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Your initials determine how old you get

Imagine: your loving parents blessed you with the full name Anthony Simon Stephen. Great name, but when it comes to initials you'd have been better off with Albert Christopher Eric. Psychologists at the University of California discovered years ago that men with 'positive initials' live more than four years longer than men with 'negative initials'.

Symbolism is a powerful socio-psychological factor. If you are superstitious, you're more likely to fall ill if you see a black cat. The likelihood of committing suicide is greater at the ages of twenty, thirty and forty, probably because these ages have symbolic significance: they are perceived as milestones.

So, the researchers thought, maybe it makes a difference which initials you were given at birth. Are your initials positive, like ACE, GOD, HUG, JOY, LOV, VIP, WIN or WOW? Or were your parents not thinking carefully when they sent out the announcement of your birth, lumping you with initials like APE, ASS, BAD, DIE, PIG, RAT, ROT, SAD, SIC, SIK or UGH? [Although personally we wouldn't find it bad at all to have BAD as our initials - Ed.]

The researchers went through the death certificates of Californian males who died between 1969 and 1995. Among these they found 2300 men with negative initials and 1200 with positive initials. The figure below shows how old the men with positive initials were when they died, in comparison with a control group of men with neutral initials. As you can see, the men with positive initials lived to an older age than the men with neutral initials.

Your initials determine how old you get

The graph below shows the same comparison, but for men with negative initials.

Your initials determine how old you get

When the researchers looked at the effect of initials on the cause of death, they ended up with the figure below. This compares the cause of death of the men with positive initials with that of men with neutral initials.

Your initials determine how old you get

Men with positive initials die noticeably less frequently from strokes, accidents, diabetes, suicide and HIV.

Men with positive initials lived for an average of 4.5 years longer than men with neutral initials. Men with negative initials by contrast lived 2.8 years less than normal. The researchers found the same relationships for women, but they were less strong. Women with positive initials lived on average 3.4 years longer than women in the control group.

This finding adds to the evidence that mortality can be markedly affected by the symbolic environment", the psychologists conclude. "A symbol as simple as one's initials can add four years to life, or subtract three years from it."

Researchers at Pomona College in California did a study in 2005 which cast doubt on the relationship between initials and death. They found no relationship between death and positive or negative initials. [Psychosom Med. 2005 Sep-Oct;67(5):820-4.] But a couple of years later again, psychologists at Wayne State University published a study that confirmed the 1999 results. In this study baseball players with positive initials lived thirteen years longer than players with negative or neutral initials. [Percept Mot Skills. 2007 Feb;104(1):179-82.]

J Psychosom Res. 1999 Sep;47(3):241-54.

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