Search the Site

What's in an Americanized Name?

(Photo: Marlon E)

(Photo: Marlon E)

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.  Thus the authors show clearly that name change was the cause of the better performance of those migrants who took “American” names.  I wonder if this kind of name change is as common among today’s immigrants?

(HT to CG)