“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare’s Juliet asks. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Maybe so, but if your last name is Rose—or, for that matter, Montague—and you publish a journal article as first author, you may not get as many citations as if your last name was, say, Capulet or Benderly—any other name that starts with a letter near the beginning of the alphabet.
That is the conclusion of a study in the journal Economic Inquiry by Harvard Ph.D. economics student Wei Huang, who examined articles published in U.S. science journals. “[T]he papers with first authors whose surname initials appear earlier in the alphabet get more citations, [although] this effect does not exist for non-first authors,” Huang writes. First authors at the head of the alphabet tend to get a citation or two more per paper than those whose last names start with the alphabet’s last three letters, the article concluded.
The effect is stronger, Huang found, for longer reference lists—for both the citing and the cited lists. Unsurprisingly, he finds no “alphabetical bias” in self-citations.
Huang’s name falls in the vast middle range, in between the widely cited ABCs and the rarely cited XYZs. Yet, he can probably count on this article to garner plenty of citations.