Can Initials Affect Life Span?

By Janet Mcconnaughey, Associated Press Writer
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
March 28, 1998

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Maybe names really WILL hurt you. People with initials such as ACE or GOD are likely to live longer than those whose names spell out words like APE, DUD, RAT or PIG, a study suggests.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego, looked at 27 years' worth of California death certificates.

People with monograms such as JOY or WOW had a better chance of living longer -- and were less likely to commit suicide or die in an accident -- than those with neutral or meaningless initials such as JAY or WLW, or those named, say, BUM or UGH, said psychologist Nicholas Christenfeld.

He presented his findings Friday at a meeting in New Orleans of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

"The argument is that there's some psychological symbolic factor that can exert its impact cumulatively over the years. You get teased at school, wonder what your parents thought of you -- maybe fate is out to get you -- but at every stage it's a little tiny depressant to be called PIG, or a little tiny boost to your esteem to be called ACE or WOW," he said in an interview. "All we can do is look at the final outcome."

The findings do seem to support the idea that liking your name and liking yourself may be linked, and that parents should be sensitive when naming children, said Penelope Wasson Dralle, a professor in LSU Medical Center's psychiatry department.

"If people tend to look at your name and look up at you and laugh, you're sort of at a disadvantage," she said. But, she warned, the study "really doesn't give us any cause and effects."

The study looked at the 5 million or so people who died in California from 1969 through 1997.

Concentrating on men because marriage generally doesn't change their initials, the researchers found 2,287 men with initials that were deemed plainly negative, such as ILL or DED. An additional 1,200 spelled or came close to words considered indisputably positive: WIN and VIP, for example.

The researchers found 11 "good" sets of initials and 19 "bad" ones.

"Neutral" words and those that had both bad and good meanings were tossed from the list. So DAM and WET didn't make it. Nor did RAY and SUN.

All in all, men with WINning initials lived 4.48 years longer than a control group of people with neutral or ambiguous monograms, while DUDs, ASSes and such died an average of 2.8 years earlier than a control group.

The researchers did not compare the good and bad groups directly, instead comparing each to separate control groups.

Six suicides were reported among the 1,200 men in the good group, vs. 79 among the 2,287 men in the bad group. That works out to half a percent vs. 3.5 percent. There were 31 accidental deaths -- 2.5 percent -- in the good group vs. 138, or 6 percent, in the bad group.

"The notion being that accidents aren't really accidents -- whether deliberate or not, if you think less of yourself, you may be more likely to drive your car into a bridge abutment," Christenfeld said.

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