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Royal-sounding last name could aid your career

Oct. 14, 2013
World Science staff

A “kingly”-sounding last name could boost your ca­reer prospect­s—at least in Ger­ma­ny.

Re­search­ers with the Uni­vers­ity of Cam­bridge found that Ger­mans with last names trans­lat­ing to “em­per­or,” “k­ing,” and “prince” more of­ten held man­a­ge­ri­al po­si­tions than oth­er Ger­mans.

“This phe­nom­e­non oc­curs de­spite the fact that no­ble-sounding sur­names nev­er in­di­cat­ed that the per­son ac­tu­ally held a no­ble ti­tle,” wrote the in­ves­ti­ga­tors, pub­lish­ing their find­ings Oct. 10 in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.

Even de­void of sub­stance, these names could sub­con­sciously im­press peo­ple, the re­search­ers sug­gested. “Be­cause of bas­ic prop­er­ties of as­so­ci­a­tive cog­ni­tion, the sta­tus linked to a name may spill over to its bear­er and in­flu­ence his or her oc­cupa­t­ional out­comes.”

The word “Kai­ser,” in­ci­den­tal­ly, stems ul­ti­mately from “Cae­sar,” as does “Czar.”

The re­search­ers, Er­ic Uhl­mann and Raph­a­el Sil­ber­zahn, an­a­lyzed oc­cupa­t­ional da­ta on more than 200,000 Ger­mans. They fo­cused on “no­ble-sounding sur­names, such as Kai­ser (‘em­per­or’), König (‘k­ing’), and Fürst (‘prince’),” they wrote.

These peo­ple were com­pared to those whose last names re­fer ei­ther to no so­cial role, or to “com­mon eve­ry­day oc­cupa­t­ions,” they wrote. Such names in­clude Koch (“cook”), Bau­er (“farmer”), and Beck­er/Bäcker (“bak­er”).

“Among Germans with noble-sound­ing names, we found 2.7 per­cent more man­agers per hund­red peo­ple than ex­pected, on average,” Uhl­mann and Sil­ber­zahn wrote.

In si­m­i­lar find­ings, an Amer­i­can study pub­lished last year found that peo­ple with sim­ple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to win both job pro­mo­tions and elec­tions.


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A “kingly”-sounding last name could boost your career prospects—at least in Germany. Researchers with the University of Cambridge found that Germans with last names translating to “emperor,” “king,” and “prince” more often held managerial positions than other Germans. “This phenomenon occurs despite the fact that noble-sounding surnames never indicated that the person actually held a noble title,” wrote the investigators, publishing their findings Oct. 10 in the journal Psychological Science. Even devoid of substance, these names could subconsciously impress people, the researchers suggested. “Because of basic properties of associative cognition, the status linked to a name may spill over to its bearer and influence his or her occupational outcomes.” The word “Kaiser,” incidentally, stems ultimately from “Caesar,” as does “Czar.” The researchers, Eric Uhlmann and Raphael Silberzahn, analyzed occupational data on more than 200,000 Germans. They focused on “noble-sounding surnames, such as Kaiser (‘emperor’), König (‘king’), and Fürst (‘prince’),” they wrote. These people were compared to those whose last names refer either to no social role, or to “common everyday occupations,” they wrote. Such names include Koch (“cook”), Bauer (“farmer”), and Becker/Bäcker (“baker”). In similar findings, an American study published last year found that people with simple, easy-to-pronounce names are more likely to win both job promotions and elections.