How Much Does Your Name Matter? (Ep. 122 Rebroadcast)

Listen now:

This week’s podcast is a rebroadcast of our episode 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. We talk with NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and his two children, E Harper Nora Jeremijenko-Conley and Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley. Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney talks about Google ads, and how a search for people with distinctively black names was more likely to produce an ad suggesting the person had an arrest record – regardless of whether that person had ever been arrested. We also talk to Eric Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, about his new research that looks at how children’s names are influenced by their parents’ political ideology. Lastly, Steve Levitt and Roland Fryer argue that a first name doesn’t seem to affect a person’s economic life at all.

We hope you enjoy this episode, whatever your name might be.

Tiffany Desabrais

Hello, fellow Freakonomics fans. I am listening to this week's rebroadcast about baby names, and was shocked to hear my name being called one of the "trashiest." I may be an exception to the rule, but I wouldn't consider myself to be a "trashy" person. I am an educated, middle-class citizen with a degree in Economics. I laughed when he said he will probably get in trouble for this. Here's your wrist slap - and if your name is Tiffany or Brittany, embrace the trash!


I'm not a scientist or sociologist, but in my personal experience person's names matter. I worked at a small venture capital company in New York City and the company was seeking an intern. We've got lots of resumes from college students. One of students who sent a resume had a unique Middle Eastern last name and the managing partner at first was hesitant to hire the student and the managing partner even joked about the student's last name. My boss was nice and the student was eventually hired for the internship program, but I could imagine other employees would not hire people with unique names.

I had a black ex-coworker. She had a unique name and her name didn't sound like a black name at all. I asked her about her name one day. She told me that her father named her that name because he didn't want her to experience discrimination and she got more job interviews than her friends who had black names she confessed.

I admit I have not conducted any studies using scientific methods, but name definitely matters.



I think you're missing the point.

The podcast stated that names didn't matter when it came to how successful, financially, someone would be in later life. In fact the podcast went on to say that even if it is true that unique names have a smaller chance of getting job interviews due to discriminating interviewers, they were probably better off not working in an environment where they would be discriminated against anyway.


I think that you are missing the point that Nick was trying to make. He or she has seen how names can be the difference between getting a job or being blown off before you even get an interview. I do not necessarily agree with Levitt's view on this subject. How many Deshawns do you know that have successful high paying careers? I do subscribe to the idea that the education level of a person shows when they name their child.


I was browsing at a bookstore and came across the most cringe-inducing example of this I have ever experienced, a book titled "Birding with Yeats: A Mother's Memoir". To make things worse, the author describes her son Yeats as " a poet at heart: acutely sensitive, highly intelligent, and solitary by nature", as if naming your son after a poet automatically imbues him with that poet's personality. Truly cringeworthy stuff right there.

Mark Johnson

Stephen said " its in the best interest of both Google and the advertiser to get as many clicks as possible". In fact its usually _not_ in the best interest of an advertiser to get as many clicks as possible. Advertisers doing performance based advertising (as is the case discussed in the story) don't care so much about clicks on their ads, what they care about most is people buying their product. It _costs_ them money when someone clicks on their ad, but most of the people doing the click through don't spend money and are hence an expense. What the advertiser wants is an ad that attracts a click from someone most likely to spend money. This is called 'conversion'. Ads that result in higher conversion rates are necessarily more selective and usually have lower click through rates than ads that convert less but have higher click through rates. So if an advertiser tries to get the highest number of clicks, that is usually inefficient and wasteful of money.



My last name is BASTARDO.

Some people had called me stuff...

I believe that your name gives a first impresion, but the conclusion comes along with the actitud with wich you carry you name.


I have heard the ad for this show so many times, during fresh air. I will be so relieved not to hear that kid say "Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley." when a new ad finally airs.

It's the "Knuckles" part where I lose it. It's trying so hard to be cool that it actually hurts.


I just finished listening to the rebroadcast of this episode, and enjoyed it very much. It inspired me to share my own experience with the effect names may or may not have.

