Tyranny of the Alphabet: A new study explores how your last name influences how fast you buy stuff.
As someone who's last name starts with Aa, I'm strongly aware as to how last names influence ones perspective and behavior. Being at the beginning of the alphabet, I do not hold extreme will power and the ability to bounce off any attempts at advertising persuasion, but I am also not a shopaholic. Where do you stand? Click on the link for the complete article.
By Timothy NoahPosted Friday, Jan. 28, 2011, at 6:16 PM ET
My surname falls almost precisely in the middle of the alphabet, N being the 14th of 26 letters. That may explain my previous indifference to the societal implications of alphabetization. Or perhaps I should say alphabetism, defined as discrimination against people whose last names fall near the end of the alphabet. We're talking about you, David Vitter, Reese Witherspoon, Carl Yastrzemski, and Fareed Zakaria (though it doesn't seem to have held any of them back). According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research (registration required) by Kurt A. Carlson, assistant professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, and Jacqueline M. Conard, assistant professor at Belmont University's Massey Graduate School of Business, the farther back in the alphabet the first letter of your surname falls, the quicker you're likely to chase some enticing new consumer offer. This response is rooted in childhood trauma.
To the extent I ever thought about this issue at all, I was inclined to believe that having your name at the end of the alphabet set you apart from the common herd in a good way. My Slate colleague and friend of 30 years, Emily Yoffe, has always been among the easiest people to find in what was, at various stages of my life, my address book, my Rolodex, my Palm Pilot, my PDA, and my bouquet of Apple devices (iTouch, iPhone, iPad). No matter what the platform, the way to find Emily was always the same: Go right to the end! Family members, by comparison, could be found only by stumbling around the middle, tempting me more than once not to send them Christmas cards. But Emily set me straight, confiding, for instance, that applause at her nephew Zachary Yoffe's graduation from the Naval Academy "was considerably less than for the kid whose last name was Anderson." She directed me to this survey in the Telegraph of London, in which readers with surnames at the start of the alphabet rated themselves more successful than readers with surnames at the end. Even in my address-book competition, Emily's advantage from being at the end is bested by that of my friend of 35 years, David Atkins, who resides at the beginning....