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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moniker Business: Names Matter

Does a kid with any old name fair the same in school and in life?

A couple of years ago, MIT/Univ of Chicago economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan tested the effects of names that prime race on the labor market prospect of job candidates. In Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination they describe an experiment they responded with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers, manipulating only the perception of race,  randomly assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. Their results were clear: White names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. A new study suggests that naming your kids may affect not only the reactions of others, but also their own behavior. In a forthcoming article in Psych Science, Business School Profs  Leif Nelson (UCSD) and Joseph Simmons (YALE) find that although most students want As in school, those whose names begin C or D have lower grade point averages than students whose names begin with A and B—with an even greater effect if they say they like their initials. For us law professors, this means that students whose names begin with C or D will attend lower-ranked law schools than students whose names begin with A or B. Here is the abstract of Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success:

People like their names enough to unconsciously approach consciously-avoided name-resembling outcomes. Baseball players avoid strikeouts, but players with strikeout-signifying K-initials strike out more than others (Study 1). All students want A's, but C- and D-initialed students find initial-resembling outcomes less aversive and achieve lower GPAs (Study 2), particularly if they like their initials (Study 3). Because lower GPAs lead to lesser graduate schools, C- and D-initialed students go to lower ranked law schools than their A- and B-initialed counterparts (Study 4). Finally, in an experimental design, participants perform worse when a consolation prize shares their first initial (Study 5). These findings provide striking evidence that unconscious wants can insidiously undermine conscious pursuits.

Posted by Orly Lobel on November 21, 2007 at 12:25 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Ha. Imagine how far I would have gotten in life if I hadn't been saddled with the initials and moniker "DF". I'd be interested in a related study to see what if any life effects naming has for kids whose parents give them creative/unusual names like (e.g., "Alabaster", "Chastity") versus run-of-the-mill/traditional ones (e.g., "John", "Dave").

Posted by: Dave | Nov 25, 2007 6:01:24 PM

One of the authors of the study was named "Leif?" I am picturing an 80s era matinee idol-type with a lot of hair. I certainly wouldn't hire someone like that.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 26, 2007 10:24:45 AM

I'm with you about "Leif," Anon, but the other author of the study has a strong, successful-sounding first name.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Nov 26, 2007 10:33:51 AM

Names matter because they set up the context that you use to approach something. Whether it's a person's name, a company's name, or the label you use to describe something, it can affect decisions more deeply than we realize. Names are hard to change later; choose carefully!

--Jason Cohen

Posted by: Small business marketing geek | Oct 14, 2008 4:12:11 PM

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