My name is indeed Treasure, which funnily enough is the beginning of many conversations with new acquaintances. I find that the positive emotional connotation of my name tends to begin new relationships on a similarly positive note. The "how did you get that name" portion of almost Every conversation acts as a convenient ice-breaker. It gives me an opportunity to tell a comical and practiced anecdote allowing me to leave a first impression of being upbeat, poised, and possessing a good sense of humor. (All can be true but given my introverted nature moght not generally become clear until later in interactions; )

I also find that my name causes people to remember me, which may be beneficial in many ways. For instance being the memorable applicant in a large pool of job candidates. We're I given to misbehavior, this factor would, I conjecture have the reverse negative effect.

I would be very interested to see data on the effects of potential emotional connotations of namea on interactions, ie. Treasure vs Rage. I would also be interested on data re memorable names and economic success.

Either way, love the show, and just to quell your curiosity no my parents were not creative or hippies.



just thought that this skit from Key & Peele went with this episode, in regard to race and names and the assumptions made.

Substitute Teacher


I have to take issue with two aspects of this episode:

1) The repeated phrase "what mothers name their babies." Fathers are often involved in the process - and these days there are plenty of babies being named by a pair of fathers. It's just as easy to say "parents." I realize that this probably wasn't a conscious choice on your part, but can we please be a little more cognizant of the way in which we describe things?

2) Steve Levitt's interpretation of the resume audit study. I've heard and read about this study fairly frequently. Levitt is the first researcher I've heard who doesn't seem to realize that what this study likely shows isn't just outright racism - "oh I can't hire a black person" - but also subconscious, or institutional racism where the person in question doesn't even realize that they're acting based on bias. You know, like the parents who don't realize that they're naming their children based on a trend. It's not simply a matter of hiring managers saying, "I'm not even going to call this guy in for an interview because his name is Jamal and he's probably black." You guys should know better.



1) Illegitimacy is at all-time highs. So, while it's true there are still plenty of fathers still involved in the naming process--as I was involved in my daughter's--it's statistically safe to just say "what mothers name their babies". Also, adoption among gay male monogamous couples is incredibly rare. There may be a large absolute number of gay male couples who've adopted babies, but as a percentage even of gay men they are miniscule. So again, economizing the language in a way that doesn't include them is totally understandable.

2) If "racism" means a hatred of people of a certain race, how can that be subconscious? How can you hate someone and not realize it? Or, if "racism" is simply the tendency to give race lots of importance, then doesn't that describe a very normal, natural behavior for just about all people? If so, then why should it be treated as a problem? I think you're making a lot of unjustified assumptions.


Shenandoah Chefalo

Just finished listening to this podcast and had to comment. I was born in California in the mid 70's and I can attest that my name has both closed doors and opened doors. I would concur that sending out resumes and/or blind emails to try and establish contact with someone, usually results in very negative results. However, my name has become handy at networking events, cocktail parties, etc. where people tend to remember me, my name, and the story behind it! It took me nearly 40 years to finally feel comfortable introducing myself, but at least I'm memorable!

Derrell Durrett

Was just re-listening to this, and was struck by something left completely unexamined by either of you: in asking why "black" names appear with arrest record mentions when "white" names do not (statistically), you were handed the answer: the company offering the name/arrest-record link is only doing so for names of people for whom an arrest record exists. So, police behavior (arresting black residents at a greater rate than white residents for the same crimes) is a potential confounding factor in the analysis.

Since it's become well demonstrated over the past few years that blacks are disproportionately arrested in NYC (and some other jurisdictions) for the same crimes as whites, despite admitting in surveys to statistically identical law-breaking behavior, this is clearly an issue that clouds the analysis.

I'm curious to know if this occurred to you?


Former Listener

I just saw this story and was reminded of your names episode.


How about the impact of being named about after someone? I am a Jr. named after my ore tdad. There is a big impact of living up to the name you are given. My dad is someone I would be more than glad to equal.

Kirk Que Quockco

It's hard having a different name and it sometimes determines who your are such as My last name is Quockco i was called quack, quacky , ducky quacko, and now today i'm one of the most respected men in my city but i now still have people to mispronounce it which is bothersome so I introduce myself most times as Que. In basketball circuit i'm pretty well know as Que but if you say my full last name most people won't know who you were talking about unless you describe my job title or the referee/announcer.