Do people born in New York or San Francisco have a better chance at success? Does an Ivy League education matter when it comes to rising to the top? There's a thousand different ways people become successful but there's one thing they have in common.


Yes, that's what Jon Steinberg, former Buzzfeed President and founder of Cheddar, told me recently in a conversation for our podcast, Radiate (You can watch our first ever Radiate video interview here). Born Jonathan Ian Steinberg, he recalled how his mother would force everyone to call her son by his formal name.

The problem, of course , was everyone liked to say "Jon."

"My mom always wanted everyone to call me Jonathan and people were always calling me Jon and I would correct them and say, 'No, it's Jonathan,'" he said. "And what I realized was, at a certain point, when people want to call you by a short name, they feel friendly towards you. They feel affection towards you."

That affection, Jon says, breaks down walls between people.

"What's interesting is I went through the Fortune 50 or the Fortune 100 or something and almost everybody goes by a nickname or a short name that's like five characters," he continued. "Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Reed Hastings-even though Reed is a formal name, it's four characters, right? It's very rare that you find somebody with a formal name that runs one of these large companies.

"I netted out on it that if people want to be close to you, and they want to give you a term of affection which is effectively what a nickname is-it's off-putting to tell them no," he said.

The next obvious question was what Jon actually felt. Jon or Jonathan?

"Jonathan," he said. "I feel like I'm an eccentric person. I always feel like I'm on the outside and I think that Jonathan is sort of the name of an outsider."

Hearing Jon-or Jonathan-talk about this reminded me of my own quirks with my name. People tend to think of my first and last name as one whole first name-"Hey Betty Lou!"- or believe Betty is short for Elizabeth. And my son Zachary is often called Zack by his friends, which I must admit as his mother, drives me bonkers.

If listening to Jon's theory on nicknames is correct, then I'll gladly give up some of that irritation for Zachary's chance at success. And why stop there-perhaps I'll just start calling him Z.