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Are you a liberal baby or a conservative baby?
June 5, 2013 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on baby names
posted by MisantropicPainforest (91 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oooh, linguistics and political science running into each other...interesting...though I have one minor methodological quibble.

Using these addresses, they then matched each mother to her Census tract and thereby determined whether she lived in an area that was predominantly Democratic, Republican or somewhere in between.

That's a strange way to do it. If they had names and addresses, why didn't they do a voter file match on an individual level to party registration instead of using Census tract?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


As we see in patterns of baby names, liberal elites use esoteric cultural references to demonstrate their elevated social position just as conservatives invoke traditional signals of wealth and affluence. Instead of divides between “Red and Blue states,” it is more accurate to say that America is divided not just by “Red and Blue elites,” but also in the ways these elites seek to differentiate themselves from the largely “purple” masses.

"By John Sides."

It seems maybe someone is a bit unhappy with his purple name.
posted by three blind mice at 7:10 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I often think it's comical — Fal, lal, la!
How Nature always does contrive — Fal, lal, la!
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:12 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This says it better.

Walter (Gib) Gibson: Elliot? You're gonna name the kid Elliot? No, you can't name the kid Elliot. Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste. You're not gonna name the kid Elliot. You gotta give him a real name. Give him a name. Like Nick.

Alison Bradbury: Nick?

Walter (Gib) Gibson: Yeah, Nick. Nick's a real name. Nick's your buddy. Nick's the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car, Nick!
[Alison looks disgusted]

Walter (Gib) Gibson: [to Lady in Car] Oh, vomit. I'm sorry. Vomit.


...and Nick is the Republican.

Bonus points for naming the movie without looking and not feeling old when you see what year it was made.
posted by otto42 at 7:13 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


If they had names and addresses, why didn't they do a voter file match on an individual level to party registration instead of using Census tract?

They only had first names, not whole names. Also not every mother would be a registered voter, though every mother probably has political ideals.

Also, totally unsurprised to find that my own son's name conforms to their conclusions. Uncommon! Esoteric name from a non-English speaking culture! Soft sounds! FILTHY LIBERAL!
posted by sonika at 7:13 AM on June 5, 2013


I look forward to the Sporcle quiz based on this research.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


So frustrating. They contrast "minority" with liberal and well educated and just generally do a piss-poor job of everything. The study might be great but this is shoddy and click-baiting science blogging.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:18 AM on June 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


Hey, let's not ignore where they actually agreed. They gave their babies names. And for free!
posted by srboisvert at 7:19 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


They contrast "minority" with liberal and well educated and just generally do a piss-poor job of everything.

What a good point! I was uncomfortable with that but could not express it so well.

Also not impressed with the bit about how "partisan politics are basically the purview of rich white people", because it's framed in such a way as to suggest everyone else just doesn't care and is an undifferentiated proletarian stew, when really it's that "partisan politics" express the various and conflicting class interests of rich white people more than anyone else's.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also hate the conclusions the reporters draw from the census tracts. As a socialist who loves country music, this shit conflation of local culture and geographic location with political orientation is classist and shallow.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I went to a Steiner school that had a Moonbeam and a Lettice. I feel that means I don't need to expand on the amount of art lessons we had.
posted by jaduncan at 7:26 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a liberal, baby.
posted by papercake at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2013


Phonosemantics is always interesting to me and it's interesting to see it used here, but as the young rope-rider and frowner point out, there is a big pile of questionable assumptions and framing here.
posted by edheil at 7:28 AM on June 5, 2013


srboisvert: "Hey, let's not ignore where they actually agreed. They gave their babies names. And for free!"

So there's an opportunity here, is what you're saying?
posted by boo_radley at 7:29 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I RTFA, but it didn't make my brain feel full, so right after I had to sneak off and read the labels off all the bottles in the bathroom cupboard and now I'm coming down off a TEA lauryl sulfate high.

I move to adjourn this meeting of the Royal Society for Putting People in Boxes in Boxes in Boxes.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:31 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Walter (Gib) Gibson: Yeah, Nick. Nick's a real name. Nick's your buddy. Nick's the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car, Nick!

