Vol. 58 No. 2 (2010)
Research Article

Influence of Names on Career Choices in Medicine

Published 2010-06-01



Three studies showed that medical doctors and lawyers were disproportionately more likely to have surnames that resembled their professions. A fourth study showed that, for doctors, this influence extended to the type of medicine they practiced. Study 1 found that people with the surname "Doctor" were more likely to be doctors than lawyers, whereas those with the surname "Lawyer" were more likely to be lawyers. Studies 2 and 3 broadened this finding by comparing doctors and lawyers whose first or last names began with three-letter combinations representative of their professions, for example, "doc," "law," and likewise found a significant relationship between name and profession. Study 4 found that the initial letters of physicians' last names were significantly related to their subspecialty, for example, Raymonds were more likely to be radiologists than dermatologists. These results provide further evidence names influence medical career choices.


  1. Abel, E.L. & M.L. Kruger. 2006. “Nicknames Increase Longevity.” Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying 53: 243–48.
  2. Abel, E.L. & M.L. Kruger. 2007. “Symbolic Significance of Initials on Longevity.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 104: 179–82.
  3. Alicke, M.D. 1985. “Global Self-Evaluation as Determined by the Desirability and Controllability of Trait Adjectives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psycholog, 49: 1621–30.
  4. Allport, G.W. 1961. Pattern and Growth in Personality. New York: Rinehart & Winston.
  5. Banja, J.D. 2005. Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism. Sudbury, MA: Bartlett Publishers.
  6. Beggan, J.K. 1991. “Using What You Own to Get What You Need: The Role of Possessions in Satisfying Control Motivation.” Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 6: 129–46.
  7. Beggan, J.K. 1992. “On the Social Nature of Nonsocial Perception: The Mere Ownership Effect.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 62: 229–37.
  8. Beggan, J.K. & S.T. Allison. 1997. “More Than Meets Their Eyes: Support for the Mere Ownership Effect.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 6: 285–97.
  9. Belk, R.W. 1988. “Possessions and the Extended Self.” Journal of Consumer Research 15: 139–68. BoardCertifiedDocs.com. 2007.
  10. Brown, J.D. 1986. “Evaluations of Self and Others: Self-Enhancement Biases in Social Judgments.” Social Cognition 4: 353–76.
  11. Burger, J.M., N. Messian, S. Patel, A. del Prado & C. Anderson. 2004. “What a Coincidence! The Effects of Incidental Similarity on Compliance.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30: 35–43.
  12. Casler, L. 1975. “Put the Blame on Name.” Psychological Reports 37: 467–72.
  13. Christenfeld, N., D. Phillips, & L. Glynn. 1999. “What’s in a Name: Mortality and the Power of Symbols.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 47: 241–254.
  14. Coren, S. 1999. “Do People Look Like Their Dogs?” Anthrozoos 12: 111–14.
  15. Di, H.B., S.M. Yu, X.C. Weng, S. Laureys, D. Yu, J.Q. Li, P.M. Qin, Y.H. Zhu, S.Z. Zhang, & Y.A. Chen. 2007. “Cerebral Response to Patient’s Own Name in the Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States.” Neurology 68: 895–99.
  16. Dorsey, E.R., & D. Jarjoura, & G.W. Rutecki. 2003. “Influence of controllable lifestyle on recent trends in speciality choice by US medical students.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 290: 1173–1178.
  17. El-Alayli, A., A.L. Lystad, S.R. Webb, S.L. Hollingsworth, & J.L. Ciolli. 2006. “Reigning Cats and Dogs: a Pet-Enhancement Bias and its Link to Pet Attachment, Pet-Self Similarity, Self-Enhancement, and Well-Being.” Basic and Applied Psychology 28: 131–43.
  18. Ernst, R.L., & D.E. Yett. 1961. Physician Location and Specialty Choice. Ann Arbor, MI: Health Administration Press.
  19. Finch, J.F. & R.B. Cialdini. 1989. “Another Indirect Tactic Of (Self-)Image Management: Boosting.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 15: 222–32.
  20. Furby, L. 1978. “Possessions in Humans: an Exploratory Study of its Meaning and Motivation.” Social Behavior and Personality 6: 49–65.
  21. Greenwald, A.G. & M.R. Banaji. 1995. “Implicit Social Cognition: Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Stereotypes.” Psychological Review 102: 4–27.
