I Could Have Been a Sailor

April 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

My colleague Arnie Korotkin, who, as The Gadfly, blogs about local New Jersey matters, sent me this from today’s Star-Ledger

N.J. sees rise in vasectomies amid difficult economy
By Kathleen O'Brien/The Star-Ledger
April 06, 2010, 6:30AM

What caught my attention was the doctor’s name. I speak as someone who has heard the same “joke” about my name ever since I was old enough to understand what people were saying. Sometimes just the “I presume,” sometimes with a self-satisfied “heh-heh,” sometimes with an apologetic, “I guess you hear that a lot.”

This poor guy must get tired of the same joke. But he did choose that specialty.

There’s a whole cottage industry in psychology correlating people’s names with their biographies. The idea – which goes by the name of “implicit egotism” – is that people are fond of their own names and that this liking can influence life decisions. Dennis is more likely to become a dentist; George becomes a geoscientist and relocates to Georgia; Laura’s a lawyer. Florence moves to Florida. And Dr. Eric Seaman . . . well, you get the idea.

For more on this, see my earlier blog post on the GPAs of students whose names begin with A and B compared with the C and D students.

The studies are published in respectable psych journals, complete with statistics and references (author, year) in parentheses and academic prose:
Although a high level of exposure to the letters that occur in one’s own name probably plays a role in the development of the name letter effect (see Zajonc, 1968), it seems unlikely that the name letter effect is determined exclusively by mere exposure (Nuttin, 1987).
Even so, these studies get covered in the popular press. And when they do, the probability that the headline will be “What’s In a Name?” approaches 1.0.

If you caught the allusion in the subject line of this post, give yourself five bonus points. It’s a song by Peter Allen; you can see his video of it on YouTube. For a better version, listen here.

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