I used that entire diatribe in response to someone saying they wanted to name their kid "Cody". It's an appropriate response to anyone who wants to give their kid an awful name (like "Aiden", which I've already displayed my intense distaste for here in the past).
posted by Redfield at 7:31 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A boy’s name like “Trig” or a girl’s name like “Bristol” would be more common in Republican neighborhoods.

This implies that there is more than one Trig, and that makes me sad.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


So there's an opportunity here, is what you're saying?

Yep.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:36 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Using these addresses, they then matched each mother to her Census tract and thereby determined whether she lived in an area that was predominantly Democratic, Republican or somewhere in between.

If you're going to do that, you might as well just use "Red States" and "Blue States" as your proxy, and draw your own conclusions from these maps:

http://www.babynamewizard.com/name-mapper

I tried Mary, John, Katherine. I do see some trend at slightly more popularity for those in the red-state southeast. But Thomas and Daniel don't fit the trend. (The map doesn't really give data for less popular names, so it's easier to test the "conservatives use traditional names" part of the hypothesis than "liberals use esoteric but not made-up names" or the "conservatives who don't use traditional names use made-up names" part.)

The person who runs that site was interviewed for a different article on this topic by NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/05/14/152487425/baby-names-the-latest-partisan-divide

She's also got a lot more sophisticated anaylsis of this type on her blog:

http://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2009/1/red-and-blue-baby-naming-inauguration-2009-edition

I don't have time to dig up her posts about names for wannabe cowboys and so on on, right now, but if you start reading her blog anywhere, you're likely to find stuff that's a lot more insightful and fascinating than this study, all mined from social security administration data.

http://www.babynamewizard.com/blog
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:36 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amy Schumer has a bit about Google in the delivery room.

Parents: "We'll call him... Dondiego!"
Google: "Did you mean 'Steve'"?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:38 AM on June 5, 2013


They contrast "minority" with liberal and well educated and just generally do a piss-poor job of everything

Care to elaborate or point to where they suggest that liberal, well educated, or minority categories of people do not overlap or are oppositional?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:41 AM on June 5, 2013


I still catch myself snerking out loud when I first hear a mother yell something like "Ansel, stop throwing sand at your sister!" Like, at least grant them the dignity of a nickname-ifiable name.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Care to elaborate or point to where they suggest that liberal, well educated, or minority categories of people do not overlap or are oppositional?

How about this quote:
When racial minorities and the poor chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the former. When Democrats or liberals chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the latter.
I don't know if they intended it to read this way, but when you say "A does this, B is more likely to do that", you are implying a non-overlap between A and B.

In general, the article seems to confusingly sway between what it is comparing / contrasting.
posted by tocts at 7:48 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man, Republicans name their kids this way, amirite?

But -- no, check it out -- Democrats name their kids like that.

Uh huh. This guy knows what I'm talking about.
posted by gauche at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


This episode of the Freakonomics podcast discussed this research.

It also included an interview with Dalton Conley, who is one of the foremost researchers on the impact of names on a child's success -- and who named his own children "E" and "Yo."
posted by miyabo at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, a confounding factor that the post I linked to above discusses that TFA does not:

"Let's say you have two groups of women making fashion choices. One opts for timeless classics, simple and a little formal; the other chooses the newest, trendiest, most eye-catching styles that make old fogeys squirm. What drives the difference? If you had to predict just one variable, the obvious choice is age. Was it possible that blue state parents were more conservative namers simply because they were older?

Sure enough, in 18 of the 19 states that voted for John Kerry in 2004, first-time mothers were older than the national average. And the more Democratic the community, the stronger the effect."

This reminds me of an aphorism I read somewhere that progressives are more likely to believe you should become an adult before becoming a parent, whereas conservatives are more likely to believe that the way you become an adult is by becoming a parent (or something like that.) Basically a huge part of the cultural (not just political) divide in America has to do with the age at which it people think it is desirable to marry and have kids.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well that's putting the hart before the course.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2013


Also, the oddness of associating phonemic values with political identity is just mind-boggling. Had it not occurred to these researchers that ethnicity, class (insofar as assimilationist social climbers will be less likely to preserve family traditions) and ancestral language of origin have a significant aggregate effect on the phonemes in names? And that this association could sit alongside other, far more significant associations between ethnicity and class, on the one hand, and political affiliation on the other?

