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How your surname affects your buying habits

How your surname affects your buying habits

Posting in Technology

The first letter of your last name helps to determine how quickly you respond to limited buying opportunities as adults, according to a new study.

If you like unusual studies, this one will knock your socks off.

Blame it on your grade school gym class.

The first letter of your last name helps to determine how quickly you respond to limited buying opportunities as adults, according to a new study.

Researchers Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University and Jacqueline Conard of Belmont University conducted four experiments in which participants were e-mailed the chance to get four free tickets to attend a high-profile women's basketball game. To claim get the tickets -- limited in supply and offered first-come, first-served -- students had to reply ASAP via e-mail.

The result: those who had surnames that began with one of the last nine letters of the alphabet (R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z) responded on average five minutes faster than those with a surname that began with one of the first nine letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I).

The average response time was 22.7 minutes.

More interesting facts pulled from a Wall Street Journal report on the study:

  • Alphabetical segregation begins in grade school and persists into adulthood.
  • Women who change their last names when they get married still respond according to their maiden names.
  • The trend is progressive: people will respond according to their place in the alphabet.
  • People at the end of the alphabet were likely to report that being at the front of the line was a big advantage. People who were in the middle of the alphabet were less aware.

The researchers appropriately dubbed the phenomenon the "last name effect," and the theory is that those with last names toward the end of the alphabet become trained as children to compensate for being at the end of the queue.

The idea of how our names inform our behavior is fascinating. Still, the study has received criticism from those who say it's not our names but other factors -- geographic, ethnic, etc. -- that are at work here. (Another behavioral trait: preferring things with the same letters as our own names.)

Their work was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure