Has anyone come across research on the use of first names in applications?

We're working on an application with many questions. There's a desire to use the first name of the user, their spouse's name if there's a spouse.

The hope is to make the application more user-friendly.

One faction is all for it, sees no drawbacks. Another faction absolutely hates it as overly familiar, a transparent attempt to be friendly which seems inauthentic, etc.

I'm curious about available research on the topic.


We treat computers just like other people. Pretend the application is a person giving the questions (which it ultimately is). Is the person being polite? In How to Win Friends and Influence People an entire chapter is dedicated to calling people by their name as much as possible. It's definitely OK to do so.

I started remembering people's names at grocery store checkouts and coffee houses and it's made a huge difference. A person's name is the one unique thing about that person. It represents everything that person is and has been. It's very special and powerful.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Studies from Stanford professors on how even expert users interact with computers as if they were people; not machines.

  • Yeah. I'm a sociologist by training, so I'm familiar with the way people respond to machines. In this case, our application asks 100s of questions. The repeated use of the name sets a number of users on edge in testing. it's about 50/50. My suggestion is going to be to program it to randomly use the name - more like a human would. My hunch is that people get angry because the machine is acting like the machine that it is and users are jolted out of their habit of responding to it as if it's a person. Hoping for research papers on the topic someone might know of offhand. Thanks for recs! – Kelley Nov 20 '12 at 22:58
  • @Kelley: While I may treat my machine as a person, it doesn't necessarily follow that my machine may pretend to be a person. Anyway it could be people are just jolted because of the frequency with which their name is used. Questionaires don't use your name all over the place, forms don't either. Even people don't use each other's names in every sentence. What you may be achieving is a "blantantly obvious NOT a person" effect. – Marjan Venema Nov 21 '12 at 6:53
  • Agree with Marjan to some extent — I have seen humans do this and it can feel very contrived. It's usually people from a sales background, but the staff at my gym tried to do this for a while when you scanned yourself in, and it was cringe-inducing (they don't know my name!). I think the key here might be the giving of permission: if you tell an app your name, it's reasonable to expect that it will remember, just like when you tell a person. If they use it in moderation, that's fine, IMO. – finiteattention Nov 21 '12 at 11:35
  • Right Marjan - that was my point. My suggestion is to use logic to randomly insert the name throughout the questionnaire. But I am wondering, again: Is there any research on the topic. I'd just like to flesh out the findings we have in usability testing, by referring to research that helps explain why -- rather than my hunch that people are expecting social interaction and are upset when the repeated name use is "robotic" and not "human." Thanks for your feedback. – Kelley Nov 21 '12 at 14:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.