Say it again with me, for the pin-head-angel counters at the University of Chicago (why always Chicago, I wonder): Correlation Does Not Equal Causation.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


A Moonbeam? Really? I thought that was something that only happened in bad jokes.
posted by jonmc at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2013


Can't resist sharing one more super-interesting tidbit from the Name Wizard's blog (thanks for giving me an excuse to dive back into it, MisantropicPainforest):
In 2006, a team of biologists determined that each dophin develops a distinctive whistle pattern that other dolphins use to identify it. (News story; original paper.) Relatives and close group members respond strongly to an individual's whistled name, even when the sound pattern is produced by a synthesizer. Strangers, meanwhile, swim on and ignore it. The name also appears to encode metadata about the dolphin's identity, such as age and sex.

Now, a new study reveals that dolphins don't just recognize each other's identifying whistles, they call them out. A dolphin mother, for instance, may produce the whistle of her calf to attract his attention when they are separated. (News story; original paper.) That sounds like a name, alright.

Dolphin names get me all philosophical. If naming practices of other cultures can give us new perspectives on the nature of names, naming practices frrom a whole other order of mammals must demand a step back for some serious reflection. What does it mean to have a name? What are they for, and what do they tell us? Are human parents, sweating over the perfect name choice for a child yet to be born, engaged in an arbitrary rite of our culture or a profound and universal undertaking?
...
The breakthrough 2006 dolphin name finding was based on a population of wild dolphins. An earlier study of dolphins living in captivity had found no individual naming, just shared calls.

The broader issues surrounding animals in captivity are far beyond the scope of this site, but from a pure naming perspective this difference is thought-provoking. In the confines of an aquarium, you know everybody and you know exactly where they all are. Names may simply be unnecessary in that environment. In the larger, far-flung community of dolphins off the Florida coast, tracking identity becomes an important challenge.

Do we see the same patterns in people? Consider that surnames are a relatively recent addition to our human identification system. Before that extra layer of identification was added, given names had to carry the whole identification load. Yet given names were far less diverse back then. Around the year 1200, at the cusp of the surname age in England, the top 10 names for boys and girls accounted for two thirds of all babies born. So half the families you know have a William and Alice? No big deal, you know who everybody is in your tank...err, village.

Today, in the internet age, we talk about the "global village." Not surprisingly, name diversity is skyrocketing. The top 10 names for American boys and girls account for just one twelfth of babies.

http://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2013/2/dolphin-names-and-yours

Mind=blown.

But are the dophins giving each other conservative names or liberal names?
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:13 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wait, so conservative traditional people are more likely to give their kids conservative, traditional names, and liberal, experimental people are more likely to give their kids liberal, experimental names?


Holy shishkebabs. That's heavy.
posted by windykites at 8:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean seriously, thank god they have Highly Educated Researchers to figure that one out because I, for one, would never have believed it otherwise.
posted by windykites at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not what it says. "Oliver and colleagues find that there were roughly two kinds of uncommon baby names: ones that are completely made up or just different spellings of common names (like “Jazzmyne” for Jasmine), and ones that are just esoteric. When racial minorities and the poor chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the former. When Democrats or liberals chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the latter."

Implied: conservatives who choose uncommon names are less likely to choose "just esoteric" names.

There are "country club Republicans" and then there are "What's the matter with Kansas?" Republicans among the rural poor, right? I mean, that might be an oversimplification, but I think there's a general consensus that the Republican party is kind of a coalition, at this point, between anti-tax capitalists and religious social conservatives, and that the demographics of those two factions are different.

It seems to me that the paragraph above implies that if you're poor and Republican, you're more likely to give you kid a made up name (probably more so if you're not white, if there are any poor, nonwhite Republicans).

If you're rich and Republican, you're more likely to give you kid a traditional name (especially if you're white.)

If you're poor and a Democrat, you're more likely to give your kid a made up name (especially if you're not white).

If you're rich and a Democrat, you're more likely to give your kid some esoteric name you picked from a book (especially if you're white).

Disclaimer -- I just read the article, not the original research.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:43 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean seriously, thank god they have Highly Educated Researchers to figure that one out because I, for one, would never have believed it otherwise.

Its not about believing, its about knowing. Now we know it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:44 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I still catch myself snerking out loud when I first hear a mother yell something like "Ansel, stop throwing sand at your sister!" Like, at least grant them the dignity of a nickname-ifiable name.


