Archives for names



A Baby Name That Really Tells You Something About the Parents

The underlying point of everything we’ve ever written about baby names is that the name is essentially the parents’ signal to the world of what they think of their kid — whether it’s a signal of tradition, religion, aspiration, affiliation, or whatnot.

Here is a very pure example of that principle: a baby named Colt .45 Stratemeyer. It’s via Jim Romenesko, from a birth announcement in the Tillamook (Oregon) Headlight-Herald:

Colt .45 Stratemeyer was born Nov. 26, 2013 at Tillamook Regional Medical Center. He weighed seven pounds, two ounces. He joins his older brother, Hunter Allen Stratemeyer, 3. Baby Colt’s parents are Joshua and Rebekah Stratemeyer of Toledo.

I assume the announcement is legitimate, though I can’t say for certain. I am guessing there are fiction writers out there who could write a short story or maybe even a novel with no more inspiration than this birth announcement.



What’s in an Americanized Name?

What’s in a name?  Steve Levitt and economists following on his work have examined how racial differences in given names generate (or don’t) differences in economic outcomes.  A new paper (PDF) by Costanza Biavaschi, Corrado Giulietti and Zahra Siddique shows that first names mattered for immigrants to the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century: people who Americanized their given names did better economically thereafter. 

But how to get around the possibility that those with more energy/ambition were more likely to change names—going from Giovanni to John or Zbigniew to Charles?  Answer:  use the complexity of the pre-change name to predict whether a person changes names; and this is a good predictor.  Read More »



How Much Does Your Name Matter?

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.



Price Discrimination? Racial Discrimination?

From a reader named Philip Mulder comes this photograph:

Philip says this is a hair-cutting joint in Washington, D.C. As you can see, it offers a 50% discount if your name is — in this case — Amanda, Rachel, Katie, Peter, Andrew, or David. I don’t have my master database of black-white names handy (hey, it’s summer), but I’m pretty sure that at least five out of those six skew pretty white. So, a couple of questions: Read More »



FREAK-est Links

1. Movie tickets cost as much as $48; “Star Wars” creator George Lucas predicts that ticket prices are only going up. (HT: SM Fishman)

2. Name wars: Borghese Inc. fights the Borghese family for the right to market with the royal name.

3. Does dim lighting enhance creativity?

4. An interactive data map (in French) of Paris Metro lines crossed with socioeconomic and political indicators. Read More »



More on the Google AdWords Controversy

A reader named Desmond Lawrence writes from London with further commentary on our “How Much Does Your Name Matter” podcast — specifically, about Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney‘s research which found that online searches 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 actually been arrested:

So when I was listening to your podcast on “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” I was surprised to hear about Latanya and her story about these Google Ads that were being served.
 
Now as much as the company Instant Checkmate would like to say that they are not at fault here, I can guarantee that I know what has happened with their AdWords campaign.
 
When you set up an AdWords campaign you tend to do a fair bit of research. From there you will build a campaign around Broad match, phrase match or even exact match.
 
You can also do a thing called Dynamic keyword insertion. Now this is where I would suggest that Instant Checkmate went wrong. If you place the Dynamic keyword call code into an ad, it will place the keyword that has called the ad into the ad, thus increasing the effectiveness of the ad.

Read More »



Discriminating Software

The Economist takes a look at the software that big companies are using to sort through job applicants. It finds that people who use Chrome and Firefox browsers are better employees, and people with criminal records are suited to work in call centers. One drawback to having a computer sort potential employees is that its algorithms may treat some variables as proxies for race, as discussed in our “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” podcast, in which the Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney found that distinctively black names are more likely to draw ads that offer arrest records.  Read More »



An App for Names

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” A listener named Mark Edmond wrote in to tell us about Nametrix, a names app he created:

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:

  1. psychotherapists
  2. librarians
  3. activists

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:

  1. Trey
  2. Rusty
  3. Sonny

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 »