Enneagram Numbers vs. Names – Good vs. bad? Which Should You Use?
If you come across different systems for defining personality, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – also known as MBTI –, or the DISC assessment, or the Big Five, you will know they use lots of fancy names and acronyms to name their types and aspects. Unlike them, the Enneagram usually simply uses the numbers from one to nine.
Why is that?
And why do we also use names like "Investigator" and "Improver"?
Does it even make a difference?
What you will learn
The problem with all them Enneagram names
Let’s start our attempt at answering this question with a simple and obvious observation: Words have power. The names and terms we use for abstract concepts shape how we understand these concepts. If, for example, you call a certain personality type a „Logician“, this will trigger specific notions you associate with this word – different notions than if, for example, we call it an „Observer“, an „Expert“ or a „Radical“.
The next problem we encounter with these names is that each of them can only capture a fragment of all the elements that make up a certain personality type. No matter how many categories you use for human personality – four, five, nine, sixteen –, they all group certain traits together into what each system defines as a type. But if you then go ahead and try to label these bundles of names with a single name, you are bound to misrepresent it.
This is why Enneagram numbers are a thing.
The idea behind using numbers to talk about type is to minimize bias. Numbers are neutral. By just calling the types One, Two, Three and so on, you get the chance to talk about them without attaching any positive or negative connotations to them that would come with a certain name.
At least, that’s the theory.
The problem with all them Enneagram numbers
In reality, humans are meaning-searching machines. We want to attach emotion and meaning to everything. That’s why we will find a way to slip our biases into anything we want. Prejudice originates in us, not in a word – which is why it also won’t stop at a number.
If you want to box someone into a stereotype, you can do so by using numbers just as much as by using anything else. Saying „You’re such a Six!“ can be just as hurtful as saying „You’re such a Doubter!“ In fact, it can be even more hurtful precisely because numbers offer us a blank slate onto which we can project any number of preconceptions we want to. Every word can turn into a weapon if we have filled it with enough negative meaning.
There’s also another problem with the Enneagram numbers: Sometimes, they can obscure the dynamic concept of the Enneagram by making people believe that personality can be reduced to a single digit: I’m a Four, you’re a Five, she’s a Seven. As if that were everything we needed to know in oder to understand a person.
Great, so what now?
Traditionally, most people who work with the Enneagram use the number of each type as a shorthand when talking about them. It’s part convention, part tradition, part convenience.
Most people then also add a handful of names that try to give a rough sketch of what the number stands for. Names like Challenger or Peacemaker give people who aren’t familiar with the type a hint as to what that number stands for.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you do with those words when you use them.
Do you weaponize personality types to stereotype, pigeonhole or hurt people? Do you use your type to excuse your bad behavior? Do you use it to sound smart or to convince yourself you know someone after five minutes of meeting them because you’re sure you already guessed their type?
Or do you use the Enneagram to become humble about yourself and the complexity of human nature? To love people as they are? To grow your compassion and appreciation for the unique perspective of every single person?
This is why we use both. The Enneagram numbers are the most convenient shorthand and are easy to remember. The names we use try to focus on the most healthy version of each type, giving you the chance to remember the wonderful thing people of that type bring to the table.
In the end, it’s all up to you. Do you use personality types to box people in or to set people free?
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