As someone who doesn't have a nickname-ifiable name, don't let me catch you snerk at my name! I love it, despite this short coming. Many a friend has tried to nickname "Asta". Obviously you see the dilemma here. It's either going to be "Ass", "Ta", or "Sta". I actually responded to a friend when he called me "Assface!" from across the crowd at the Taste of Chicago though...

I guess with my name, my parents should be liberal as it has the soft sounds and an esoteric reference (though I was NOT named after a dog...), but my parents are Republicans. They are, however, Asian Americans and apparently Asian Americans tend to give kids more unique names. Though I don't think they actually talk more about the link between ethnic background and political leanings with name choices?
posted by astapasta24 at 8:56 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, should I stop suggesting Ansel in response to AskMe questions seeking baby names? I had no idea it was so loathed.

My kids have uncommon names, but they are related to my wife's ethnicity. So, I'm trying to tell myself that I'm a little different from all the other educated liberals.
posted by Area Man at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2013


They only had first names, not whole names.

Good point. Though I still think a reliable match could still be made.

Also not every mother would be a registered voter, though every mother probably has political ideals.

The political beliefs of the unregistered voters (or non-voters) wouldn't have shown up at the precinct level anyway since the authors used an average of election results.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2013


In my neck of the woods one can tell what boys parents are at times; I've noticed Liberals giving boys girl names, and Conservatives giving boys old southern names or biblical ones.
I also think that all girls here are born to conservative parents no matter how they vote.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2013


There should be more girls named Mabel.
posted by ColdChef at 9:19 AM on June 5, 2013


girl names are more likely to contain “soft” sounds — like the L’s in “Lola,” the A in “Ella,”
But what about the A in "Lola", the L's in "Ella"?
posted by Flunkie at 9:20 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of an aphorism I read somewhere that progressives are more likely to believe you should become an adult before becoming a parent, whereas conservatives are more likely to believe that the way you become an adult is by becoming a parent (or something like that.)

This one.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


A Moonbeam? Really? I thought that was something that only happened in bad jokes.
posted by jonmc

I went to a 7 Sisters college with a Rainbow Sunshine, and Sunshine is also my roommate's middle name. I'm 50.

I'm named after my Russian great-grandmother and my mom's anglicized maiden name; my folks are 1st generation American lifelong Democratic voters.
posted by Dreidl at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2013


How about this quote:
When racial minorities and the poor chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the former. When Democrats or liberals chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the latter.
I don't know if they intended it to read this way, but when you say "A does this, B is more likely to do that", you are implying a non-overlap between A and B.
That's not at all true. There is no such implication. "People in set A are more likely to X than Y" and "People in set B are more likely to Y than X" says absolutely nothing about whether or not there's an overlap between sets A and B.

For example, let's say there are:Add them up:If the above numbers were true, then all of the following three statements would be true:If the implication you're claiming actually did exist, at least one of those three would have to be false.
posted by Flunkie at 9:43 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mabel makes me think of that old lyric "Get your feet off the table, Mabel and give the cheese a chance to stink."

I have also recalled that I've known two Sky's, both in their 20s. One's fairly ordinary, the other had a septum ring and a permanent sneer.
posted by jonmc at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2013


I was reminded of, "Mabel, oh Mabel, please get off the kitchen table."
posted by ogooglebar at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2013


Say it again with me, for the pin-head-angel counters at the University of Chicago (why always Chicago, I wonder): Correlation Does Not Equal Causation.

Do you honestly think this is profound or that the scholars who conducted this research do not know this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


My kids all have Klingon, consonanty names, which makes me a libertarian. PIPE DOWN T'KRACHKTOK!
posted by Mister_A at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this where someone swears up and down that they know a La-a pronounced Ladasha or that their mom was an RN who delivered twins named Lemonjello and Orangejello?

I'm rooting for "Toolio DeSac" and "Bayne."
posted by discopolo at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What gets me is the claim that: "Unique baby names were more common among blacks and Asian Americans than among whites and Latinos."

This may be true, but I suspect that unique Asian baby names are unique insofar as they are unique in California but not necessarily unique globally (i.e., instead of naming your kid Bryan Xiao, you named him Xiao Bin); treating these names the same as "ones that are completely made up or just different spellings of common names" just because both occur very rarely within the population seems to me like a major flaw in their methodology.
posted by asnider at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


My kids all have Klingon, consonanty names, which makes me a libertarian. PIPE DOWN T'KRACHKTOK!
Libertarian would be more Ferengi, no? At least the Randian flavor.

