this study yielded unequal groups for comparison. Specifically, the wide range of ages and disproportion of males to females may support research validity for generalisation to the general population; however the bias in the sampling and small sample size may have prevented analytical power. Statistical analyses from this sample were not able to find support for the stated hypotheses, and therefore the null hypotheses must be accepted.   

After to conducting this survey, further literature searches revealed that this research question has previously been explored. Zweigenhaft (1981) used the Uniqueness Scale (Snyder & Fromkin, 1977) to compare a sample of students’ given names against the student population within a U.S. college. Specify it was found that women with unusual names displayed a higher than normal need for uniqueness and Zweigenhaft (1981) concluded that women were more likely than men to have unusual names. Twenge and Campbell (2009) claim that increases in trait narcissism over successive generations is expressed through increases in need for uniqueness and may explain increasing trends of unique baby names found in the Social Security Administration database. Over thirty years have passed since Zweigenhaft’s (1981) study and current generations may differ in their need for uniqueness. Perhaps observed differences may be related to greater prevalence of unique names in current society, or the contribution of increased narcissism towards a positive perception of uniqueness and individuality. Therefore, the theoretical basis for this survey is justified and new insights into the relationship between names and uniqueness may be found.

Lynn & Harris (1997) argue that Snyder and Fromkin’s (1977) Uniqueness Scale places too much emphasis on public and socially risky displays of uniqueness. These authors developed a 4-item measure which they called the self-attributed need for uniqueness (SANU), which assesses a respondent’s desire to be different and the importance of distinctiveness. Many of the measures of uniqueness have been adapted for use in consumer research to examine how the pursuit of uniqueness through consumption of commercial products. However Snyder and Fromkin’s (1977) also speculate that there is a universal need for uniqueness originating out of individual differences and idiosyncratic motivations. Further research in this area may benefit from using larger sample sizes and consideration of alternate measures to assess self-perceptions of uniqueness and individual differentiation.


Hiebert, T. (2007). Mirrors that pout: subjectivity in the age of the screen. Psychoanalytic Review, 94(1), 169-187. doi: 10.1521/prev.2007.94.1.169

Lynn, M. & Harris, J. (1997). Individual differences in the pursuit of self-uniqueness through consumption. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27, 1861-1883.

Popular Baby Names, Popular Names By Birth Year. The United States Social Security Administration [data]. Retrieved 14th June, 2014 from

Snyder, C. R., Fromkin, & Howard L. (1977). Abnormality as a positive characteristic: The development and validation of a scale measuring need for uniqueness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 86(5), 518-527. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Twenge, J. M. & Campbell, K. W. (2009). The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York, NY: Free Press.

Zweigenhaft, R.L. (1981). Unusual names and uniqueness. Journal of Social Psychology, 114, 297-298.


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