Do middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance?

Middle name initials often appear in formal contexts, especially when people refer to intellectual achievements. On the basis of this common link, the display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people’s intellectual capacities and achievements. We document this effect in seven studies: Middle initials in authors’ names increased the evaluation of their writing performance (Study 1), and middle initials increased perceptions of status (Studies 2 and 4). Moreover, the middle initials effect was specific to intellectual performance (Studies 3 and 6), and it was mediated by perceived status (Studies 5–7).

That is from a paper by Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou, via Anecdotal.  For me it has always been just “Tyler Cowen,” I have never had a middle name or initial.


I always thought use of middle initial indicated middling aspirations. You're adding additional information to your name because your achievement alone won't raise you above the mediocre fray of your fellow first and last name bearers.

I wonder if the insecurity of this instinct motivated the study's lead author and his double middle initial plus middle preposition. His name is made so distinct by its middle that most he'll ever have to achieve in his life to stand out is to be the lead author on a paper about middle names.


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Don't be silly. Of course people who use their middle initial are smarter.

But the important question is what does a first initial mean?

It seems to be an American thing on the whole. I don't think I have seen a lot of British people use it. Is it reliable as a divider between the two sides of the Atlantic?

I think that's signaling the opposite way. I'm so preeminent I don't even need to put my whole first name. .

I used to loath it when an editor of conference proceedings would object to my calling myself, as might be, A.E.I. Mee. He would typically require me to call myself Andrew E. I. Mee (though sometimes they seemed to struggle with the idea of two middle initials).

But I was never Andrew even to my mother. Moreover Andrew E. I. Mee is just furrin; not me at all. And then there was the twerp who put me down as Andy E.I. Me. I did wonder about going the whole hog of foreigness and styling myself Andrew E. I. Mee XII.

Or I could have reverted to the 19th century and used, as might be, A.E.I. Mee of Craigesk. But I always thank that the "of" works better in French or German - it's just too obviously antique in English.

You're not Chinese are you? If I saw those names, especially in conference proceedings, I would just assume you were Chinese. It's not just the initials and surname, but Andrew seems to be a relatively common English name adopted by Chinese. The only name that would throw me off is what you describe as the most "foreign" with "XII", which I don't think Chinese typically have.

In Britain "Andrew" is particularly favoured by Scots.

Ah, I see. "Mee" is uncommon in the US. To a typical American, it sounds like one of those whimsical English names you only see in books, like the "Smee" character in Peter Pan. I didn't know it was an English name. If there were a consonant tacked at the end, like "Mees" or something, I would assume it was Dutch, but the double vowel alone made me think Chinese.

Right, I was familiar with "Andrew" being favored by Scots because him being their patron saint and all.

When I see your name, I think of I.M. Pei, the famous Chinese architect.

To be fair, I doubt you ever really needed to signal your intellectual abilities. Us mere mortals still struggle to leap buildings in a single bound--middle initials help provide some additional thrust. ;) :P

Jesus H Christ also felt the need, so it's not only mere mortals.

It’s a form of counter signaling to not use a middle initial or a “Dr.” title. Maybe it makes the average person seem smarter to the average reader, but to certain audiences or someone with enough reputation it can be counterproductive.

Or maybe it just sounds better one way or the other.

It's similar to using clothes, educational degrees, speakers' accents, and the like as social clues about the likely status of someone or about the context of the conversation.

How likely are you to trust economics pronouncements by Johnny Keynes, compared to John Maynard Keynes? Or Barbie Ehrenreich, compared to Barbara Ehrenreich?

For assassins and murderers, I think the rationale is different: notorious criminals should be identified by their full names to reduce the chance of innocent people with the same name being confused with the perpetrator. So: Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman, etc. It must've been annoying for future NBA basketball player James Ray growing up.

Keynes used Maynard as what we used to call his Christian name. His surname was Keynes. I don't know whether anyone used John for him.

lil ck skr's, i'll play these songs all gdmned night

these dreams of you

and i can give you accompanying stories of when i heard that song for the first time . . .

dream on, professors, the real thing is talking to you

and the girls came to him, and he didn't have any diplomas

he could sing and had lyrics

and sometimes when he sung? he had his choice amongst the dames

that's something that all you godamned, whatever the f u r, can only dream about.

everybody else can go f u, this song is for billie ann o'hare

ah, seeing billie ann on the fields of Greeley, before all her time was taken up by ballroom dancing

everybody else can go f u, the song says that, listen up, lil' sht heads

The empirical evidence in this article is not convincing. First, look at the sample sizes (N=85, N=48, N=89, N=36, N=100, N=92). Second, look at Table 1 (garden of forking paths!).

Well looked up the authors: blablabla School of Psichology. Enough said.

dear lil f o, nobody f heads, bilie ann is gone, and we don't give n s 'bout wtf u ever thought 'bout nothin'

that means you're never going to got to Mullane's again, and perchance, see billie ann O'hare there again.

and that's a big f n bummer for everybody because she was magical

what a drag this living till sixty is

one more reason why i'll be happy to leave this mess and join, those of whom i grew up with, when young, and leave all you other schmucks to your own devices.

You’re using a middle initial doesn’t prove that you’re smart then my name isn’t Homer J Simpson.

I'm not Donald J Trump either then.

Alfred E. Neuman

My family name is Smith - try searching out your papers without something to set you apart.

Those who have read the recent biography of Ulysses S. Grant know that his name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. He didn't use the name Hiram or the initial H because it produced the unfortunate acronym HUG. The S came when the Congressman who submitted Grant's application to West Point mistakenly placed the S as Grant's middle initial. Ulysses S. Grant. Robert E. Lee. Could it be otherwise.

And Harry S Truman was allegedly called S - just S - because his parents couldn't decide which grandfather to honor. Both of them having a name starting with S. So plain S it was.

Both of these stories sound contrived to me. They may be true. They may not.

The US military insisted that people have a middle name in World War Two. If you didn't have one, they gave you a middle initial. The Army and Marines giving different ones. Although I cannot remember what off hand.

Chernow speculates that the Congressman confused Ulysses with his younger brother Simpson or that Ulysses was his first name and that he had taken his mother's maiden name (also Simpson) as his middle name.

My Vietnam War-era draft card used "NMI" as my middle initial, since I had no middle initial.

Probability of replicating < .001

In my experience in the biosciences, middle initials are used to make it easier for others to find your publications. Most often used when the last name is very common in the field or subfield. My last name is extremely common, even combined with first initial and keywords indicating my area of study. Adding the middle initial makes it much easier to do an informative author search on pubmed.

This is why all of my children have two middle names. If one is good, two is way better.

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