"Never place friendship above profit."

"A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all."

"A man is only worth the sum of his possessions."

"Exploitation begins at home."
posted by Flunkie at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2013


Having worked in a membership department of a large health insurer, I've seen the damage bad names can do. Esoteric spellings and made-up names lead to nothing but hassle with every kind of records department and will plague you the rest of your life. My own name has a different spelling and I can definitely testify to that. In my old department, we used to say that every hospital ought to have an old nurse prowling the maternity ward with a big stick.

"What are you naming this child?"

"Jasmyhn"

WHACK

"Let's try again. What are you naming this child?"

"Sarah"
posted by Ber at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my old department, we used to say that every hospital ought to have an old nurse prowling the maternity ward with a big stick.

My mom was a L&D nurse for eons and saw her share of bad names. Most parents couldn't be talked out of unconventional names/spellings no matter how many hints the nurses dropped that maybe this was a bad idea. And they did drop hints like "Oh, I've never seen it spelled Bawb - did you mean Bob?" Nope, no hints taken.

But my favorite name story was the one and only time she saw a baby with my name. The parents knew they were having a girl and during a calm moment in labor while my mom was checking the monitors, she made chit chat and asked them if the had ideas about the name. "We're going to name her Sonja." Now, my name isn't horribly uncommon, but at least in New England, the Scandinavian/Germanic spelling is. Most girl children with the same name spell it Sonya with Sonia coming in a close second. So, she asked how they were going to spell it. "S O N J A."

And my mom got so excited! She had never heard my name used before! "That's my daughter's name!!!!" And the family... got pissed. Like seriously pissed. They thought they had come up with this truly unique name that no one else had ever had. They fumed. A few years later, they had a son and wouldn't even speak to my mother w/r/t names lest she ruin it again by having the audacity to know someone with that name.

The moral of the story - yeah, someone somewhere probably has your totally one of a kind name.
posted by sonika at 10:51 AM on June 5, 2013


(PS: They named their son Harlem, which was a remarkably poor choice with their last name and it was the single worst name my mom ever saw. Think Harlem Black, though that was not the actual name.)
posted by sonika at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2013


Do you honestly think this is profound or that the scholars who conducted this research do not know this?


I honestly think that the cult of economics at the University of Chicago, which has given us such erudite savages as Steven Levitt, Richard Posner, Richard Epstein, and Gary Becker, has had a profound influence on many social scientist and policy thinkers working there. Its effect is to foster a kind of willed myopia that grabs at easily testable and counter-intuitive rationalizations for phenomena that would otherwise demand a high tolerance for ambiguity and a degree of intellectual humility.

So, yeah, on some level they "know this", but they've been richly rewarded by an institution and intellectual community that favors pretending that "this" doesn't matter if it seems like hoary conventional wisdom is being overturned.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2013


Also, holy shit are appeals to perceived authority an annoying basis for criticism.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:01 AM on June 5, 2013


Also, holy shit are appeals to perceived authority an annoying basis for criticism.

Almost as much as dismissing preliminary scholarship because of someone's institutional affiliation!

Also, the economics department is not the same as the political science department at Chicago, they're really very different.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:13 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the economics department is not the same as the political science department at Chicago, they're really very different.


Have you studied or worked there? I have. For a big chunk of my life. Obviously it's a huge institution with a tremendous amount of philosophical diversity, but the phrase "Chicago School" means something for a reason. In my original off-the-cuff comment, I was recognizing that some of the reductiveness and gleeful counter-intuitivity of this argument seemed characteristically Chicago-School. If you think that was a mischaracterization, I'd be glad to be enlightened. So far, though, you've only suggested that I don't have any right to think the thing I said I thought. Which is, I think, annoying.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:23 AM on June 5, 2013


yeah, someone somewhere probably has your totally one of a kind name

Whaddaya mean there's another Xwing @aliciousness?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"but the phrase "Chicago School" means something for a reason."

