"Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success," Leif D. Nelson and Joseph P. Simmons, Psychological Science
Expectant parents have long considered the meaning behind names before choosing one for their child, but a recent study suggests it's our initials that help determine our fates. The authors argue that our preference for our names is so strong that we unconsciously gravitate toward people, places, objects, and outcomes that begin with the same letter as our moniker: Mary is more likely to marry Mark, drive a Mazda, and move to Maryland than is Virginia, who's more likely to marry Virgil, drive a Volvo, and move to Virginia. To test whether the influence of initials could override a conscious desire to succeed at something, the authors turned to professional baseball players and graduate students. An analysis of Major League Baseball records from 1913 to 2006 showed that players whose first or last name started with the letter K (the symbol for strikeout) were slightly more likely to fulfill the destiny suggested by their initials: they struck out 18.8 percent of the time, compared with 17.2 percent for other players. Likewise, MBA students whose first or last name began with a C or a D tended to end up with lower grade-point averages, and law students with A or B in their initials tended to end up at better-ranked programs than those whose initials included a C or a D. Students with initials from the very beginning of the alphabet did not, however, earn higher grades than those with grade-irrelevant initials. The authors explain that performance reflects both motivation and ability, so although having a name tied to "easy-to-achieve negative outcomes" might hurt you, having a name whose first letter reflects "hard-to-achieve positive outcomes" may not offer a boost.