Psychology

The Name-Letter Effect Makes You Prefer The Letters In Your Own Name

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You like yourself. You like yourself so much that you may unconsciously seek out partners, places to live, and other things that share the letters in your name. This is what's called the name-letter effect.

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Why It's Important

Have you ever felt an indescribable connection to anything starting with one of your initials? If your name is Joanie, you might have a certain affinity towards jellyfish, jelly beans, and the vocal stylings of Ja Rule (our editor Joanie likes two of those things). First identified in 1985 by the Belgian psychologist Jozef Nuttin, the name-letter effect says that people have a preference for the letters in their first or last names. That's not limited to English speakers, either. Nuttin found that 12 different European languages also experienced this effect.

At this point you might be thinking, why is this news? Parents teach their kids to love their names at a young age. Everything from backpacks to sippy cups come emblazoned with children's names. Could this just be mere exposure at work? Many scientists say yes, while others are still churning out studies that suggest otherwise—for example, people who learn a new language with a completely different alphabet in adulthood still prefer the letters in their name in that new alphabet. It's not surprising that a large percentage of women named Virginia live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but a 2007 study found that people's names can even affect their test scores: students whose names begin with C or D achieve lower grades than students whose names begin with A or B. Once your name is affecting your academic success, that starts to sound like a big deal!

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Why People Are Talking About It

Various psychological studies have determined that we're drawn to brands, cities, jobs, and even partners whose names share letters in our first and last names. The reason may be closely related to something called implicit self-esteem, or "unconscious evaluations of oneself and objects closely associated with oneself." People with high implicit self-esteem are more likely to have positive feelings towards details like their birthday or the letters in their name. See for yourself—have your friends complete the following test (but don't tell them what it's for):

1. Write down all the letters of the alphabet vertically in a column on the left of the sheet of paper.

2. Next to each letter, provide a rating of 1 to 4 with 1 meaning "dislike very much" and 4 meaning "like very much."

3. Now create four columns and label them "IYFN," "IYLN," "NIYFN," and "NIYLN." These letters stand for "In Your First Name," "In Your Last Name," "Not in Your First Name," and "Not in Your Last Name."

4. Add up the ratings you gave the letters that fall into each category, and write their average in their respective column.

How did your friend do? While the name-letter effect might not dictate all of your life's decisions, it could give us a little insight into the subconscious—not to mention make you consider giving your kids an "A" name.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. A study found a correlation between boys with traditionally girls' names had more difficulties in school. 00:46

  2. Peoples' names are linked to social status and other societal aspirations. 01:46

  3. Names can have a psychological affect on one's self-perception and overall mental health. 02:08

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