Yeah, but it doesn't apply to the political science department. It just doesn't. That department, for one, is heavily theory based and qualitative. And is famous for that approach among top notch PS departments. For example, their IR subfield is dominated by Mearsheimer's style of offensive realism, while nearly every other IR department is much more concerned with quantitative, large N or game theoretic methods.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That department, for one, is heavily theory based and qualitative.

uh-huh
posted by R. Schlock at 11:46 AM on June 5, 2013


That doesn't disprove my characterization. I can count on my thumbs the number of prominent americanists who don't use quant methods.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2013


These naming threads are coming at a great time for me.

Glares at tummy, tells baby to come out already.

I think names are inherently aspirational, and I'm curious to see how these patterns will change as the nature of the successful class changes. When I first came to the US, the trend for Vietnamese parents was to give their kids very Catholic names (Mary, Joesph, etc.) This made sense, because in Vietnam, the traditionally wealthier classes were generally Catholic. 10 years later, as they got more Americanized, you started to see the Daniels, Toms, Saras, and more common names. Then it was Charlottes, etc. It's trending more and more toward the more liberal/quirky names as Vietnamese parents stop wanting their kids to become pharmacists and start hoping for programmers.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2013


the phrase "Chicago School" means something for a reason

It means something because the economics faculty at Chicago has tended to have a coherently conservative/libertarian viewpoint since the 1950s or 60s. Reductiveness or gleeful counter-intuitiveness don't enter into it.

There's nothing particularly "Chicago school" about their political science department.

To speak against the Painforest, it would be fairer to say that Chicago is known for being theory-oriented and qualitative because they're known for their political theory (=political philosophy, home of the infamous Strauss) and IR fields. In American, I think most of my colleagues would agree that Chicago is a pretty good but not spectacular department known, if anything, for race and politics but without much methodological distinctiveness. In any subfield, there's no meaningful connection to the econ department; that would be more common in the Harris school.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:58 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an IRer, I am much more familiar with IR faculty than any other subfield, and I agree with ROU_Xenophobe's assessment 100%.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2013


The female names "Madison" and "McKenzie" don't show up in any states' top 100 until 1995, at which point they both appear in Utah. That lends credence to the "young parents give trendy names"/start trends idea.
posted by deanc at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2013


I can't believe I'm having this argument. If you had to put Bernard Harcourt on one end of the scale and Gary Becker at the other, where do you think essays like this would fall?
Campos, Paul, Paul Ernsberger, Glenn Gaesser, J. Eric Oliver, and Abigail Saguy. 2005.“The Epidemiology of Overweight and Obesity: Public Health Crisis or Moral Panic?”

Oliver, J. Eric and Tali Mendelberg. 2000. “Reconsidering the Environmental Determinants of White Racial Attitudes,” American Journal of Political Science.

“The Price of Cooperation: Psychological Differences Amongst Players in Public Goods Games.” (with Chad Levinson).

“Putting the Political Back in Political Psychology: The Promise and Peril of Evolutionary Theory for Explaining Political Behavior.”
I'm not saying that Oliver is a straight-up rational choice theorist. But his CV indicates pretty clearly that he's using psychology, epidemiology, and now evolutionary biology (?!) to reframe questions of civic involvement and political identity. You're clearly working in the field, so maybe these are standard research approaches. To me, this looks like the kind of quasi-empirical flouting of conventional wisdom that plays very well in Hyde Park.

And, again, none of this in any way detracts from my original gobsmackedness that someone might claim that there is a valid correlation between one's political identity and the vowels and consonants one chooses for a child's name.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:11 PM on June 5, 2013


Another, non-economist at Chicago who is often in the headlines and who favors empirical, biological approaches to questions of human behavior is Martha McClintock. I'm telling you, Chicago loves these people.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:18 PM on June 5, 2013


I gave my second son a last name for his first name. I am a dirty socialist. Data point!
posted by Biblio at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2013


Believe what you want to believe, but really, honestly, there isn't anything 'chicago school' about the poli sci department.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2013


*facepalm*
posted by R. Schlock at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2013


What, you guys are giving up? Just when it's starting to get interesting?
posted by ogooglebar at 12:33 PM on June 5, 2013


Sorry ogooglebar, I've kind of blown my wad here. MisantropicPainforest is insisting on a narrow, historical definition of "Chicago School" when I've made clear several times that I'm talking in cross-disciplinary terms about a style of argument and preference for research topics that are typified in the law & econ approach but aren't limited to it.

