Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Names and Success

The always-interesting Eric Barker has a post claiming that your name certainly influences your success. I want to throw a bit of anecdotal support behind the claim, dating back to my time in elementary school. With a last name beginning with A-B-B-A, I have literally been alphabetically at the top of every class I have ever taken. Classes in public schools are generally seated alphabetically, at least initially, and teachers would often call on presenters, etc., in alphabetical order. Get chosen first enough times for presentations and eventually you get used to being prepared to go first - by about fourth grade, I found myself expecting to turn things in or present projects at the earliest opportunity.

One other note: I believe there are plenty of studies indicating that an A-B-C name helps you advance in academia, because your name is more likely to be cited in group works. A last name like Wilson will generally come at the end and may end up stuck under an "et al" label. Credit can often be distributed unequally alphabetically, and if/when I end up teaching a class I plan to use reverse alphabetical order as much as possible to give everyone a taste of the opposite situations.

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty