The new social order: A, B, C, D...

Aug 28th 2008

Turn back the clock with me:

You're in third grade.  Your class is lining up to head out to lunch, or to recess, or to the library to pick out a book.  Waiting is excruciating, and places in line are all-important.  Then your teacher tells you all not to shove, that the order will be...alphabetical.

If your name is Aaron, chances are that memory can still bring up a rosy glow of entitlement.  If you're a Zoe, you may still feel a bitter pang of resentment at the injustice of alphabet tyranny.  But it's all just a memory, right?  As the grade school years fade away behind us, we enter a world that's overwhelmingly first-come, first-served.  When was the last time you lined up by name, with perks awarded to the alphabetical elite?

I'll tell you when: the last time somebody called you from a cell phone.

Today, most of us walk around with an alphabetized social register in our pockets.  Depending on your lifestyle, your register may number a dozen names or a thousand.  It may be subdivided into personal and business, or home and school.  It may be grouped by letter, or even by name.  (An executive with a huge contact list recently complained to me about how long it takes to scroll through the "Michael" section of his PDA.)  But whatever the format, you probably find that certain names pass before your eyes again and again out of alphabetical happenstance.

Think about the potential significance of that kind of "personal product placement."  In the social realm, what's the chance you'll forget to call a friend whose name is in front of you several times a day?  If that friend gets similar prime placement on other friends' phones, it could lead to a real bump up in his social life.  When it comes to business contacts, the right name could translate to closer client relationships, more active networking, and fresh opportunities -- the principles of old-fashioned Yellow Pages placement applied to your own first name.

Suddenly, an Aaron Abbott's old lineup advantage looks bigger than ever.  At least until the next communications revolution.


By Amanda (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:07 AM

hmm... maybe I will give the name Jacob a second chance.

It's not just alphabetical. As you mentioned, frequency can be just as advantageous (like the Michaels in the man's PDA). I had been hesitant to use Jacob, the number 1 name since the 90s, but my husband loves it. This idea makes me want to reconsider.

By Adrienne (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:20 AM

Being the first entry in a lot of my friend's cell phones, I've gotten a lot of unintended phone calls over the years. Such accidental phone calls can lead to an opportunity to reconnect. It's nice being first now because often I was near the end in elementary school when we lined up by last name!

By Jessica (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:43 AM

I semi-frequently get a text meant for my friend DH. ha!

Maybe this is why an aquaintance named her daughter Aashley. no kidding.

Call me an NE but when I was teaching school, just to break up the monotony of alphabetized name lists I sometimes had them go in order of their mn also. (I got to hear all the mn and they got another order...) :)

By Rjoy (not verified)
August 28, 2008 12:08 PM

Adrienne- Your comment brought up a memory for me. When my daughter was a baby, I was waiting for my husband and to pacify her I let her play with my cell phone. She accidentally called my best friend Ava, the first person on my list. The neat part is that we hadn't talked for over a year due to a conflict we had. I hung up before she could answer, but due to caller ID she called me back and we started talking. Now things are great!

By RobynT (not verified)
August 28, 2008 12:17 PM

I thought this post was going to be about those accidental calls! My husband accidentally called his "Aunty Faye" so many times (and often in the middle of the night) that he eventually changed her listing to "Faye, Aunty." I suppose he is very close to her though...

About the elementary school line-up, I always thought it would be nice to "balance" the first and last initial for your kid. So with my last name "T," I should try for a first initial in the earlier part of the alphabet.

Jessica: that is hilarious! I would totally do that if I taught elementary school!

By Chris (not verified)
August 28, 2008 12:18 PM

At my elementary school, we always lined up be height - I was short, so I always got to stand towards the front.

By Valerie (not verified)
August 28, 2008 12:18 PM

This explains a lot... (sob)!

By Jennifer...again! (not verified)
August 28, 2008 12:59 PM

Jessica - have you found that you have a class full of Graces, Lees and Nicoles, then?

I've never really thought about the cell phone thing before. When I need to call someone, the most common people are on speed dial, and for the rest, I never scroll through the whole alphabet. I plug in the first and second letter of their name and jump right to that letter set.

By Wendy (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:10 PM

I have never felt disadvantaged having a name that start with one of the last letters of the alphabet.

But then all my schools used last names not first when we were alphabetized and my last name begins with a C. This had advantages and disadvantages in school since I had to go near the beginning on giving reports and such.

By RB (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:42 PM

My teachers always mixed it up...sometimes we lined up by first name, sometimes by last name, sometimes in reverse alphabetical order (either first or last), sometimes by height or age, when I would usually be at the back, being younger and shorter than everyone else.