  22. Hodson, G. and J.M. Olson. 2005. “Testing the Generality of the Name Letter Effect: Name Initials and Everyday Attitudes.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 31: 1099–1111.
  23. Hoorens, V. & J.M. Nuttin. 1993. “Overvaluation of Own Attributes: Mere Ownership or Subjective Frequency?” Social Cognition 11: 177–200.
  24. Hunt, J. 1994. “The Psychology of Reference Hunting.” The Psychologist, October, 210–13.
  25. James, W. 1890 (reprint 1950). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt.
  26. Jones, J.T., B.W. Pelham, M. Carvallo, & M.C. Mirenberg. 2004. “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Js: Implicit Egotism and Interpersonal Attraction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87: 665–83.
  27. Jung, C.G. 1952. The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. New York: Pantheon Books.
  28. Kitayama, S. & M. Karasawa. 1997. “Implicit Self-Esteem in Japan: Name Letters and Birthday Numbers.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23: 736–42.
  29. Koole, S.L., A. Dijksterhuis, & A. van Knippenberg. 2001. “What’s In a Name: Implicit Self-Esteem and the Automatic Self.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80: 669–85.
  30. Levine, D.W. 2005. “Do Dogs Resemble Their Owners? A Reanalysis of Roy and Christenfeld (2004).” Psychological Science 16: 83–84.
  31. Morrison, S. & G. Smith. 2005. “Monogrammic Determinism?” Psychosomatic Medicine 67: 820–24.
  32. Moray, N. 1959. “Attention in Dichotic Listening: Affective Cues and the Influence of Instructions.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 11: 56–60.
  33. Nelson, L.D. & J.P. Simmons. 2007. “Moniker Maladies. When Names Sabotage Success.” Psychological Science 18: 1106–12.
  34. Nesselroade, Jr, K.P., J.K. Beggan, & S.T. Allison. 1999. “Possession Enhancement in an Interpersonal Context: An Extension of the Mere Ownership Effect.” Psychology and Marketing 16: 21–34.
  35. Nuessel, F. 1992. The Study of Names. A Guide to the Principles and Topics. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  36. New Scientist. 1996. Feedback. <http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg15020267.100-feedback.html>
  37. Nuttin, J.M. 1985. “Narcissism Beyond Gestalt Awareness: The Name Letter Effect.” European Journal of Social Psychology 15: 353–61.
  38. Nuttin, J.M. 1987. “Affective Consequences of Mere Ownership: The Name Letter Effect in Twelve European Languages.” European Journal of Social Psychology 17: 381–402.
  39. Payne, C., & K. Jaffe. 2005. “Self Seeks Like: Many Humans Choose Their Dog Pets Following Rules Used for Assortative Mating.” Journal of Ethology 23: 15–18.
  40. Pelham, B.W., M. Carvallo, & J.T. Jones. 2005. “Implicit Egotism.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 14: 106–10.
  41. Pelham, B.W., S.L. Koole, C.D. Hardin, J.J. Hetts, E. Seah, & T. DeHart, 2005. “Gender Moderates the Relation Between Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41: 84–89.
  42. Pelham, B.W., M.C. Mirenberg, & J.T. Jones. 2002. “Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82: 469–87.
  43. Perrin, F., C. Schnakers, M. Schabus, C. Degueldre, S. Goldman, S. Bredart, M. Faymonville, M. Lamy, G. Moonen, A. Luxen, P. Maquet, & S. Laureys, 2006. “Brain Response to One’s Own Name in Vegetative State, Minimally Conscious State, and Locked-In Syndrome.” Archives of Neurology 63: 562–69.
  44. Rosenblatt, A., J. Greenberg, S. Solomon, T. Pyszczynski, & D. Lyon, 1989. “Evidence for Terror Management Theory: I. The Effects of Mortality Salience on Reactions to Those Who Violate or Uphold Cultural Values.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57: 681–90.
  45. Roy, M.M. & N.J.S. Christenfeld. 2004. “Do Dogs Resemble Their Owners?” Psychological Science 15: 361–63.
  46. Roy, M.M. & N.J.S. Christenfeld. 2005. “Dogs Still Do Resemble Their Owners.” Psychological Science 16: 743–44.
  47. Slovenko, R. 1980. “On Naming.” American Journal of Psychotherapy 34: 2008–19.
  48. Slovenko, R. 1983. “The Destiny of a Name.” Journal of Psychiatric Law 11: 227–70.
  49. Swann, W.B., Jr. 1987. “Identity Negotiation: Where Two Roads Meet.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 53: 1038–51.
  50. Zajonc, R.B. 1968. “Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 9: 1–27.