The weird events that happen when you hear your middle name

What’s in a name? Well if it’s your middle name potentially some money loss.

When scanning through the rolodex of famous psychopaths, (John Hinkley Jr., Mark David Chapman, David S. Goyer) we see that middle names feature prominently.

Reciting a person’s full name may even invoke a sense of guilt in some as a result.

In new research, titled, “Reminders of One’s Middle Name Result in Decreased Indulgence“ published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the authors explore this correlation more meaningfully.

To do so, the team recruited a massive study sample from India and the US. In some studies, participants saw their name on a projected screen (first-middle-last versus first-last), in follow-up studies, the researchers showed participants a membership card before asking them to imagine their first, middle, and last names on the membership card.

For US participants, hearing their first, middle and last name induced feelings of shame, anger, pride, or self-efficacy. There was no discernable effect among Indian samples.

As far as actions are concerned, US respondents who heard their full name were less likely to engage in indulgent activities, like splurging and binge eating.

“This research investigates the effects of reminding consumers of their middle name. The authors hypothesize that because it is a common parenting strategy to use a child’s middle name when disciplining him/her after he/she has done something wrong, consumers possess an association between “middle name” and “guilt,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “Thus, exposure to one’s middle name will automatically trigger feelings of guilt. In turn, consumers will engage in consumption that will mitigate this guilt. Five studies provide evidence of the proposed association and demonstrate that reminders of one’s middle name lead to increased guilt and decreased preference for indulgent consumption, as well as an increase in virtuous behavior. Contributions emerge for the literature on names and self‐control.”

Although more research needs to be conducted to eliminate any other mitigating elements, hearing one’s full name seems to have a direct and immediate impact on one’s behavior–at least in the US.

“The idea for this paper came about when we noticed that it was common for parents to use a child’s middle name when disciplining that child. We hypothesized that this should create an association for consumers between their middle name and feelings of guilt,” study author Chris Ling, an assistant professor at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University explained in a press release. “While we show that middle name reminders do not necessarily increase shame or pride in the same manner as guilt, more work is required to investigate the possibility of these other emotions becoming associated with one’s names.”

The next phase of analysis aims to manipulate this correlation to influence adverse consumer behaviors.

“In our paper, we found across multiple studies that reminders of one’s middle name led to increased guilt and decreased preference for indulgent consumption as well as an increase in virtuous behavior,” the authors concluded.

“If this association exists, then we hypothesized that we should also be able to see downstream effects on consumer’s behavior, such that reminders of one’s middle name could lead to consumers indulging less or engaging in behavior that is seen as more virtuous.”