What’s in a name? Studies link initials to success
Nov 16,2007 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

Do you like your name and ini­tials? Most peo­ple do. Past re­search has found that some­times we like these things enough to let them in­flu­ence ma­jor de­ci­sions. For in­stance, Jack is more likely to move to Jack­son­ville and mar­ry Jack­ie than is Philip—who is like­li­er to move to Phil­a­del­phia and mar­ry Phyl­lis. Sci­en­tists call this the “name-let­ter ef­fect.”

But if you like your name too much, you might be in trou­ble. Leif Nel­son of the Un­ivers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Die­go and col­league Jo­seph Sim­mons of Yale Un­ivers­ity found that lik­ing your own name sab­o­tages suc­cess for peo­ple whose ini­tials are re­lat­ed to neg­a­tive out­comes.

In part of their re­search, Nel­son and Sim­mons in­ves­t­i­gated the ef­fect of names in base­ball, where strike­outs, which are un­de­sir­a­ble, are recorded us­ing the let­ter K. Af­ter an­a­lyz­ing Ma­jor League records span­ning 93 years, the re­search­ers found that bat­ters whose names be­gan with K struck out slightly more of­ten than oth­ers. 

A monogram from an early-20th century Polish album.

“Even Karl ‘Ko­ley’ Kolseth would find a strike­out aver­sive, but he might find it a lit­tle less aver­sive than play­ers who do not share his ini­tials, and there­fore he might avoid strik­ing out less en­thu­si­as­tic­al­ly,” wrote the au­thors in a pa­per de­tail­ing the find­ings. The work is pub­lished in the De­cem­ber is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.

Nel­son and Sim­mons al­so stud­ied the phe­nom­e­non in ac­a­dem­ia. Let­ter grades are com­monly used to meas­ure stu­dent per­for­mance, with the let­ters A through D de­not­ing pro­gres­sively worse re­sults. 

Nel­son and Sim­mons re­viewed 15 years of grade point av­er­ages for MBA stu­dents at a large pri­vate U.S. un­ivers­ity. Stu­dents whose names be­gan with C or D earned low­er av­er­ages than those whose names be­gan with A or B, they found. The lat­ter group, though, did­n’t do bet­ter than stu­dents whose ini­tials were ir­rel­e­vant to any grade. There­fore, hav­ing ini­tials that match hard-to-achieve pos­i­tive out­comes, like ac­ing a test, may not nec­es­sarily cause an in­crease in per­for­mance, the re­search­ers sug­gested. But af­ter an­a­lyz­ing law schools, they found that as the qual­ity of schools de­clined, so did the pro­por­tion of lawyers with name ini­tials A and B. 

The re­sults over­all of­fer “strik­ing ev­i­dence that un­con­scious wants can in­sid­i­ously un­der­mine con­scious pur­suits,” the re­search­ers said in an­nounc­ing their re­sults.

Courtesy Association for Psychological Science World Science staff