Not sure that having the name at the top of the cell phone list is an advantage. My MIL calls my husband (with an A-name) all the time by accident. But she's never actually on the line...she just forgets to lock the buttons. That woman needs a flip phone!

I mean, it's a funny and interesting argument, but I certainly wouldn't let it affect my naming choices.

By Tirzah (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:53 PM

My husband and kids' last name start with the letters "Ab." I've never seen a list where they are not first!

It can be bad though. For example, at the school where my husband teaches, they assign "bus duty" alphabetically. (That's the teacher that stands out there at the end of school to make sure the kids get picked up.) Every year they restart start alphabetically. So hubby has to serve two weeks every year whereas almost all of the other teachers only have to serve one week.

By Eimi (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:53 PM

In my primary class (kindergardan in Americanese I think) we had to all be split up after lunch time to join other grades because our teacher taught a high school class in the afternoon.

We were split into 6 groups and she made us sing the order of our names, the alphebetical way we were supposed to line up so we wouldn't forget.

I'm 19 now and I can still remember how it went: "Anna, Amy, KEITH, Sean, John and Ryaaaaa~aaan!"

(Keith switched out to the other primary class after a while to be with his twin brother Kyle. The name song doesn't sound right without him.)

By Tirzah (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:58 PM

I just got a baby name announcement from my college alumni listserv.

R-a-i-n-i-e-r with big brother S-h-e-f-l-e-r.

By Eimi (not verified)
August 28, 2008 1:59 PM

Oh, I was Amy in that line-up by the way. I loved being second. Being first was scary for the 5-year-old me. What if I had to lead the way? What if I didn't know the way? Much more relaxing to just be a lemming, haha.

By Eimi (not verified)
August 28, 2008 2:01 PM

.....and I just realized that that line-up is not alphebetical. Whoops.

I wonder if my teacher just grouped together kids that played well together?

By yet another Jenny (not verified)
August 28, 2008 4:30 PM

Is it the first day/week of school anyone? I would love to see the first name rosters in different parts of the U.S. and English speaking world if anyone wants to share. Am especially interested in repeat names in the same class. Cannot get over the fact that there are two Ezra's in my don's Jewish Urban/Suburban preschool class. I think names have their own "micro-climates." I bet rural (Cody), Suburban (Ava), and Urban (Jade) trends are different.

By Carly (not verified)
August 28, 2008 4:52 PM

Interesting post, Laura, but I'm unpersuaded.

@yet another Jenny - repeat names (2 of each) in Urban US preschool class of 18 kids: Gabriel, Olivia, Harrison

By Keren (not verified)
August 28, 2008 5:38 PM

Don't despair Valerie, according to this story in the Guardian the earlier you come in the alphabet the more spam you get:

By Kristen R. (not verified)
August 28, 2008 5:56 PM

I notice it, too, with blog names/titles. A blog that starts with an S, for example, is way down low on the blog rolls. A blog that starts with A is not only at the top, but also one of the ones that gets clicked before someone gets tired of going through the list.

By GilaB (not verified)
August 28, 2008 6:08 PM

Ezra is a fairly common Jewish name, so I don't see what's particularly surprising about it.

By ET (not verified)
August 28, 2008 6:12 PM

I know certain teachers used to make us sit boy-girl-boy-girl up to about year 10 (9th Grade) and having a last name that started with T meant that they'ld run out of boys by the time they got to me and so I was always between Georgina and Tasha instead. Which was a plus considering the boys in my form class.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
August 28, 2008 6:20 PM

This blog is so timely Laura. My ds started school this week. Our ln is A so he's been first every year. He marvels at this and doesn't quite get the whole alphabetical reasoning even though he's in 3rd grade.

When I was in school we often did alphabetical and I was often near end being a (maiden) S. It didn't really bother me except it would've been nice to mingle with the others a bit more than I was able. Finally, when I got to high school my teacher mixed it up a bit and alternated the order of the desk assignments so first was A then Z,B,Y,C,X and so on. That was definitely a welcome change since we lived in a fairly small town we were all getting bored of sitting near the same people for 11 yrs.

Also, my bf runs a daycare. She specifically put an A in front of her school's name so she would be found first in the phone book.

By Elle (not verified)
August 28, 2008 6:47 PM

We lined up by either last name or height in the schools I went to. I was either in front (short) or in the middle (J).

I know school trauma lasts for a short time, I just hadn't thought about the technology end of it. I guess I lucked out by giving my kids both "A" names.

