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I was born with an almost ludicrously common name: my surname is Smith and my first name is one short syllable. I am about to get married to a man with a long, unusual surname that begins with A. I wouldn’t normally consider taking my husband’s name at work but I’m wondering if there might be an advantage in doing so. As I’m only just starting in my career it’s not as if there is that much “brand value” already invested in being Miss Smith. If I changed my name people could find me at once on LinkedIn – and being at the start of the alphabet might be good, too. What do you think?
Analyst, female, 26
As you are dead-set on treating what is usually an emotional decision in a coolly rational way, I am going to attempt to answer with some hard facts.
First, alphabetical order does count. Research by two US-based economists has shown that people with last names beginning with A are more likely to win Nobel Prizes than those with names further down the alphabet. Other surveys have suggested that children who have grown up having their names read out first in class think of themselves as more successful and are therefore likely to be so. Alas, this implies it is rather late in the day for you to succeed by becoming an A now.
A second group of studies found evidence of “nominative determinism” – that people go for occupations which sound like their names. So if you are called Lawrence you become a lawyer and if you are called Miss Smith you become a blacksmith, or work on the till at WH Smith. This means that if you would rather be an architect, acrobat or an accountant, then perhaps switch to your husband’s name.
A third survey, conducted by LinkedIn, tells us that if you are aiming at the very top of the ladder, the simpler the name the better. It looked at CEOs and found they were all called Bob, Jack, Bill and Steve – though the same wasn’t true for women. Female CEOs were all called Cynthia and Marjorie and Margaret.
Then there is the question of xenophobia. As you have an Anglo- Saxon name, you might do well to hang on to it: MIT researchers have found that employers can be less inclined to interview candidates with wildly foreign names.
There are two more statistical considerations: if you do change your name you’ll be in more of a minority than you are now. In the 1990s, nearly a quarter of women in the US stuck with their maiden names, while now it is less than a fifth.
Last, if you take the long view, Smith is becoming less common. Its popularity in the US peaked in 1885, and it has been in constant decline since then.
I realise these assorted facts aren’t terribly conclusive. I also realise you are worried about getting lost on LinkedIn, but as I’ve never seen the merit of being found on LinkedIn, I really think you should see that as an advantage.
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