Season 4, Episode 2
When Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney Googled her name one day, she noticed something strange: an ad for a background check website came up in the results, with the heading: “Latanya Sweeney, Arrested?” But she had never been arrested, and neither had the only other Latanya Sweeney in the U.S. So why did the ad suggest so? Thousands of Google searches later, Sweeney discovered that Googling traditionally black names is more likely to produce an ad suggestive of a criminal background. Why? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, Stephen Dubner investigates the latest research on names. Steve Levitt talks about his groundbreaking research on names, economic status, and race. And University of Chicago economist Eric Oliver explains why a baby named “Cody” is more likely to belong to conservative parents, and why another named “Esme” was probably born to a pair of liberals.
A judge in Tennessee changed a 7-month-old boy’s name to Martin from Messiah, saying the religious name was earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ.” …
“It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” [Magristrate Lu Ann] Ballew said.
It was the first time she ordered a first name change, the judge said.
The boy’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, said she will appeal. She says Messiah is unique and she liked how it sounded alongside the boy’s two siblings — Micah and Mason.
I am eager to read your comments on this one.
Our recent podcast “How Much Does Your Name Really Matter?” generated a lot of response. Here are a few interesting ones. First, from F.D. Stein of Tennessee:
Loved this podcast; sorry you guys did not find the developer my company worked with in the 1980′s. He was from Oklahoma; his name was Never Fail. His brother was named Will Fail. Never (and his son Never Fail Jr.) were quite successful, and dashing examples of real estate developers at the time.
They were the developer of Waterford Place Apartments in Chattanooga. Bill Severins was their project manager, former Kansas City Royals baseball player. Never Fail looked like Peter Grant of Mission Impossible; striking, tall, white hair perfectly groomed. The 1986 tax law killed them as real estate developers.
We also heard from Tim Harling, who shared his parental naming criteria: Read More »
I’m a new dad who was researching baby names and whipped up an app in spare moments over the last year that tells you stuff like this:
It turns out that Ellen is a disproportionately common name for:
Ellens also overwhelmingly lean toward the Democrat party and have tended to be most popular in the northeastern part of the U.S.
You can also see names ranked within professions, e.g., these are the top three names for guitarists:
I have no idea how good Nametrix works on these dimensions. Having seen a lot of bogus names “data,” I am always a bit leery — especially because it is easy to mistake certain naming patterns for destiny while ignoring the more basic indicators like age, income, education, race, etc. I asked Mark how he assembled his data; here’s his reply: Read More »
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
The gist: a kid’s name can tell us something about his parents — their race, social standing, even their politics. But is your name really your destiny?
The episode draws from a Freakonomics chapter called “A Roshanda By Any Other Name” and includes a good bit of new research on the power of names. It opens with a conversation with NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and his two children, E and Yo. Their names are a bit of an experiment:
CONLEY: Of course it’s hard to separate out cause and effect here until Kim Jong-Un allows me to randomly assign all the names of the North Korean kids…but my gut tells me that it does affect who you are and how you behave and probably makes you more creative to have an unusual name.
Indeed, there is some evidence that a name can influence how a child performs in school and even her career opportunities. There’s also the fact that different groups of parents — blacks and whites, for instance — have different naming preferences. Stephen Dubner talks to Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney about a mysterious discrepancy in Google ads for Instant Checkmate, a company that sells public records. Sweeney found that searching for people with distinctively black names was 25% more likely to produce an ad suggesting the person had an arrest record – regardless of whether that person had ever been arrested. Read More »
Want to be part of an episode of Freakonomics Radio? We’re working on a podcast about names and we want to hear from readers and listeners about their own names — common ones, unusual ones, everything in between. So we’ve set up a voicemail line at 646-829-4478. Give us a call and tell us your full name, and then tell us a little bit about your first name – how you got it and what it means. Thanks!
Addendum: Thank you for all your emails and messages! Our line is now closed. Our names podcast will be out on 4/8/2013.
This piece on baby names by Drew Magary made me laugh out loud. I sent it to my wife, and she laughed so hard she cried.
If you have one of those names that people are always struggling to pronounce, we have some bad news for you.
A new paper (ungated version here) by Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval, and Adam L. Alter finds that an easy name may confer advantages. The authors conducted five studies comparing easy- and hard-to-pronounce names (like Vougiouklakis or Leszczynska, for example): “Studies 1–3 demonstrate that people form more positive impressions of easy-to-pronounce names than of difficult-to-pronounce names.” While the first three studies focused on surnames, a fifth study analyzed both the first and last names of lawyers within law firms and found that “lawyers with more easily pronounceable names occupied superior positions within their firm hierarchy … The effect was independent of firm size, firm ranking, or mean associate salary.”Read More »