By Elaine (not verified)
August 28, 2008 7:27 PM

When auditioning or test taking, we always lined up alphabetical by last name. In the phone book, it's last name, then first name. I don't think the first initial matters as much.

By RobynT (not verified)
August 28, 2008 7:30 PM

I teach freshmen at a midwestern state university. In a class of 27, the only duplicates I've got are two Courtneys and two Leslies. Some other interesting names: a girl Brette, Felisa (I think she is Latina), an African American Milton, a girl Jordan, and a Lyndra (who I think is white. she's a music major so maybe a creative family?).

By charlie brown (not verified)
August 28, 2008 7:33 PM

I think the way names are put into cell phones is highly individual, for instance, some of the names in my cell phone are by last name, some by first name. I would argue that they way anyone organizes their personal contacts, whether in a cell phone, address book, rolodex, etc... probably varies a great deal.
That said, I think the first letter of your last name probably does influence more in the way of who you sit next to, where your locker is, and possibly who you share classes with in high school or college. When I started grad school after I got married my last name changed from the end of the alphabet to nearer the beginning. For one large med school class, we were split into two groups alphabetically to take tests A thru M and N-Z. I remember thinking during the first test, these are all the people at the beginning of the alphabet that I have never gotten to sit with my whole life until now. ha!

By Guestoh amanda (not verified)
August 28, 2008 7:50 PM

It's so true. I'm at the top of everyone's cell phone list (Amanda)...I don't think it's upped my social life, but I do get an awful lot of voicemails of a phone in someone's pocket or them singing on the way to work! ;)

By momtochuck (not verified)
August 28, 2008 8:13 PM

We don't have any double names in my (younger son's -- he's 2) pre-school class, just 3 sets of twins (out of 14 kids)! There's also a kid with my older son's (he's almost 4) name, which I hope doesn't confuse my little one!

In my older son's class (again, he's almost 4), there are 2 Zacharys.

It's a Jewish preschool.

When my older son started pre-school they put their cubbies alphabetical by first name. His name starts with a C and he was first. It was very strange for me that he was first as I was a T with no middle name (so where would I line up if they lined up by middle names?) and an H maiden name and pretty much always in the middle by any criteria. He LOVED it.

By Kelly (not verified)
August 28, 2008 9:03 PM

This is off topic but I have been reading a lot of this blog and I have been very impressed with the name discourse.

I am expecting a baby girl and having a very difficult time deciding on a first name.

As middle names I want to use by grandmother's name Taimi (its Finnish) and she will also have my last name also Finnish as a second middle name. It starts with a K. Her last name is going to be my husband’s which starts with an A. It’s a Scottish/Irish name.

I would like it be complementary with my son's name which is Graham Andrew K_ A_. I really like having my last name included as it reduces issues with traveling alone with my son as my last name is very unusual.

I don't want something too popular as my husband's last name is quite common but nothing too unusual as she will already have to live with Taimi and my last name as middle names.

Anyone up to the challenge?

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
August 28, 2008 9:14 PM

Kelly-I would love to help out as I am sure others will too. As always though we ask that you post some names you like or letters or themes or something to give us an idea of your taste preference. You say not too popular OR too different. Do you want something to match Finnish/Scottish/Irish or just a good girls name to match with Graham?

By Angela (not verified)
August 28, 2008 9:25 PM

I'm an Angela and my nickname is Aiea. I'm often glad to be so close to the alphabetical fronts of things. But it is annoying how often friends cellphones "accidentally" call me while in their pockets or purses.

By Kelly (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:08 PM


I see your point... my problem is I have so few I like. Primarily I want some thing that goes well with Graham. And if you really want my "rules"... which is going to sound pedantic, here goes.

I hate most girl names that end in the "ee" sound. Particularly my own name. Because Kelly was trendy and turned into a media blond, bimbo name, I prefer names that aren't too cutsie and work well for a professional wormen.

I can't have an "A" name because of the initials AA. My husband uniformly hates M names but I was partial to Marian. I personally don't like B names and K names for the most part.

I don't think I would go Finnish as she already has two Finnish names. Scottish/Irish is ok.

I also really love the Indian name Indira but I think it might be too different with Graham. Oh and yet again my husband doesn't like it. It look us ages to come up with Graham and there was a great fear that he would have no name!

I am at a loss really and would love to hear some different suggestions which might spark an epiphany.

By Jessica (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:12 PM

Baby alert: Izac Raffi
white-as-bread, MidWest America, supposedly Raffi is from/after/or something Patch the Pirate

By Carly (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:17 PM

@Kelly - Here's my attempt to assist you with names for a sister to Graham (not starting with A,M,B,K nor ending in "ee" sound; not too popular, not too unusual):


By Jule (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:27 PM

I second Charlotte, Claire and Helena.


