Is your name optimized for success?

Help & FAQ's Industry News & Insights People in a meeting wearing nametags

If you want people to think you’re smart, add a middle initial to your name. Or so suggest the findings of new research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Psychologists Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou have found that “the display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people’s intellectual capacities and achievements.” The authors suggest that this is because middle initials often appear in formal contexts, especially when people refer to intellectual achievements.

They say that they document the effect in seven different studies, finding that “Middle initials in authors’ names increased the evaluation of their writing performance” as well as “increased perceptions of status.” And two initials were better than one. The effect was specific to intellectual performance.

So, if you don’t think your intellectual powers get the respect they deserve, consider adding a middle initial, or two, to your name.

While we’re renaming you, let’s look at the rest of your moniker and see if we can’t improve it further.

It seems you might also be able to increase your earning potential by shortening your first name or, if you’re a woman, changing it to Christine.

The Ladders found that people with shorter first names earn more than those with longer names.

The researchers sorted names into lists of highest ranking positions and highest earning and discovered that the highest paid men were named Tom, Rob, Dale, Doug, and Wayne. The highest paid women, meanwhile, were named Lynn, Melissa, Cathy, Dana and Christine.

C-level men were named Bob, Lawrence, Bill, Mark and Martin. C-level women were named Christine, Denise, Cindy, Shannon and Sarah. Christine was the only name to make both lists.

Despite the longer names on the C-level list, overall, The Ladders notes that “shorter names seemed to be higher ranked across all categories and metrics … and there is a correlation between the number of letters in your name and the average salary.

“It looks like every additional letter added to your name accounts for a $3,600 drop in annual salary. One exception is names with seven letters, like Stephen, but closer inspection showed that seven-letter names lend themselves to males over females, so it’s higher paid males over-indexing and inflating the seven-letter bucket.” (They didn’t say beyond what number each additional letter accounts for a drop. But I assume it’s either three or five.)

The shorter name bias held true with nicknames as well, meaning Steves, Bills and Debbies out earned Stephens, Williams and Deborahs. Even one seemingly innocuous letter made a difference, as Saras, Micheles and Philips made more money than Sarahs, Michelles and Phillips.

Now let’s leap over to a study by University of California researcher Gregory Clark who found that success in individuals can be determined by your ancestors and whether you share a name with them, and that the effect goes back to the middle ages.

Clark said, “If I just know that you share a rare surname with someone who was wealthy in 1800, I can predict now that you’re nine times more likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge. You’re going to live two years longer than an average person in England. You’re going to have more wealth. You’re more likely to be a doctor. You’re more likely to be an attorney.” The effect extended to countries other than the UK as well.

It’s important to point out a few things. As NPR notes, “Clark is talking about relative social position, not overall living conditions or income.” Also, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of causation, merely correlation. Still, the implication that in your quest for social, career and economic success you might want to change your name to that of a family of historically high social standing is worth considering, no?

Some names to consider in Canada: Bombadier, Mirvish, Bronfman.

If we put these three principles together — a short first name, two middle initials, and a rare but famous last name with high standing — we should get a full name that indicates intelligence, has high earning power, and virtually guarantees social success!

Some suggestions:

    Tom R.S. Mirvish
    Chris P.Q. Bronfman
    Christine R.L. Bombardier


Now, go change your name. Let me know how it goes.

  • neiljmason

    The examples: Tom R.S. Mirvish, Chris P.Q. Bronfman and Christine R.L. Bombardier do not support what the article is trying to prove. The people mentioned as examples are all products of nepotism, not because they have short names. They are all from the richest families in Canada and would have been given high positions regardless of what they were called.

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      Hi Neil. Did you read the whole article or just the first half? I ask because the whole second half is about having the name of a rich, famous family.

  • David Gay

    Changing the presentation of one’s full name is iffy at best, and can introduce some unexpected negative results.

    Consider my name for example. My full name is David Alan Gay, so using a middle initial to present it as David A. Gay could produce a unwanted variation if the period was moved one position to the left. That has actually happened on some junk mail and previous voting cards I’ve received.

    Then again, I’ve always been a deeds speak kind of fellow. My intelligence and work ethic has been spelled out far better in my employment experience than in any presentation of my full name.

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein