A new study from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business suggests CEOs with uncommon names are more likely to adopt unconventional approaches to doing business. The paper used 19 years of data on 1,172 public firms to form its conclusion.

“Studies suggest that individuals with uncommon names tend to have a self-conception of being different from their peers,” the authors wrote.

“Although many people may not have the confidence to exhibit how unique they believe themselves to be, CEOs do — they are generally confident individuals.”

The paper argues CEOs with uncommon names are motivated to differentiate themselves, leading to business strategies that differ from their competitors.

“This is consistent with findings from psychological research that successful professionals who have uncommon names tend to view themselves as more special, unique, interesting and creative,” the authors wrote.


Past studies have analyzed organizational outcomes and the personalities, values, experiences, and demographic characteristics of their CEOs, but this is one of the first papers to draw a correlation between practices and the name of a CEO.

Research suggests monikers can impact prospects in life — both negatively and positively — because they reveal clues about a person’s gender, ethnicity, and age, but most of the CEOs involved in the study were white and male.


All of the firms analyzed were from the Execucomp database, which covers organizations that are, or were, on the S&P 1500 list. Not all of the companies were U.S.-based, and about 12 per cent of the CEOs were not U.S.-born — but 95 per cent of the CEOs were white.

“It is natural that non-U.S. companies tend to be led by non-U.S.-born CEOs and non-U.S.-born CEOs tend to have first names that deemed “unusual” in the U.S. context,” lead author Yan “Anthea” Zhang, Ph.D. tells We Rep STEM in an email.

“Therefore, our results can be interpreted as the unconventional strategic choices of U.S.-born CEOs who have first names that are deemed “unusual” in the U.S. setting.”

Name data was taken from the U.S. social security administration’s national data on given names.

Uncommonness was measured in three ways, Zhang says, including prevalence from the date of birth of the oldest CEO in the study, prevalence between 1880 through 2016, and prevalence within seven years of a given CEO’s birth.

“The most uncommon CEO names in our final sample include Phaneesh, Frits, and Jure,” Zhang says.

“The most common CEO names in our sample are James, John, and Robert.”

Zhang says the study controlled for CEO age, ethnicity, and gender — but it should be noted that 97 per cent of the CEOs were male.

“The number of female CEOs is just too small to make any concrete conclusion,” Zhang says.

“It is fair to say our results are driven by male CEO names.”

The authors say the findings can help stakeholders better “understand and predict a CEO’s strategic decisions.” 


While it wasn’t the intent of the paper the research shows, yet again, that C-suites are predominantly occupied by white men.

In 2018, there were only three Black CEOs in charge of Fortune 500 companies.

Several factors contribute to the race and gender gap, including the persistence of “boys’ clubs” — a term used to describe social advantages men have over women in professional settings, which could be responsible for a third of the corporate gender gap, according to a December study.

And a September 2019 study suggests people prefer to work with colleagues similar to themselves, even in institutions that value diversity and inclusion. The authors say this could help explain why the “typical manager still tends to be white and male.”

Another issue is a lack of support and retention efforts for minority workers, especially in areas dominated by a specific race or gender. Upwards of 43 per cent of Canadian women feel unwelcome in the male-controlled tech industry, and an October paper in JAMA Network Open on California’s Central Valley region found an inability to recruit and retain health care workers who identify as female, non-white, and/or LGBTQ+,c due to a toxic environment found to be consistent, regardless of the health care institution or level of occupation in the area.