What's in a Name?
February 11, 2013 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Is your name linked to your life chances? The Guardian's Data Blog examines the link between first names and life outcomes in a series of diagrams. "The Guardian Digital Agency has looked at the first names of doctors, prisoners, football players, Guardian staff and other professions and mapped how often certain names occur."
posted by sundaydriver (62 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love that my husband's name overlaps between prisoner and Guardian staff. Sadly, my weirdo name figures nowhere in their data.
posted by Kitteh at 8:34 AM on February 11, 2013


They should put a copy of that chart in every Labor and Delivery unit
posted by Renoroc at 8:34 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This rather smells of Freakonomics.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:34 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh, I wonder if baby name choice is correlated with the socioeconomic status of the parents??
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on February 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


Whatever you do, don't give your son the middle name "Wayne".
posted by TedW at 8:39 AM on February 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


The complete non-overlap of generational girls names is interesting.
posted by DU at 8:41 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Kinda weird and not-so-useful graphic representations of I don't know what ...

Where are all the women? I was looking for something to not make me feel so bad about naming my two daughters after flowers.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:42 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


... and what these graphs prove yet again is that the most important thing about your name is whether it's male or female.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on February 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Apparently I'm equally likely to be either an Oxford undergrad or a footballer.
posted by dortmunder at 8:51 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did anyone think to come up with a diagram showing where these names fall under when parents' income is considered?

I don't see many Rothschilds named Brandon, for example.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:54 AM on February 11, 2013


Me, too, dortmunder!
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2013


Not even wrong.
posted by benzenedream at 8:57 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once again, my name isn't represented. Harumph.

(What do you mean it's a Chinese name that's relatively obscure even for Chinese people? There's at least a few dozen of us on Facebook. That counts!)
posted by kmz at 8:58 AM on February 11, 2013


There's a huge amount of experiments by American social scientists that have found that white people will discriminate against people with stereotypically "black" first names, even without having any other information about the person's race. Maybe this comes as news to the Brits, but the idea that names could have influence on life chances is as obvious as the nose on my face, once you take the racial aspect into account.
posted by jonp72 at 9:00 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


The results indicate large racial differences in callback rates to a phone line with a voice mailbox attached and a message recorded by someone of the appropriate race and gender. Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:01 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Coincidence! Somewhat of a self-link, but I did something really similar recently, as written up in mefi projects. My approach is a lot larger in scope and results in a ranked list of professions for each name and a ranked list of names for each of 100+ professions, all based on level of disproportionate frequency. I like how venn diagrams are used here... Pretty interesting stuff, either way.
posted by hodgebodge at 9:03 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.

So, either employer prejudice or... employer prejudice?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:04 AM on February 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is this corrected at all for how frequently those names occur in the population at large? I mean, a theoretical name that over 1/4 of all CEOs has sounds impressive, unless 1/2 of everybody is named that to begin with. Then it sounds bad.
posted by ctmf at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Once again, my name isn't represented.

Indeed; many are the gift shops who have failed to sell me a shit tchotchke due a lack of imagination on the part of the person who runs the personalizer machine through which runs the toothbrushes, shot glasses, and bicycle license plates.

And I'll bet thirty dollars that person's name is Micheal, Christopher, or Jason.
Go fuck yourselves, Micheals, Christopers, and Jasons.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where are all the women?

If you look at the overlap between FTSE-100 directors and doctors, you'll see that all the doctors names that aren't also FTSE-100 director names are women's names (except for "Matthew"). That's quite a telling little snapshot, really.
posted by yoink at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


And I'll bet thirty dollars that person's name is Micheal, Christopher, or Jason.

His name is Bort.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on February 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Whatever you do, don't give your son the middle name "Wayne".

Hell, don't give him the first name "Wayne".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:16 AM on February 11, 2013


Could someone look up the name Jonas for me on hodgebodge's app? I don't have a smart phone (I have a very dumb phone).
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:19 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In sum: names can be indicative of race, gender, socio-economic status, and even religious background.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:29 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go fuck yourselves, Micheals, Christopers, and Jasons.

More likely "Michaels" and "Christophers"
posted by sweetkid at 9:31 AM on February 11, 2013


Go fuck yourselves, Micheals, Christopers, and Jasons.

