Albert Einstein
Albert EinsteinWikimedia Commons

Have you ever called Einstein as Albert? Or did you ever address Newton as Isaac? No. When people address famous scientists, researchers, mathematicians, or professors, they normally use their last names. A recent study has been conducted to find out the reason behind people calling scientists by their surnames.

In the process, however, the researchers found that it was not about why the last names are used but mainly about what using the last names of scientists implied. The study was conducted by Stav Atir and Melissa Ferguson of Cornell in which the two of them formed a group of Mechanical Turk participants to act as samples. The researchers prepared a set of proposals and substituted the full names and last names of the scientists. It was found that the particpants looked with more prestige to those who were referred to by their last name.

They believed that the ones known by their last names were more reputed and eminent. In fact, the participants had a view that scientists with last names were more likely to receive honor and awards for their scientific achievements and contributions. In addition, when the participants were asked to allocate funds to scientists for their projects, they displayed more trust for those who were referred to by their last names only.

Besides proving that the last name reference brings more prestige to scientists, the study also made researchers infer that the last name reference is made mostly for male and not for female scientists. There are instances where Albert Einstein being referred to Einstein is sufficient but calling Marie Curie by her last name doesn't work. It, generally, has to be the use of the full name when it comes to female scientists. The research led by Ferguson and Atir also worked on this aspect and observed that last name reference of scientists is gender bias.

The researchers suggested two possibilities that led to the gender bias after studying another set of participants from Mechanical Turk. One was the change of the surname of women after marriage while the other may be because the first names of women are more descriptive than that of the males. Well, the possibilities need to be considered until Marie Curie starts being regularly referred to as Curie as done in case of Einstein.