Monday, 19 May 2008

What's really in a name? A. Rose ...

I've taken a digression from our normal topics this week to look at a different type of governance: have you noticed how often our elected leaders have surnames beginning with letters in the first half of the alphabet - Bush, Blair, Clinton, Clark?

I thought I would take a deeper look at whether there was anything to this.

I looked at who has been elected to lead four different, but related, countries, the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. I've excluded those who reached the top through succession or internal 'coup' (Gerald Ford, Jenny Shipley, Gordon Brown - so far), unless they went on to win an election in their own right (Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Paul Keating).

To give myself a reasonable sample size, I have looked at leaders who first came to power since 1939, which seems as much a watershed date as any, arguably representing the start of the era we're now in. My final 'control' check was to see where the middle of the alphabet really falls: the halfway-point in my telephone book is towards the end of 'L', so I have taken all those whose name begins with 'M' or later as being in the second half.

What I found quite surprised me. You have almost exactly twice the chance of being elected leader of your country if your name falls in the first half of the alphabet.

There are of course some notable exceptions to this - Thatcher, Reagan, Muldoon and Rudd - but perhaps another theme from Shakespeare takes over here:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

In other words, perhaps the forces leading to some of these results were so powerful (stale government, desire for change) that, to quote the Australian cliche, a "drover's dog" (or Moggie?) could have done it.

Another point to ponder is that those with the most ignominious endings carried 'second-half' names (thinking, briefly, of Nixon and Whitlam). New Zealand has had more than its share of leaders who got to the top via a leadership change between elections (Marshall, Rowling, Palmer, Moore and Shipley). All have 'second-half' surnames and all reinforce my findings by either failing to win, or (Palmer) not lasting until, the next election.

Is this all just a statistical blip? Or does it have something to do with our childhood conditioning, during those years of waiting our turn in the school playground ("Get to the back of the line, Zebedee")?

Either way, it puts an interesting slant on the current US presidential campaign - since we're likely to see both candidates sporting 'second-half' surnames. Perhaps we shouldn't write Hillary off just yet ... or watch her again in 2012!

(Yes, I've looked at my own chances - 'W' - and I have decided not to throw in the day job!)

So although he/she might smell as sweet, "A. Rose" might have a better chance of leading their country by taking a different type of flora for a surname ... um, er, Bush?

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