By now, you’ve probably heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner – and his infamous wiener.
Everyone’s had fun ragging on Representative Weiner for his online gaffe, where he accidentally exposed a meant-to-be-privately-sent picture of his privates to the entire Twitter community. There’s certainly been no shortage of news references to the funny coincidence of his last name. But is it necessarily such a coincidence?
There’s a psychological phenomenon known as implicit egotism, which maintains that people often make decisions (like where they live, what they do for a living, or even whom they marry) based on the letters in their names.
For example, there are more Mildreds than Virginias in Milwaukee, though it’s the other way around in Virginia Beach. Same goes for Jacks and Philips in Jacksonville and Philadelphia – and all of these effects hold even after controlling for alternative explanations like age or ethnicity. If you think it’s simply more likely that people who live in Virginia Beach will name their daughters Virginia, the same effects hold true for last names; people whose last names start with Cali-, Texa-, Flori-, Illi-, Penny-, Ohi-, Michi-, and Georgi- are more likely to live in the respective states that start with those letter strings, and the same effect holds true for Canadians whose last names start with Tor-, Vanc-, Ott-, Edm-, Cal-, Win-, Ham-, or Lon- living in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, or London. Georgias/Georges, Louises/Louises, and Virginias/Virgils are more likely to live in Georgia, Louisiana, or Virginia, respectively – and more likely to make an effort to move there if they don’t live there initially. Implicit egotism is not limited to residential choices, either; people with Den names (like Dennis or Denise) are more likely to become dentists, and those with La names (like Lauren or Larry) are more likely to become lawyers.
So where does this leave us with Anthony Weiner? Well, if his last name is Weiner… what can we guess he will show an implicit preference for exposing? We all want to blame Anthony Weiner for his bad-boy behavior, but maybe we should go ahead and blame his last name.
(NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, there have been several refutations of implicit egotism, most notably revolving around the criticism that any findings are due to statistical artifacts and/or confounds. The last two articles cited below are critiques of the effect, and there is also a Daily Pennsylvanian article explaining the criticisms of implicit egotism linked here.)
Pelham BW, Mirenberg MC, & Jones JT (2002). Why Susie sells seashells by the seashore: implicit egotism and major life decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82 (4), 469-87 PMID: 11999918
Jones, J., Pelham, B., Carvallo, M., & Mirenberg, M. (2004). How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Js: Implicit Egotism and Interpersonal Attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (5), 665-683 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1685
Gallucci, M. (2003). I Sell Seashells by the Seashore and My Name Is Jack: Comment on Pelham, Mirenberg, and Jones (2002). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85 (5), 789-799 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1249
Simonsohn U (2011). Spurious? Name similarity effects (implicit egotism) in marriage, job, and moving decisions. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 21299311