Women Are Less Likely to Achieve 'Last Name Fame' — Here's What That Means

Female Leader

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AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
April 13, 2024 at 3:53PM UTC

We all know a guy who's known by his last name. His high school friends call him by his last name. His teammates in college called him by his last name. And now in his professional career, even his coworkers call him, solely, by his last name. He's achieved that "last name fame." Think about it — you recognize the names Tesla, Edison, Einstein and Shakespeare, right?

Now think of as many women who are famous by their last names. Go ahead... I'll wait....

Coming up with women who've achieved last name fame is a lot harder. And new research looks into why professional women are less likely to be known just as their last name. The study, “How Gender Determines the Way We Speak About Professionals,” conducted by Cornell University psychologists and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that, on average, men and women alike are more than twice as likely to call male professionals (even fictional ones) by their last names only, than they are to call female professionals by their last names only.

It may not seem like a big deal, but the researchers are concerned that this difference in naming habits may actually perpetuate gender biases. The research shows that, when men are referred to only by their surnames, they are perceived as more important and eminent than the women, who are more often referred to by both their first and last names. The research also suggests that these habits reinforce perceptions that men are more significant and memorable.

This study isn't the first to look into how names affect women in the workplace. A wealth of research suggests that your name could make or break your career. Here are eight other time names affect working women. 

1. Women With Difficult-to-Pronounce Names Are Less Favored.

New York University study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that professionals names that were easier to pronounce were more likely to have higher-status positions in the workplace.

2. Women With Less Common Names Are Less Likely to Be Hired.

Marquette University found that women with more common names are more common new-hires.

3. Women With Names That Sound White Are More Likely to Be Hired.

A study from The American Economic Review found that women with more "white-sounding" names received 50 percent more call-backs than women with perceived black-sounding names. In fact, the researchers suggested that white-sounding names are worth as much as eight years of work experience.

4. Women Who Use Their Middle Initial Are Taken More Seriously.

Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that, when women use their middle initial, it makes them appear more intellectual and of a higher social status to others. For example, essayists who use their middle initial in published works had better reviews of their writing quality.

5. Women With Gender-Neutral Names Are More Likely to Achieve Success.

study called "From Lawyer to Judge: Advancement, Sex, and Name-Calling" found that women with "masculine names" like Leslie, Jan or Cameron tend to be more successful in legal careers. In general, women in male-dominated fields (i.e. engineering, technology, banking, etc.) with masculine or at least gender-neutral names are more successful.

6. Women in Leadership Are More Likely to Use Their Full Names.

In a study by LinkedIn found that women in leadership (unlike men in leadership who tend to shorten their names, like Bob and Fred) are more likely to use their full names to project professionalism. 

7. Women With the Same Initials as Their Coworkers Are Better Collaborators.

Women and men alike tend to produce more accurate work and mediate conflicts better when they're working with others who share their initials. For example, a Jessica works better with a Jane, Jasmine and Julie than a Sara, Lydia and Amy, according to research from the Wisconsin School of Business.

8. Women With the Highest Earnings Are Named Liz. 

A global survey by job site Adzuna revealed that the highest-earning female name is Liz. Still, Liz typically earns more than $30,000 less than the highest-earning male name, Ed — that's a salary of about $52,000 on average, while Ed earns about $82,000.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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