Sunday, June 25, 2006

Alphabetical Discrimination

What's in a Surname? The Effects of Surname Initials on Academic Success: Economists at Stanford and Caltech find that economists whose last names begin with letters earlier in the alphabet are more likely to receive tenure at top universities, more likely to become fellows of the top economics society and more likely to receive the Nobel Prize and other prestigious awards.

The comic actor Don Adams was born Donald James Yarmy. According to Wikipedia, he took the name because it was the same as his then-wife's stage name. He claimed it was to get to the head of the line in an alphabetical casting call for Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.

It turns out that when economists publish papers, the authors are listed alphabetically. When psychologists publish papers, they don't follow this convention; and there is no alphabetical advantage for psychologists.

As someone who has moved up the alphabet through life events (from "T" to "R" to "M") I can attest that it is real, though when one gets away from large, externally ordered, groups, it lessens.

Anyone who, like me, has sat through the seemingly endless array of last names which begin with "S" feels this effect. It creates a bond with that little band of "U," "V," and "W's," along with the quirky band of "X," "Y," and "Z's." This is where I found my friends, and even now, I have more at my end of the alphabet that I do at the other.

Perhaps now, as an "M," my horizons will broaden.

Or perhaps not. Those early years have set the mold. When confronted with an alphabetical list of choices, I find I automatically go to the bottom and work up. I reject the blandness and ubiquity of the "A," B," and "C's." I love to lurk in the hinterlands at the bottom of the alphabet.

They've had plenty of time to think.

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