Sue Arnold: With my name, I should be making millions

'Statistically, the Browns will always do better than the Xanthopolos because there are more of them'
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The Independent Online

"What's in a name?" asked Romeo. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." To which, if she'd had her wits about her, Juliet should have replied briskly: "That's as may be, pet, but career-wise an amaryllis, an astor or even a humble buttercup would probably go further."

What am I talking about? Alphabetism, the latest line in discrimination. People with names beginning with the first 13 letters of the alphabet are more likely to succeed, apparently, than the Nugents and Zwiebels of this world. Six of the seven leaders of the G7 nations, the richest countries in the world, bear this out – Berlusconi, Blair, Bush, Chirac, Chretien and Koizumi.

So do the world's five richest men – Theo Albrecht, Gardner Allen, Warren Buffett, Lawrence Ellison and Bill Gates. And 26 of the 42 American presidents were in the first half of the telephone directory.

Discrimination sets in early, at school in fact, where to make it easier for teachers to remember their pupils' names they seat them alphabetically, starting with Abercrombie at the front getting all the attention and Zwiebel at the back getting nothing. Poor old Zwiebel. He's the very last entry in my local telephone directory and if I really were an ace reporter I'd call him up right now to find out if he'd been a victim of alphabetism. "Hello, may I speak to Mr Zwiebel, chairman and chief executive of Gussets and Gromits International Plc?" Mirthless laugh at the other end. "You 'aving me on mate? Jimmy Zwiebel did a runner last week, didn't he, owing six months' rent."

On the other hand, there might have been a pause, and then an apologetic cough, followed by "I'm afraid that's my son, Magnus, who is now living in New York. This is Lord Zwiebel of Hurlingham, perhaps I can help..."

Maybe alphabetism is at the root of the Irish problem. A nation where 90 per cent of surnames begin with O must inevitably be at a disadvantage. And could that also be the reason why most German aristocrats are so thick – all those Von-Somethings sitting in the back row of the classroom reading comics under the desk?

But hang on a minute, Smith is the most common name in Britain, so what are we doing in the G7 category? I'm not sure I go along with this new notion that people are alphabetically challenged or favoured. With a name like mine, for heaven's sake, I should be running for mayor or chairing international conferences or making millions.

Admittedly, Arnold is only my married name, my maiden name was McHarg and, though it just squeezes into the top 13, I was heartily glad to ditch it at the altar because no one ever spelt it right. McHogg, McHard, even McHorse. "Don't be ridiculous," I said, "there's no such name as McHorse".

"Have a look in the Texas telephone directory, you'll find hundreds there," advised an American friend.

The more I think about alphabetism the more I am convinced it's a load of baloney. Of course the Clintons, Eisenhowers and Lincolns outnumber the Roosevelts and Truemans in the White House. You have only to look at your telephone directory to see why. There are 173 pages in mine listing the names beginning with ABC and only seven covering those that start with XYZ.

It's the numbers game, that's all. Statistically the Browns will always do better than the Xanthopolos because there are more of them. Unless of course Xanthopolos is the girl I shared digs with at university whose father owned more oil tankers than I'd had fish suppers. Last I heard of Melina she had married a Rothschild or may be it was a Rockerfella. Both families should have been alphabetically impaired, along with those other New World millionaires the Vanderbilts, the Warburgs and the Wildensteins. Wow, what a back row that must have been.

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