Following only a couple days after posting a comment on old-fashioned marketing (starting with your ABCs), I came across an article in the Daily Telegraph (Tuesday May 22, page 29) entitled “Is your name to blame for your life?” The article featured an online study of 15,000 readers, declaratively, showing that their lives were indeed better (criteria based on health, finances, career and “life in general”) if they had a surname beginning with a letter near the start of the alphabet. What the article also stated was that there had been numerous other studies in and around the same area, two of which are cited. The first was a study in 2006 by Liran Einay (Stanford) and Leeat Yariv (California Institute of Technology), was published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives and demonstrated that academics working in US universities with initials early in the alphabet were more likely to be in the best-rated departments and to become fellows of the Econometric Society and even to win a Nobel Prize. The study concluded that this effect was likely due to the convention of listing published works by authors in alphabetical order. I suppose Yariv needed to buddy up with Einay for that survey? The second study cited was by Nicholas Christenfeld (University of California San Diego) who, in 1999, found evidence supporting the notion that people whose initials formed positive-sounding words (such as J.O.Y. or H.U.G….) lived longer than those with negative-sounding initials (such as P.I.G. or B.U.M.). And the margin of difference was quite noteworthy with men with positive sounding initials living 4.5 years longer than average and those with less positive initials dying 3 years earlier than average. For women, the positive effect was only 3 years and there was no negative effect. This seems to reassure me in my mania to find acronyms of interest for our family (YAMO as opposed to OA-MY).

As the article suggests, we can’t do much about our last name, and maybe we should not fret so much about the forename we give to our children. A quick look around well-known figures today reveals a resounding bell: Arnault, Blair, Berlusooni, Brown, Bush, Branson, Cheney, Clinton, Chirac…(dare I say Christ). The contest between Sego and Sarko was between two end-of-alphabeters. A possible new generation?

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