“Last Name Effect” Determines Consumer Decisions

February 02, 2011

Research by Kurt Carlson, a professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, recently showed that a consumer’s behavior as adults is related to their childhood surname.

In an article to be published in the August edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, Carlson and co-author Jacqueline Conrad (Belmont University) studied how quickly adults responded to opportunities to acquire items of value to them. They found that the later in the alphabet people’s childhood surnames appeared, the faster those consumers responded to purchase opportunities.

Children with last names that fall late in the alphabet are often at the end of lines or at the back of class. The “last name effect” occurred only with childhood surnames, not names that had changed due to marriage.

“The idea holds that children develop time-dependent responses based on the treatment they receive,” Carlson and Conrad explain. “In an effort to account for these inequities, children late in the alphabet will move quickly when last name isn’t a factor; they will ‘buy early.’ Likewise, those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that that individual opportunities to make a purchase won’t matter very much; they will ‘buy late.’”

According to Carlson, the “last name effect” is important to retailers and salespeople as a predictor of consumer behavior. Additionally, it helps individual consumers understand their purchasing decisions.