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The Most Important Word You'll Ever Use

... and it's probably different for you than most other people.

Lucky Business/Shutterstcok
Source: Lucky Business/Shutterstcok

What if I told you that most of us were completely ignoring the power of the most important word in the English language (or, for that matter, any language)?

What if I told you that ignoring this word's impact may be causing you undue pain and stress, and creating tense situations with others that could have easily been avoided?

If you're like most people, you've been totally missing out on a key to success and you don't even know it. Research has revealed the true importance of the word I'm calling, "The Most Important Magic Word." Studies have shown that this single word influences:

  • The kinds of people) you like.
  • The kinds of foods you like.
  • What you do for a living.
  • Where you live.
  • Many of your major decisions.
  • ... and much more, and in a much bigger way than we ever thought possible.

That word, of course, is your name.

Dale Carnegie once said, "A person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language." And some surprising and, frankly, bizarre findings make Carnegie's statement seem to be an understatement. For example:

  • If your parents named you Denise, you are more likely to grow up and become a dentist than a lawyer.
  • If your parents named you Harry, you are more likely to run a hardware story while your friend Rodney is more likely to do roofing.
  • Chris prefers Coke to Pepsi.
  • The state of Georgia has 88 percent more people named Georgia living in it than it should, based on predictions of relative proportions.

Is this all for real? Does your name really help determine your destiny? The "Name Letter Effect," as it is known, has been shown to influence people's decisions in studies from at least 14 countries. Recently, Brett W. Pelham, Matthew C. Mirenberg, and John T. Jones of the State University of New York have found that people's names influence some fairly major life decisions, as well as trivial ones.

That's why, when a nurse recently handed me the form with a blank space for my newborn son's stayed blank. Nothing seemed good enough, although I did briefly consider naming him Doctor—for the sake of science, of course.

That string of letters is going to be the first gift—or curse—we ever give him. It will help determine his lot in life, in a very real and tangible way. He will hear it over and over. It will become an intimate part of his very identity, linked to him so closely that any other word that even shares the letters or sounds of his name will instantly be more appealing to him because they remind him of...himself.

This implicit egotism is what makes the Name Letter Effect work so powerfully and it's an important insight into the humans you deal with on a daily basis: We like ourselves. A lot. Let people know that you like them, too, and you'll get better results with them and achieve more intimate relationships. Do it by listening more than you speak, by asking questions instead of giving answers, and by remembering and using their names.

Chances are, when someone tells you their name, you forget it almost instantly. This week, take a moment to pay better attention to people's names—and to use them. Then sit back and watch the magical effect it has.

It's not just about valuing a person's name though, is it? After all, it's just a string of letters. It's about valuing the person and maybe even (just for a moment) making their needs more important than your own.

After spending a day getting to know our newborn son, only one name jumped out at us: Maxwell Richard. I can't put my finger on it. It just felt right.

Looking back, I'm struck by the fact that all the potential names that began with either a T or an M also felt right. I guess I, too, am susceptible to the power of the Name Letter Effect.

Let's hope his destiny hasn't been damaged too much.

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