By Valerie (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:51 PM

I like a lot of the above suggestions. I was about to suggest Fiona also! Here are some more:
Nicola (NI-co-la)

Isla (depending on whether Taimi has that same vowel or not- is it pronounced Tay-mi or Ty-mi?)

By *Madeline* (not verified)
August 28, 2008 10:56 PM

RE: Kelly

I *love* Charlotte, especially with Graham, what a cute pair. Good luck!

By AK (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:10 PM

One of my friends just found out that she's pregnant. She has a son named Jayden, and we're trying to come up with some complementary names.

So far on the girl list (with the MN Rose):

And on the boy list:
Zander (she prefers the Z over the X)

Any other suggestions out there--especially for a boy?

By RobynT (not verified)
August 28, 2008 11:54 PM

Kelly: I also like Marian! So what do you think of Colette, Vera, or Elise?

AK: Collin? Spencer?

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
August 29, 2008 12:09 AM

Very quickly thought of some Celtic names and others I love. I will post more later. AK I will think on yours tommorrow as well.

Dierdre; Valerie; Shannon; Bridget; Victoria; Erin. Charlotte and Paige as mentioned above are also nice.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
August 29, 2008 12:14 AM

Newsflash Baby Announcement:
(Aug. 28) - "Numb3rs" actress Diane Farr and her husband Seung Chung welcomed twin girls in Los Angeles on Wednesday, PEOPLE has learned exclusively.
First born Sawyer Lucia weighed in at 4 lbs., 12 oz., and Coco Trinity, who was born one minute later, weighed 5 lbs., 14 oz., according to Farr's rep. The girls, who are both 19-inches long, were born at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "I'm so thankful that my midwife and doctor paid such wonderful attention to me and the little ladies," said Farr, 38. "And I’m really glad that I got to 36 weeks with multiples."

Sawyer Lucia and Coco Trinity-hmmm???

By Rjoy (not verified)
August 29, 2008 12:25 AM

Weird names for Diane Farr. I would of expected different.

By Coll (not verified)
August 29, 2008 12:41 AM

Kelly, I love the names suggested for Graham's sister, especially Charlotte, Paige, Helena, Nicola and Eleanor. I'd also suggest:

Miranda (a little Marion-esque and perhaps more appealing to your husband)

By njjm (not verified)
August 29, 2008 1:22 AM

So true! And not only the power of suggestion just from seeing their name all the time, my friend Allison says she's always getting accidental calls from all her friends because she's first in everyone's address book. (I've done it by accident too!)

By LaLa (not verified)
August 29, 2008 2:28 AM

I love a lot of the previous suggestions. Here are a few more:


**Good luck** Luv the name Graham bye the way!

By Sabrina (not verified)
August 29, 2008 2:31 AM

Ooh, and don't forget Facebook--your friends list is alphabetical by last name, and if you boredly click on it, you see least I'm more likely to check out the profile of someone on the first page.

PS I know I've been gone awhile...I'll read all you guys' wonderful comments in a year or so when I have time. :)

By Carly (not verified)
August 29, 2008 2:50 AM

@AK - A name for a baby brother or sister to Jayden (a name so very much NMS) - here goes:



Of the girl name choices you listed, Molly and Sophie struck me as not fitting in with the group, and IMHO would certainly not pair well with Jayden.

By Carly (not verified)
August 29, 2008 3:19 AM

@Kelly - Have more suggestions for a sister to your Graham:


Was reminded of the name by the romantic comedy "The Holiday" - those were the names of the sibling characters played by Jude Law & Kate Winslet. Iris may be a bit less usual a name than you'd like, yet you did mention a like for Indira.

Isis is another "I" name received by a wee one in my circle this year (given name Isadora). Of course there's also that perennial NE favorite Ivy (but there's that -ee ending you can't abide.)

Please be sure to come back & let us know the name you've selected. Best wishes.

By Tirzah (not verified)
August 29, 2008 3:36 AM

Gosh, Sawyer, Lucia, Coco and Trinity are all such different names stylistically.

I think I would like the grouping better if the twins were Sawyer and Trinity or Coco and Lucia.

By Rjoy (not verified)
August 29, 2008 3:49 AM

Sister for Graham- I knew a Graham with a sister Paige. Paige is not my style, but to each his own. :)

There are so many good ones suggested already.

How about......

Anneliese (one of my faviorites)
Elizabeth -popular but classic with the same air as Graham