DIE, PIGs, DIE: Bad Initials Can't Kill You After All

Illustration for article titled DIE, PIGs, DIE: Bad Initials Can't Kill You After All

Do you have initials that spell out something bad, like PIG or DIE? For a while it looked like bad initials could literally kill you. The Theory of Bad Initials set the world abuzz, until someone noticed something off about the data.

In 1999, a couple of scientists took a look at California death certificates from 1969 through 1995. What they found were a few people whose initials spelled out unfortunate words, like DIE or PIG. Others had initials that made pleasant words, like ACE or VIP.

When they checked the ages of the PIGs and the VIPs, they noticed that the VIPs lived longer. Compared to people with neutral initials, male VIPs lived 4.48 years longer and female ACEs lived 3.36 years longer. Meanwhile, male PIGs died of shame and had to put their initials on their tombstones 2.80 years sooner than the neutral control group. Somehow, female DIEs kept their heads held high and died at the same age as their neutral-named peers.


The idea that initials could kill was pleasing—at least to anyone who wasn’t named Peter Ingraham Gateshead or Donald Isaac Epsom. And the data initially looked right. PIGs and DIEs died young.

Then another group of scientists thought of something. Perhaps, as forms became more common and names became more official, people began thinking twice about naming their kid something that would make them write “DIE” every time they wanted to rent a car. Perhaps people with nicer initials lived longer because the average lifespan has naturally extended over time, and, over that same period of time, people have gotten less likely to call their kid PIG?

They took a look at the original group of names, and did their own digging, checking the initials on death certificates from 1905-2003. When comparing longevity, they grouped people by birth year, and found that if a PIG, a VIP, and a SLJ are all born in 1905, or 1955, or 1975, no one has the advantage when it comes to longevity. “Monogrammic Determinism,” as they put it, isn’t a real thing. Congratulations to all the piggies out there.

Image: USDA

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My initials are KKK, i’m Hawaiian so i forgive my parents for this transgression as just about every damn Hawaiian name starts with a K. However, I won’t forgive my mom who thought it was a good idea to order a backpack with my initials embroidered on the outside and then send me to school with said backpack despite my protests. It took 2 days for a teacher to see it, write me a referral, give me detention and invite my mother to school for a parent teacher meeting. 6th grade was fun.