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The Bowen Theory
of Executive Advancement

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"An incredibly large proportion of the U.S. business leaders have very unusual first names. In fact, men with unusual names seem to rise to the front ranks of management out of all proportion to their numbers." 

So Stephen N. Bowen (or S. Newton Bowen) said in 1973. His title was Director of Corporate Public Relations for TRW Inc., one of the nation's largest corporations.

Suppose, he said, that William Brown and T. Armstrong Ashburton are vying for a vice-presidency. "What will you bet that nine times out of ten Ashburton gets the nod? Obviously, he has an edge, a distinctive handle that separates him from the pack."

Bowen admitted that an occasional George, Bill, Bob, or Dick gets to the top - in General Motors, for instance. But in company after company, he said, top executives had less common names. (He looked at rosters of 1,000 companies.)

Cessna Aircraft - Dwayne, Delbert, Virgil, Pierre, Derby,
and Max.

Brown Foreman Distillers Corp. - Robinson, Rodman,
Peyton, Mason, and Owsley Frazier and Owsley Brown II

Officers of various financial institutions - Gaylord, Freeman,
Montgomery, Dorsey, Marriner Eccles, Pope Brook, True

An initial instead of a first name is often effective, too. Bowen referred to O. Pendleton Thomas, I. John Billera, and J. Paul Getty. Repetition of the same initial isn't bad, either: W.W. Keller, H. H. Wetzel, and "R. R....does wonders for President Smith of Smith's Transfer Corp. But for ringing redundancy, my favorite is the chairman of Norman, Craig, and Kummel: Norman B. Norman."

The use of Junior or even Jr. is questionable, maybe even when a son is expected to inherit a company or a presidency.

Suppose that you are about to choose a name for a son (Bowen didn't consider daughters), and that family background suggests that he is likely to go into business. What should you name him?

Bowen suggested that you look at a list of forenames of the sort often appended to desk dictionaries. "Try names like Basil, Derek, Garth, Royal, Sterling, Yale, or even Zane. Each of those has a commanding aura to it almost guaranteed to make personnel managers snap to attention."

Bowen didn't mention what is sometimes another excellent choice for a first or middle name: the mother's maiden name. In all likelihood Armstrong in T. Armstrong Ashburton was little Tommy's mother's name. (By the way, what's a nickname for Armstrong? Army?)

Hook, J. N. The Book of Names, A Celebration of Mainly American Names: People, Places, and Things. Franklin Watts, 1983.



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