Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Numerology Works


Translating Names to Numbers

The process of translating words to numbers is central to numerology. The practice has roots in Greek, Latin and Hebrew gematria, or the practice of turning words into numbers for the purpose of divination. People have used gematria to study and interpret the Torah, the Bible and other religious texts.

Most of the time, numerologists focus on people's names, using a simple chart to change names into numbers. Different numerology systems use different charts, but an easy one begins with "a" equaling 1, "b" equaling 2 and so forth.

Numerologists typically use the name a person received at birth. Some argue that unborn babies select their names themselves and communicate them to their parents psychically, making sure their name will suit them and yield the correct number. According to numerologists, the name a person receives at birth is more significant than nicknames, names taken upon marriage, or otherwise changed names.

To determine a person's number, the numerologist picks the corresponding numbers from the chart and adds them together. If the result has two or more digits, the numerologist will add those digits together, repeating that step until arriving at a single digit. For example:

The total for the name "Harry" is 34, "James" is 12, and "Potter" is 31, for a total of 77. In some systems, the number 77 might be a master number, but most would add the two digits together for a total of 14, and then add one and four for a total of 5.

Many numerology systems also use a person's date of birth to arrive at another number known as the birth, life or destiny number. Harry's birthday, July 31, 1980, becomes:

Some numerologists use charts or diagrams to examine the numbers and letters in relations to one another. These diagrams can resemble astrological charts and can add additional layers of meaning to the numerological reading. But regardless of whether a numerologist uses a simple or complex system to determine the results, the final analysis will often sound much like a horoscope.

Numerologists will interpret the results and the connotations of each number to make recommendations or theorize about a person's future. Recommendations often include:

  • Lucky days or lucky numbers
  • Optimal career paths for a person's numerological temperament
  • Negative tendencies to avoid
  • Positive attributes to emphasize
  • What to look for in a romantic partner

Like astrology, numerology is a type of applied mysticism - it correlates a mystical symbol with a person's life. For this reason, some people have credited numerology with helping them to make personal or financial decisions. However, there's no proof that the system works or that there is any real correlation between the numbers and their associated concepts. We'll look at this and some of the other controversies surrounding numerology in the next section.