Consider people who go by their first and middle initials, eg John Q Smith introduces himself as “Hi, I’m J.Q.” Authors who use their initials on their books (eg J.K. Rowling) don’t count, unless they also go by their initials in everyday life.

Is there any pattern to who does this - ie which initials lead people to initialize their names? Think about this for a second before you continue:




In my experience it’s about 50% JD, 49% a few other names involving J (JT, JR, AJ, CJ, RJ, etc) and 1% anything else. I discussed this with some people at the last meetup, who also felt this way. I was also able to find a Reddit thread of people with the same observation. What’s going on?

At the meetup, some people theorized that J names (eg John, Jack, etc) are so common that their holders need to differentiate themselves; instead of being the tenth John in your class, you go by JD or JT. But then how come there are so few JNs, JLs, or JS’s? Some people at the meetup thought those combinations sounded less melodious than “JD”, but I’m not really feeling it. Also, in my birth year, the three most popular male names were Michael, Christopher, and Matthew. How come “M” doesn’t have the same initializing allure? How come I don’t know anyone who goes by MD?

(sure, MD would be weird because it sounds like a doctor, but then JD should be weird because it sounds like a lawyer!)

Other people thought it might have something to do with J itself being a name (ie Jay). But Em, Bee, Dee, and Kay are all girls’ names, and none of them end up as common initials.

Might some famous person (JD Salinger?) have started it, and then everyone thought it was okay and normal for those initials only? But then why all the CJs and AJs? There definitely seems to be a J-related pattern here.

Maybe there’s something linguistically satisfying about JD and CJ that seemingly similar sounds like KP and DA don’t have. But it doesn’t sound that way. And lots of initials (eg PC, LA, etc), get used in common speech, in a way that suggests we’re not having any trouble producing them.

My guess is that it’s a weird combination of all these things, plus naming traditions being surprisingly conservative. But I’d be interested to hear from any JDs (or other initial names) reading this: why did you decide to initialize (or not initialize) yourself?

(in my case, it’s because my initials are SA and I’m an essayist - it would just be weird!)