Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

What not to name your kid

Juvenile delinquency and glass ceilings caused by first names? Hmmm….


Why Curly is a stooge and Justin a golden boy

Among the wealth of research on the importance of given names, a new study correlates first names with criminal behaviour
MICHAEL VALPY | From Monday’s Globe and Mail | June 9, 2008 at 4:44 AM EDT

A Jarrit by any other name might be a brain surgeon.

But unlike Michaels, Matthews and Christophers, he is more likely to be a juvenile delinquent.

Ditto for an Art, a Curly and a Thurmond.

This is the finding of two economists from Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University presented at Canada’s annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences held this year at the University of British Columbia.

While other researchers have studied the ties between first names and socio-economic status, the work of David Kalist and Daniel Lee is believed to be the first attempt to correlate first names with criminal behaviour.

The researchers tabulated the name frequency of all males born in one unidentified state between 1987 and 1991 then compared the list (dubbed the Popularity Name Index – PNI) with the names of all males in the state’s juvenile delinquency database between 1997 and 2005 -when the males born in 1987-91 had entered their teens.

Prof. Lee explained in an interview that a specific name in itself didn’t propel its bearer toward delinquency.

Rather, a name suggested the presence of a set of background factors, such as poverty and broken families, that predisposed a young male to delinquency.

The researchers looked at the PNI of whites and blacks separately to take into account the higher proportion of blacks with low socio-economic status. They also chose a state with a large multicultural city.

They found that the more popular the name, the less likely its bearer was to get into trouble with the law.

Thus Michaels sparkled with a PNI of 100.

But a misstep on the path of life was more likely for an Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, Malcolm, Preston and Tyrell, each with a PNI of 1. And at the very bottom of the list were the Arts, Curlys and Jarrits with a PNI of 0.

“We show that unpopular names are associated with juveniles who live in … female-headed households or households without two parents,” write Prof. Kalist and Prof. Lee. “In addition, juvenile delinquents with unpopular names are more likely to reside in counties with lower socio-economic status.”

Their paper points in passing to a wealth of research by other scholars on first names.

Research by U.S. academics Saka Aura and Gregory Hess says that women with diminutive sounding names that end in an “ee” sound – Kathy as opposed to Kate – may face more glass ceilings in the work force.

They report that more popular names, with fewer syllables, standardized spellings, fewer beginnings with vowels and endings with “oh” sounds, are linked to better lifetime outcomes -and in large part are the legacy of parents with a high level of education.

U.S. sociologists Stanley Lieberson and Eleanor Bell found that the most significant impact on naming was the education level of the mother. They cite the example of Allison, a name rarely given by mothers without high-school education but frequently given by mothers with 17 or more years of schooling.

One study shows that boys with names most commonly given to girls – shades of Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue – are more likely to be disruptive in school.

On the other hand, said Prof. Lee, girls with boy-sounding names have been found to do better at math.

Call your daughter Bruce and you may have an Einstein.

Popularity contest

Researchers at Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University found that men with more popular names tended to get in less trouble. Culled from a data base of more than 15,000 names in one U.S. state, here were the most and least popular names for boys.


Amram, Arrington, Art, Chevin, Curly, Emmert, Hareed, Jarrit, Kameren, Kimmel, Lan, Mercedes, Nevada, Preslin, Syrus, Tareel, Thurmond, Trevonne, Welton, Weylen.

Andrew, Anthony, Brandon, Brian, Christopher, Daniel, David, James, John, Joseph, Joshua, Justin, Kevin, Matthew, Michael, Nicholas, Robert, Ryan, William, Zachary.


August 7, 2008 - Posted by | sociology | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Very interesting- has any work been done on girl’s names I wonder? Or any on the correlation between success, or lack therof and having one of these contemporary concocted names. Also of course, interesting is race and gender as variables

    Comment by Barbara Hoyland | November 29, 2009 | Reply

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