Names impact people’s perception. Students whose first name begins with A or B have higher GPAs in school. Names “perceived to be white” get more call backs from resumes. Supposedly people with last names in the beginning or end of the alphabet engage differently in various impulse and scholastic behaviors. But those traits are outside of our control. Presenting your middle initial or not is 100% in your control. When researching likability and names, I found this study originally published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, The impact of middle names: Middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance.
Methodology of Studies
The full details are in the article, but they essentially ran a series of tests to see how people perceived the subject based on the presentation of the name. Subjects were asked to rate things from a scale of 1-7 from not-at-all to very much. The details varied in each test.
Evaluating Writing Performance
On a writing competence evaluation (study 1), those with middle initials had an average score of 5.62 instead of 4.92. The highest results were three middle initials (6.00) or a single middle initial, 5.80, while two middle initials was not significantly higher than none (5.05).
The fact that using three middle initials in ones name rased the score a full point out of 7 is pretty substantial, since it is costly. But the single middle initial was nearly as high.
Almost everyone has a middle initial, you should always publish using it, and I just added my Middle Initial to by blog and LinkedIn Profile.
We all want to be evaluated well in performance. Can something simple like your middle initial make a difference? In Study 3, they tested the perceived performance for intellectual pursuits and non-intellectual domains (athletic performance).
To evaluate this, the testers were asked which team they wanted to join, where Team A had more middle initials than team B. In the intellectual area, Team A won with 5.43 vs. 4.54 for Team B. In the athletic arena, there was nearly no change, and no statistical difference was inferred.
Perceived Status and middle Initials
Organizations perceived in higher intellectual status were expecting middle initials (study 2), which was reinforced in the performance study, but the more interesting branding question is your perceived status (study 4). The addition of middle initials raised the perceived status to 5.14, from the control group’s 2.99. If you want to be perceived as high status, use your middle initial.
I found the paper fascinating. But the primary business take-away, if you want to be perceived as high status or intellectual, use your middle initial. If you can do something extreme like use three middle initials, it may work better, but two middle initials seems counter productive.
Given the paucity of the 2/3 letter combinations in the 6 studies (it was only in study 1), I recommend that those wishing to be seen as high status or intellectual use their middle initial.