Does the Name-Letter Effect Prove That You're Soooo Into Yourself?

Illustration for article titled Does the Name-Letter Effect Prove That You're Soooo Into Yourself?

Remember when you had to pick your favorite letter in elementary school, and you always picked your first initial? It turns out that little ego trip never wears off — or does it? Let's look at the name-letter effect and decide if it's narcissism or coincidence.


What's your favorite letter? And what's your name? Chances are, they have a letter in common. From grade-school on up, we seem to have a fondness for our names, and like whatever is associated with those names. Not only that, but we feel a sort of claim on our initials. Studies found that woman found the letters of their own initials to be feminine and men found their initials to be masculine. My name, and my initials, are me, we have collectively decided. And it looks like people feel pretty good about themselves. Extended surveys found that people tend to settle, disproportionately, in towns that are alliterative, in jobs that are alliterative, and with spouses who are alliterative. Some people even choose towns and spouses with their own names. How much of an inducement is in a name?

Some people, for example internet writers, might find alliterative spousal names so insufferably twee that they'd change their own name to get away from such an atrocity. (Seriously, that was only okay with the Roosevelts.) Others, like scientists, think that gravitating towards our initials is a sign of intrinsic self-esteem, or egotism. We want more of ourselves.

Other researchers disagree that our narcissistic love for ourselves goes so far that we'd choose a spouse because they have the same last name, or live in a town that bears our name. (Unless we can run a long-con where we position ourselves as the secret heir to the public land and force the town to "lease" it from us. If anyone finds a town named Inglis-Arkell, I'm up for that.) There are other reasons why a person named Taylor might settle in a town named Taylor. Towns and people in any given area generally come from a homogeneous culture, with consistent phonetic patterns. If you are named Taylor, chances are you are growing up in an area where things are more likely to be named Taylor. You're also growing up in a culture where town names and other people's names are more likely to start with "t" than with "x."

And the spousal studies? Similar, or matching, names are also influenced by culture, but there's a more basic reason marrying spouses tend to have the same last name. A surprising amount of studies neglected to check whether the bride changed her name before the ceremony. So if two Taylors were wed, one of them might have had a different name, but changed it during the ramp up to the wedding.

So while we do like ourselves enough to get sentimental about our names, we probably aren't crazy enough to choose our entire mode of life depending on our name.

[Via More Complex Than Previously Thought: Initial Preference Task, The Gender Initial Preference Task, Spurious? Name Similarity Effects.]




Interesting personal anecdote: I did my internship in experimental psychology with Professor V. Hoorens, who did her doctoral dissertation on the name letter effect with J. Nuttin, the professor that discovered the effect :)