School kids have known about the “alphabet hierarchy” for decades. A child with a surname starting with ‘A’ has a certain assuredness about them. They know where they stand in the world. They possess the confidence that comes from being first, all the time, and not according to any particular merit. Their name is called first. They have the best seats in class. They get called onto the excursion bus first. And they are the first divided into groups. They receive their awards while the audience is still enthusiastic, and the applause is the loudest because the three-hour celebration evening has only just begun.
‘First’ is the rightful place of a person whose surname starts with A.
But the people with surnames in the middle of the alphabet are something different again. The teacher never really knows if they’re actually in attendance or not, so caught up are they between everyone else. The kids know this, of course. Sometimes Sarah Murphy will answer for Tom Littlefinger and vice versa as the class roll is called, and the children will laugh and the teacher will continue, oblivious to the trickery because they’re only at M-L and they’ve got the whole alphabet to get through.
Finally, we come to the kids at the end of the alphabet. The children who have surnames starting from R and beyond. By this time, the teacher’s voice is hoarse, the lucky, start-of-the-alphabet kids are bored and talking amongst each other. The last kid may or may not be in attendance. No one really knows because the class is so noisy and the roll is almost over and everyone’s getting nervous about reciting their times tables, particularly the six times tables.
Now, a study has confirmed all this.
What are the practicalities of having an original name? Post continues below.
The “alphabet hierarchy” does, in fact, exist and kids whose surnames fall closer to the start of the alphabet are better off, especially in their early years.
A new study, conducted by two University of Colorado economists, found people whose surname starts with a letter at the beginning of the alphabet are more likely to succeed in life. They put this down to teachers paying less attention to students further down the class roll.
The researchers analysed data on the lives of more than 3000 men who graduated from high schools in Wisconsin in the US in 1957 and found, collectively, these students had a 11.3 per cent chance of achieving “outstanding” results in their graduating year.
But, with every 10 letters in the alphabet, these chances dropped. For example, if a student’s last name begun with K, as opposed to A, their likelihood of having “outstanding” results fell by 1.28 per cent.
A student with a surname 10 letters in, was also 2.2 points less likely to be excited by their high school courses; 2.9 points less likely to apply for university; 5.6 points more likely to quit once they got to university; and 2.7 points less likely to graduate. Their first jobs were also affected, and they were more likely to join the military.
Why? Because they’re “presumably offered fewer opportunities,” the authors wrote. “They are consequently less prepared to take advantage of those opportunities that are offered.”
The only saving grace? It doesn’t last forever.
The researchers found it was possible to grow out of the curse of a late-in-the-alphabet surname. Soon enough, a person’s reputation and skill set will start counting for more than the order in which their name was called as they were learning their six times tables.