More likely "Michaels" and "Christophers"


Nope, Josan.
posted by Foosnark at 9:35 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it's Jasyn.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Micheal

M-I-C-H-A-E-L, thank you very much.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 9:51 AM on February 11, 2013


In sum: names can be indicative of race, gender, socio-economic status, and even religious background.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Wherever did you get such a ridiculous idea?
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the most popular names in recent generations pop up frequently among doctors, journalists and prisoners? Please, tell me more.
posted by me3dia at 9:54 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


related: Isaac Asimov's "Spell my name with an S"
posted by Bwithh at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


M-I-C-H-A-E-L, thank you very much.

Whatevs, go enjoy your special personalized toothbrush.

I don't know why I always misspell that. I think I find it more pleasing to have the open parts of the e & a 'facing', which makes it look like the letters are talking, whereas the correct spelling makes it look like they are ignoring each other, which is sad.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:10 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Where there is an overlap on those diagrams, my name is there. Even on the diagram where there is only one name on the overlap. This makes me incredibly sad.
posted by Hogshead at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2013


This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.

It suggests employer prejudice, but not necessarily race-based. "Stereotypically African-American names" are usually "Stereotypically low socio-economic class African-American names." I would be interested in seeing a comparison of these studies with "Stereotypically low socio-economic class white names (such as Billy-Bob)".
posted by corb at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there one for FTSE-100 directors who are also prisoners?
posted by bzbb at 10:20 AM on February 11, 2013


I was named after a little boy who drowned in a boating accident... Not sure what that indicates about my life expectancy...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:22 AM on February 11, 2013


So, the answer to the question seems to be "Not really, no." And the further answer to the question is, "With big data sets, you're bound to see insignificant coincidence."
posted by klangklangston at 10:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there one for FTSE-100 directors who are also prisoners?

Ernest. Or Gerald.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:27 AM on February 11, 2013


There's the right way, the wrong way, OR the Max Power way!
posted by Brocktoon at 10:34 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think some people cannot have clicked the link. It isn't looking at "John" vs "Lashwanda" or whatever. It's looking at "John" vs "Michael". Even within a group of "similar" (from a racial/prejudicial POV) names, some seem to be correlated with certain outcomes.
posted by DU at 11:12 AM on February 11, 2013


I've always thought there is something to this. How big the effect is is debatable, of course.

Just to be on the safe side, when my son was born my wife and I utilized a process whereby any name we considered had to sound correct after "Chief Justice".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:33 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, the answer to the question seems to be "Not really, no." And the further answer to the question is, "With big data sets, you're bound to see insignificant coincidence."

Well, no--the answer is "there is a very strong correlation between names and "life chances.""What's in dispute (in the thread--the linked article doesn't seem to take a position on this) is whether the name is merely a marker of other factors that play into "life chances" (class, race, socioeconomics etc.) or whether it actually has some causal power itself.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2013


It would be interesting to see this for American names. Names like Ian, Liam, Nigel and Graham are not nearly as common here as they are in the UK. That's not to say that they aren't perfectly fine names.

Personally, I have yet to meet anyone with one of those names who didn't come equipped with a British accent.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2013


Liam, Nigel and Graham not so much but I know a ton of American Ians.
posted by sweetkid at 12:39 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Well, no--the answer is "there is a very strong correlation between names and "life chances.""What's in dispute (in the thread--the linked article doesn't seem to take a position on this) is whether the name is merely a marker of other factors that play into "life chances" (class, race, socioeconomics etc.) or whether it actually has some causal power itself."

You're wrong here. There is absolutely nothing in the article that demonstrates a strong correlation between names and life outcomes. There have been other articles that demonstrate other links between name and outcome (generally along gender and race lines), however the overlapping Venn diagrams are something that looks neat but has absolutely no value as a study. It doesn't even control for how common the names are!
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't notice any boys named Sue.

I'm guessing the more common the name, the more likely someone is to be receptive to another person of that name. A John or Mary is sort of generic. We all know many Johns and Marys. Less common names mean you meet fewer people with those names, and individuals are more likely to stick in your memory, for good or bad. Is your perception of what an Ian, Eleanor, or Dennis is like influenced by the Ian, Eleanor, or Dennis that you have known previously? A Lashwanda would be a relative unknown to most people. Enter the stereotype.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:52 PM on February 11, 2013


You're wrong here. There is absolutely nothing in the article that demonstrates a strong correlation between names and life outcomes.

