Name Letter Effect Definition
The name letter effect refers to people’s tendency to favor the letters that are included in their names more than letters that are not in their names. In plain terms, people like the letters in their names better than they like the rest of the alphabet. Because the link between name letters and the self is arbitrary, the effect implies that anything that is associated with the self becomes automatically endowed with positive feelings.
Name Letter Effect History
The name letter effect was discovered in the 1980s by Belgian researcher Jozef Nuttin. Nuttin observed that people prefer their own name letters even when they do not consciously notice the link between name letters and the self. The name letter effect also occurs for infrequent alphabet letters, suggesting that it is not because of more frequent exposure to name letters. The name letter effect is highly robust, particularly for initial letters. Indeed, name letter effects have been observed in at least 15 European countries such as the Netherlands, Poland, and Greece, and at least 3 non-European countries, including Japan, Thailand, and the United States. The name letter effect may thus be universal across different languages and cultures.
Links with Implicit Self-Esteem
The name letter effect seems to be a valid marker of implicit self-esteem, or unconscious positive feelings that people have toward the self. For instance, the name letter effect corresponds more with self-evaluations that are provided very quickly and intuitively than with self-evaluations that are provided more slowly and deliberately. Mothers who report having been more nurturing and less overprotective have children with stronger name letter effects than do mothers who report having been less nurturing and more overprotective. The name letter effect may therefore tap into deeply rooted feelings of self-worth that are formed in early childhood.
Consequences of Name Letter Effect
The name letter effect may influence important decisions. Indeed, Brett Pelham and associates have documented how people gravitate toward other people, places, and things that share their name letters. For instance, people whose surname is Street live disproportionately often at addresses like Lincoln Street. People named Dennis are disproportionately likely to become dentists, whereas people named Laura are disproportionately likely to become lawyers. People also tend to prefer brand names that resemble their own names and are disproportionately likely to marry others whose names resemble their own. Although the influence of the name letter effect on important decisions may seem maladaptive, most researchers believe that the name letter effect is rooted in the adaptive tendency to associate the self with positive qualities.
- Koole, S. L., & DeHart, T. (in press). Self-affection without self-reflection: Origins, representations, and consequences of implicit self-esteem. In C. Sedikides & S. Spencer (Eds.), The self. New York: Psychology Press.
- Koole, S. L., & Pelham, B. W. (2003). On the nature of implicit self-esteem: The case of the name letter effect. In S. Spencer, S. Fein, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Motivated social perception: The Ontario symposium (Vol. 9, pp. 93-116). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Pelham, B. W., Carvallo, M., & Jones, J. T. (2005). Implicit egotism. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 106-110.