Individualistic and Collectivistic Influences on the Name-Letter Effect

Individualistic and Collectivistic Influences on the Name-Letter Effect

The name-letter effect is the tendency for people to like the letters found in their first and last names more than the letters not found in their names. As a result, people usually prefer streets, cities, states, occupations, etc. that contain or are similar to theirnames. In the United States, culture has an important influence on people’s self-views. The country can be divided into states that are individualistic and those that are collectivistic. In individualistic states, people see themselves as more self-sufficient and
unique, and they tend to do things their own way. The name-letter effect should not be as prevalent in these states. Conversely, states that are collectivistic are made up of people that rely more on family and group socialization and develop close-knit communities. The name-letter effect should be more common in these states.
In a study by Vandello and Cohen (1999), collectivism was shown to be decidedly prevalent in the Southern United States. The Great Plains states showed a greater amount of individualistic culture. One way to support their theory is by comparing people’s surnames to the name of the street they live on. In the individualistic states, there should be considerably fewer people who live on a street the same as their surname. The opposite should be true for collectivistic states.
Using the web site,, data was obtained regarding the surnames Jones and Brown (see Table A). In the Southeastern states, a very high number of people named Jones had addresses containing the name Jones. Similarly, a high number of people named Brown lived on Brown streets. The numbers were much lower for Jones living on Brown and the opposite, Brown living on Jones. There was a similar pattern in the Great Plains states but the numbers were exceeding lower overall. However, the data was obtained from public telephone records, and these do not take into consideration unlisted numbers andaddresses.
This data supports the research done by Joseph Vandello and Dov Cohen. A parallel correlation was shown by Brett Pelham et al. (2002) where a disproportionate number of people from Southeastern United States had first names similar to the states they lived in. Both Pelham’s research and my data set are examples of “implicit egotism,” where people prefer places that resemble their own first or last names. Letter preference reflects on a person’s self-esteem. Shinobu Kitayama et al. (1997) said that, in the United States, self-enhancement is an important part of one’s self. So, if a person has the opportunity to live on a street containing their surname, they feel they are improving their well-being. They feel good about themselves.
Although I have defined the concepts of individualistic and collectivistic cultures as being two separate ideas, current literature suggests otherwise (Oyserman et al., 2002). Research indicates that American society is a mixture of the two. The Great Plains states are not just about individuals. There are areas that are centered on family, friends and society. Likewise, Southern states have their share of individualistic qualities. Previous findings remain valid but additional clarification of culture and its meanings are needed.
The data on the name letter effect confirms earlier research done on the subject. The results were also consistent with the data obtained from class discussions using the surnames, Smith and Johnson. Further research could include using less common surnames, names versus businesses, names versus cities and states, and numbers that a person identifies with, such as their birth date or social security number.


Anywho White Pages, 2002,, December 7, 2002.

Kitayama, Shinobu, Markus, Hazel Rose, Matsumoto, Hisaya, Norasakkunkit,
Vina (1997). Individual and Collective Processes in the Construction of the
Self: Self-Enhancement in the United States and Self-Criticism in Japan.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1245-1267.

Oyserman, Daphna, Coon, Heather M., Kemmelmeier, Markus (2002). Rethinking
Individualism and Collectivism: Evaluation of Theoretical Assumptions and Meta-
Analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 3-72.

Pelham, Brett W., Mirenberg, Matthew C., Jones, John T. (2002). Why Susie Sells
Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 469-487.

Vandello, Joseph A., Cohen, Dov (1999). Patterns of Individualism and Collectivism
Across the United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77,

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