Oh, to have a last name that starts with an "A." What an amazing arrangement! Having a "W" last name, I was part of that shunned lower caste of students whose childhoods amount to nothing more than an accumulation of alphabetical order-based slights. While the cool kids with superior surnames got to goof off, graded tests already returned, we at the other end had to wait for the rest of the exams to be handed back as everyone else shuffled out the door.
While the Ainsworths and Bensons of the world got roaring applause at the top of the commencement ceremony, we bottom-26 dwellers were relegated to tired golf claps for our diplomas, because of some arbitrary linguistic symbol order established by a bunch of first-century Romans.
To rail against this kind of alphabetical hierarchy may seem like superficial, misplaced teenage angst, but it turns out there's a decent amount of research showing that this isn't some trifling issue. Studies and surveys suggest having a last name at the end of the alphabet could adversely affect one's psychology, financial status and career prospects.
Top colleges may be less likely to accept you
A 2010 study in the Economics of Education Review examined the relationship between alphabetical position of a student's name and the student's odds of being admitted to a competitive school. The study concluded that the earlier in the alphabet your name is, the more likely you are to be admitted, probably because of applications being sorted alphabetically.
You may be more reckless with your money
A 2012 study on the "last name effect" in the Journal of Consumer Research found that your years at the end of the line may have turned you into an impulse buyer. Based on the research, people with names at the end of the alphabet are quicker to jump on perceived deals.
The explanation? Suffering through a childhood at the end of the line and the back of the class meant getting only the remaining options in the cafeteria or in the classroom, which conditions people to quickly snatch up opportunities for fear that they may not last long.
The effect emerged across four experiments, and interestingly, even people who had married into top-of-the-alphabet names demonstrated the effect if they grew up with an end-of-alphabet name. Plus, the closer one's last name is to the end of the alphabet, the quicker they'll apparently break out their wallet for the tempting offer.
Want to be a professor? You may have less job security
Fine, let's say you overcome your college application disadvantages and avoid being financially duped, and manage to land yourself a good job. Say, as an econ professor. Well, even then you're not in the clear from your ancestors' poor name planning.
A 2006 Standford-CalTech study found that faculty members "with earlier surname initials are significantly more likely to receive tenure at top 10 economics departments." One potential reason? In economics and political science, the convention is for co-authors of articles and papers to be listed in alphabetical order. Keep that in mind next time you're putting names on that group project.
Want to be a politician? Voters will like you less
The effect also translates to the political realm. A study from the journal Public Opinion Quarterly found that name order has the effect of "always advantaging candidates listed first" by about 2.5%, and many ballots are ordered alphabetically. So good luck trying to run for office so that you may repair this broken letter system.
You may internalize all of this unfairness
Even self-reporting confirms the letter bias. In a 2007 survey, the Telegraph newspaper found that readers whose last names began with letters at the beginning of the alphabet rated themselves as significantly more successful than those with end-of-alphabet surnames did.
So don't blame your parents for giving you that first name; blame your ancestors for adopting that last name in the first place. And next time society tells you to line up alphabetically, fight the power by promoting alphabetical anarchy.