So you think it's purely random that there are no women's names among the most frequent names of FTSE-100 directors? Seriously?

Look, it is blindingly obvious that males and females have different "life chances" and equally blindingly obvious that they are not assigned names randomly. Similarly, it is blindingly obvious that people of different socio-economic backgrounds have different naming practices and, again, that people of different socio-economic backgrounds have different "life chances."

Consequently it is blindingly obvious, again, that names are correlated with different "life chances."

I'm not sure why you think it is interesting or plausible to dispute something that is so ridiculously self-evident.
posted by yoink at 12:58 PM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's the right way, the wrong way, OR the Max Power way!

Hercules Rockefeller
Rembrandt Q. Einstein
Handsome B. Wonderful
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:49 PM on February 11, 2013


Great, this thread has gotten " Liza With A Z" stuck in my head ( effectively pushing out the Ducktails theme, thank god).
posted by The Whelk at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's "Liza" with a "Z"
Not "Lisa" with a hurricane, here in Duckburg.
posted by griphus at 2:05 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great, this thread has gotten " Liza With A Z" stuck in my head ( effectively pushing out the Ducktails theme, thank god).


Why would you do this
posted by sweetkid at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2013


"So you think it's purely random that there are no women's names among the most frequent names of FTSE-100 directors? Seriously?"

I didn't say it was random. How much do you think names influence that over the fact that these are women? Very little, I'd wager, and even less of that has been demonstrated here.

"Look, it is blindingly obvious that males and females have different "life chances" and equally blindingly obvious that they are not assigned names randomly. Similarly, it is blindingly obvious that people of different socio-economic backgrounds have different naming practices and, again, that people of different socio-economic backgrounds have different "life chances."

Consequently it is blindingly obvious, again, that names are correlated with different "life chances."
"

Uh, because it's idiotic to contend that, based on this evidence, the name choices have any real relationship to life outcomes that isn't better explained by looking at some other factor. That should be blindingly obvious, and I know that you're all het up to prove something, anything out of this dross, but it's a shit bit of infographic and getting all apoplectic just makes you into an ass who's more concerned with trumpeting their ideology than actually looking at the data provided.

That, again, this doesn't have any control for relative frequency of names in the population, or anything else, makes it about as valid as a Venn diagram of kids I went to grammar school with overlapped with astronauts.

But please, explain what the significance and confidence levels are of this survey of Grauniad staff are, what level of correlation we're seeing, and what controls have been introduced to make sure that these are representative samples and the deviation of frequency in these names from the overall sample (letting alone that these are mostly subsamples, which, again, provide no data on divergence).

Until then, feel free to dial back your outrage to something a little less blindingly, obviously based on making a stupid and obvious point loudly, and maybe, just maybe, use a modicum of critical thinking.

(To forestall the inevitable: This does not mean that the correlations you contend are not true; however, this article does not demonstrate them.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:29 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is exactly why I fear increasing media use of big data. People have no clue that these are even questions that should be asked. Now, instead of reporting based on lousy anecdotal ideas cherrypicked to support the reporter's prejudices, we're going to get claims made that this is based on "data."
posted by Maias at 2:45 PM on February 11, 2013


"This is exactly why I fear increasing media use of big data. People have no clue that these are even questions that should be asked. Now, instead of reporting based on lousy anecdotal ideas cherrypicked to support the reporter's prejudices, we're going to get claims made that this is based on "data.""

Somewhere, my advanced reporting prof is weeping.
posted by klangklangston at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2013


Is your name linked to your life chances?

Yes but not in the way the Guardian is projecting. If you name your child Nigel or Charles, you are already upper class. Therefore this child is much more likely to be a company director than a street criminal, but that would not have changed had you named your son John or Thomas.

There is ZERO CHANCE you're going to name your kid Wayne, Jamie or Darren because those are very, very working class names. Similarly, if you live in a public housing estate and name your kid Nigel, you are not consigning him to a life in prison so much as a life of getting his ass kicked by his peers.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:35 PM on February 11, 2013


Jamie Dimon — a criminal, no doubt, but not a working class one.
posted by klangklangston at 5:17 PM on February 11, 2013


I didn't say it was random. How much do you think names influence that over the fact that these are women? Very little, I'd wager, and even less of that has been demonstrated here.

