Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

We are raising our third guide dog puppy for the blind (Guide Dogs of America). He’s nearing the end of his journey with us and we will have him for about 4 to 6 more months. He came from the “A” litter and we had the opportunity to name him and we chose “Ajax.” It will be interesting to see if he passes but makes you wonder if the names we give to kids and even pets make a difference in work and life success.


Some research supports this idea as well as children having first names starting with “A” do better academically then those with “D” of “F” as first names ((Nelson, L. & Simmons, J. (2007). Moniker Maladies: When names sabotage success. Psychological Science, 18 (12) 1106-1112)). These authors review 5 studies–each with the same conclusion that people really like their names and initials (often referred to as the Name-Letter Effect).

Nobody is really sure what’s up with this effect but the findings below on various performance outcomes provides some evidence that name liking impacts life success and outcomes by an implicit and unconscious process.

In their first study reviewing baseball player’s performance from 1913 to the present, those whose names began with the letter “K” struck out at a higher rate (in 18.8% of their plate appearances) than the remaining batters (17.2%), t(6395) = 3.08, p = .002. No word on whether those on steroids did better though.

In another study, the same researchers explored the relationship between MBA student grades and the initials of their names in a data set from a private University from 1990 until 2004. They compared students with first or last names starting with “A” or “B” with those with “C” or “D” as well as the rest of the students with names not having these initials.

Students whose names began with “C” or “D” had significantly lower grade point averages than those whose names began with “A” or “B”, (p = .001). The authors state that “the data for students with initials in the “other” category provide a baseline that shows the effect was driven by students with the initials C and D performing worse than others, rather than by students with the initials A and B performing better than others.”

In another study, the authors also found that students with names having initials “A” and “B” wound up at much better law schools than others (final sample with 170 law schools and 392,458 lawyers). To measure law-school quality, they used the 2003 rankings from U.S. News & World Report but categorized them into four groups (low to high). As the quality of schools declined, so did the proportion of lawyers with initials “A” and “B” supporting the “Name-Letter Effect.” However, no word on whether a person who changes their name (e.g., the performer “formally known as….) does well in life.

My Dad’s first initial is an “A” and my Mom’s is a “B” so maybe the genetic combination of their two initials has been helpful to my life and career in some way. I will keep you posted on how Ajax does with his formal guide dog training when we turn in him very soon–it will be fun to see if there is a greater “pass rate” for puppies with names starting in the beginning of the alphabet….Be well….

[tags] surveys, Envisia, Envisia learning, retention, talent management, name-letter effect, unconscious pursuit of performance, academic success, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]