Warning: Your surname can make you an impulsive shopper!!!

So here we are thinking for the last topic , writing our last blog  and to compliment the scenario what I find is a theory called the ‘Last Name Effect’. How perfect could it get???

Sheakspere once said “what’s in a name?” well he definitely din’t have the psychological insights but, since I do, I must say there is a lots in the name. Names have implication and may even be responsible for shaping more life-choices than we would admit.

A recent study, The Last Name Effect, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, states people whose surnames start with letters late in the alphabet may be the fastest to buy. According to researchers Kurt A. Carlson and Jacqueline M. Conrad (2011) the habits are linked to childhood where there is a system of “alphabetization” of students. People who grow up with last name like the Zaveri’s have a very different experience from their classmates like the Bowman’s. And as a result, those with names near the end become more opportunistic and respond more quickly to what the researchers term “acquisition opportunities..”

In a series of 4 experiments, Carlson and Conard found out that late-in-the-alphabet participants like Young tended to make hastier purchases and take more chances than folks with last names like Appel and Bowman( would wait 25% more time). The supporting theory of why this is the case goes back to grade school, when kids with surnames starting with Y, Z, etc. were constantly stuck at the back of the line and the last to get their pick at the cafeteria or to get into any line. Carlson adds “For years, simply because of your name, you’ve received inequitable treatment, So when you get to exercise control, you seize on opportunity. It’s a coping strategy, and over time it becomes a natural way to respond.”

Now I wonder if this could solve the mystery of why some people tend to shop more impulsively those others? Also, maybe next time I want to cut down on that entire impulse buy I take a friend whose name starts with the early letters. I am sure there is no harm in trying it out. Anyways to get back to the name if this is not strange enough continue reading? The affects of the name don’t end there.

According to a study “Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions” by Pelham, Mirenberg, and Jones ( 2002) our names, as words that we naturally associate with, might influence significant life choices that we make (such as where to live and what occupation to pursue).  The concept is called “implicit egotism” . This association with the name makes people choose cities and to even careers that resemble their name.

Weird as it may sound I am not sure if the concept of Dean the Dentist living in Denver or Tracey the teacher staying in Tennessee really holds true but the 2 studies highlighted definitely lend a few insights to the marketers.

Firstly considering the last name effect maybe it would make more sense for marketers to target more customers with a last name towards the end, as they are more prone to impulsive buys. So all you Young’s and Wilson’s out there be prepared for more junk mails from ebay and Amazon!! But mind you Mrs. William’s who was once Miss Bell may not fall for this trick.

Similarly when we talk about the name playing a significant part in association. Could we think of this as a tool for further categorization / segmentation of the market.  A Harvey or Harry would associate more with Harley Davidson than maybe a John or Zake?????  Similarly a person would relate more to another person with a similar name does this mean that personalized testimonials would work better???  What do you think – will this study work in the real world?? Can name be taken as a factor for marketers to target a particular group more prominently???

Well the answers to all these questions can only be guessed ambiguously but for all you Young’s and William’s out there next time you shop impulsively you can stop going down the guilt trip and conveniently blame it on to your ancestors. As far as the Bell’s go I am afraid we will have to wait for another research study !!!!




  1. I have to say, this was a very interesting read, and also quite confusing. The research carried out comes across as highly concentrated and lacks internal validity. Is this ‘last name theory’ valid in every country? For every age? Gender? Race? Education?
    Because when it comes to ‘acquiring’, I spend ages coming to a decision and my name starts with an ‘S’, and I can apply that to most people that I know.

    However, the bit about being drawn to your name is consistent with other literature on being attracted to things that resemble you, finding your name first in a jumble of words; no wonder 57% of Americans googled their names (Princeton Survey Research Association, 2009), it’s sort of the same with zodiac signs, Aries seeking out other Aries, and I suspect this Implict Egoism is the foundation for numerology (none of this is science, but it is psychology)

  2. I remember an alphabetical order of surnames in my primary school as well. Though alphabetical treatment was practiced only when someone was called to wright something on the board or when the teacher returned class tests. As far as I can remember there was nothing I impatiently longed for. Moreover after primary school, I virtually didn’t experience an alphabetical treatment anymore. That is why I doubt the so-called alphabetical socialisation. To control for results, one could repeat the experiment with pupils who didn’t experience alphabetical treatments in their childhood at all. As far as I remember for example the Chinese pupils are not treated in an alphabetical order.
    While I am writing this comment, I note that my surname starts with a “W” and now I am living and studying in Wales. If this does mean anything;o)?

  3. Great blog! I had never really thought about name associations. It is kind of scary thinking that having your name begin with a letter quite late in the alphabet could mean you buy quicker. I myself have the initials L.M and to be honest I will only buy quickly, if I really, really want something, otherwise I have to stand there having a discussion with myself looking like a total freak in the middle of the shop. But with what you say about associating the name Harvey or Harry with Harley Davidson, I agree!! But I think this is how we are brought up. Taught to read, and speak, for example, Molly Mouse, Sally Snake, we are learn some kind of catchy name to help us remember. Even now when we have to spell something out for people we use words, to make sure they understand. “H for House It is just what we are taught, sticking with us. I think marketers can definitely use this to their advantage. They can use this effectively to brand products or services in a certain way, I mean just look at Coca cola.

  4. Wow that was an interesting topic that I’ve never heard about. I’m not so sure if this effect you describe is really true but it definitely is an interesting theory. I’ve made the same experience as shopconscious mentioned in the comment before. I remember that we used to do things in an alphabetical order in elementary school but it was only during class and never for something that I really wanted. However it makes sense to me that when you’ve experienced things like waiting in the cafeteria because of your last name that this can have an effect on your shopping behaviour. If you always were last in line you may want to compensate that by being now first in line. Could be true, but I guess we have to wait for further research on this topic to be sure.
    However I remember that I used to choose the Royal TS at McDonalds because I always likd that it had the same initials as me ‘TS’ 🙂 (took me a while to figure out that it meant ‘tomato and salad’) So maybe in the end there is a subconscious mystical connection between our names and how we choose to live our lives. I just hope that doesn’t mean for me that I end up selling Royal TS burgers or TeaSpoons at a TopSecret ToyStore 🙂

  5. Nice job, the topic and the title definitely draw my eyes.
    “Last named Effect” is so impressive research which point out if the capital letter is more close to the “Z”, the more faster people will practice a consumption. As your post introducing this, I had checked The Selfridges’ shopping website which has a list of brand with the capital letter order. I want to check that whether there are more brand with the “last name”. However the result shows that the capital letter “A-C”,”P”,”S” and “T” are high frequencies used as the brand name. Therefore, I think the “Last named effect ” is not widely be implemented in the marketplace and the marketing strategy. Your topic and views may be a nice suggestion for the future marketing.

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