Correlation is not the same thing as causation. You denied the existence of a correlation; which was clearly incorrect. That there is a correlation is beyond question. Neither the linked article nor I asserted any causal connection.

Or, as I put it in the original comment to which you responded, and which you clearly did not read:
Well, no--the answer is "there is a very strong correlation between names and "life chances."" What's in dispute (in the thread--the linked article doesn't seem to take a position on this) is whether the name is merely a marker of other factors that play into "life chances" (class, race, socioeconomics etc.) or whether it actually has some causal power itself.
That the vast bulk of the causation here is due to factors besides the names themselves would seem extremely likely, but that doesn't mean that the names may not play a small role. I would not be at all surprised to learn that people from low socioeconomic backgrounds with names that are associated with higher socioeconomic backgrounds meet with mitigated prejudice in many social interactions. If a schoolteacher, for example, has slightly higher expectations of the person with the high-prestige name than they do of the person with the low-prestige name, that could result in higher performance in the class which, in turn, could open up a wider range of potential futures etc. etc. We know a lot about how damaging negative stereotypes and their associated lowered expectations can be: I don't find it inherently any more surprising that names would play a part in forming these stereotyped expectations than, for example, accents.
posted by yoink at 5:48 PM on February 11, 2013


"Correlation is not the same thing as causation. You denied the existence of a correlation; which was clearly incorrect. That there is a correlation is beyond question. Neither the linked article nor I asserted any causal connection."

And again, you have not demonstrated any correlations. That there are only a few female names in the 100 FTSE directors circle is not a correlation with any meaning without knowing, say, how many of each example there were. I.e. If there are 5 Michaels, 5 Jims, 5 Dougs, 5 Randys and 2000 Anns, then the list of the top names would still be four male names and one female name.

Likewise, even if we assume an equal number of people for all of the names, the main Venn has 11 female names out of about 90. Given a random distribution, you'd still expect this to come out to chance about 1 out of 20 times (if I recall high school math correctly). But those are all problematic assumptions!

So learn what "correlation" means before giving me the lecture on the difference between that and causation.

"That the vast bulk of the causation here is due to factors besides the names themselves would seem extremely likely, but that doesn't mean that the names may not play a small role. I would not be at all surprised to learn that people from low socioeconomic backgrounds with names that are associated with higher socioeconomic backgrounds meet with mitigated prejudice in many social interactions. If a schoolteacher, for example, has slightly higher expectations of the person with the high-prestige name than they do of the person with the low-prestige name, that could result in higher performance in the class which, in turn, could open up a wider range of potential futures etc. etc. We know a lot about how damaging negative stereotypes and their associated lowered expectations can be: I don't find it inherently any more surprising that names would play a part in forming these stereotyped expectations than, for example, accents."

This is all post-hoc justification for something that the data in the article does not show.

You are filling in a lack of data with your own prejudices and inferences. Those inferences may be valid, but for arguing that a correlation has been demonstrated here, they are worthless.

This is bad pseudoscience, and arguing that it supports blindingly obvious stuff is begging the question. If you want to support your arguments with facts not evidenced by the data, found a religion.
posted by klangklangston at 6:49 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ideal Impulse, here's some of the Nametrix analysis for Jonas in case you're still wondering. Most disproportionately common in these professions: Record Producer, Film Producer, Screenwriter. So, very creative/cultural industry -oriented. Top political party: Democrat (by a fair margin). Most disproportionately popular in the midwestern US at its popularity peak in 2008. Ranked #490 for boys in 2011, between Kristopher and Nico.
posted by hodgebodge at 8:27 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you, hodgebodge!

Nico was, strangely, my second choice.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:02 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It makes me sad to think that kids named Jonas are going to be teased more about the brothers than about Weezer.
posted by klangklangston at 11:25 PM on February 11, 2013


There's the right way, the wrong way, OR the Max Power way!

Hercules Rockefeller
Rembrandt Q. Einstein
Handsome B. Wonderful


I give you.. Rockwell C Bonecutter, a man who evidently missed his calling in the adult film industry to become an IT management consultant.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:13 AM on February 12, 2013


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