Why this sort of scholarship is so prevalent at the University of Chicago is an interesting question. Personally, I think it has to do with Chicago's late arrival into the cohort of elite American universities. There's a pervasive institutional inferiority complex that runs through the place that one doesn't see at Yale or Princeton, for example. It can be observed in an academic culture that favors citation in the popular press and that often shows an eagerness to approach complex problems reductively. Again, not every scholar at Chicago works this way, but a lot of the really successful ones do.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:55 PM on June 5, 2013


Can you point to any scholarship/work/writing/essays/etc. that use your definition of the Chicago school and not the other definition?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:57 PM on June 5, 2013


I actually did mean that you two had climbed down from the hysteria level to the point where I was beginning to learn something from the discussion.
posted by ogooglebar at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2013


Yeah, again, why should I have to do that? We're just folks having a conversation here. I've cited five big-ticket academics from multiple disciplines all of whom did their core work at Chicago and whose oeuvres show a similar philosophical orientation. Let's agree to call it "hand-wavingly reductive anti-humanism" instead of "Chicago school" if that's what you'd like. It doesn't change the fact that a bizarre claim that peoples' political affiliation affects the sounds they use to name their children looks a lot like that kind of scholarship.

You seem much more interested in insisting on the integrity of certain boxes and less interested in talking about what's in those boxes. That's sort of a bummer for me, especially given that this is your thread and you seem to be policing it pretty aggressively.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:06 PM on June 5, 2013


It doesn't change the fact that a bizarre claim that peoples' political affiliation affects the sounds they use to name their children looks a lot like that kind of scholarship.

What if the linguistic research they rely on to build this claim, and the research and statistical tests they use to test this claim, are sound? Is it so bizarre then?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2013


If the implication you're claiming actually did exist, at least one of those three would have to be false.

I don't think tocts was talking about implication in the logical sense. It is true that when the statements in the article are taken literally, there is no such implication. But there can still be a rhetorical implication in consequence of the phrasing. When you make two generalizations about two groups like that and you put them next to each other, it can come across to the reader like you think the two groups don't overlap.
posted by my favorite orange at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think names are inherently aspirational, and I'm curious to see how these patterns will change as the nature of the successful class changes. When I first came to the US, the trend for Vietnamese parents was to give their kids very Catholic names (Mary, Joesph, etc.) This made sense, because in Vietnam, the traditionally wealthier classes were generally Catholic. 10 years later, as they got more Americanized, you started to see the Daniels, Toms, Saras, and more common names. Then it was Charlottes, etc. It's trending more and more toward the more liberal/quirky names as Vietnamese parents stop wanting their kids to become pharmacists and start hoping for programmers.

Also, the phenomenon of early 20th-century Jewish migrants to the US (not a group that can be said to have been devoid of familial aspirations, between migrant striving and naches) to give their children solidly WASPish names, resulting in oakenly Anglo-Saxon and quite un-Hebraic names like Harvey and Sheldon becoming stereotypical old-Jewish-guys' names.
posted by acb at 2:06 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The female names "Madison" and "McKenzie" don't show up in any states' top 100 until 1995, at which point they both appear in Utah. That lends credence to the "young parents give trendy names"/start trends idea.

Wasn't Madison from some comedy film about a mermaid in Manhattan or something? Where was McKenzie from?
posted by acb at 2:07 PM on June 5, 2013


What if the linguistic research they rely on to build this claim, and the research and statistical tests they use to test this claim, are sound?

Well, "soundness" would be determined by publication in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. This appears to be a conference paper, which begs the question of why we, as non-specialists, are discussing it at all. I was going to block cite and comment on specific claims made in the paper that is linked from the WaPo blog post, but I see that the authors have asked that the paper not be quoted without permission. This is a standard scholarly convention that would normally preclude the paper's wholesale citation in the popular press, so this entire exercise seems really, really odd.

So, speaking generally, part of the problem is that this paper is doing two things at once. It's arguing for a relationship between political affiliation and the kind of name people choose for their children. At the same time, it's advancing a claim that the specific sounds in a given name have an inherent political value, i.e., that people who vote democratic will tend to favor "female" phonemes while people who vote republican will tend to favor "male" ones. The first claim is surprising and maybe provable, though the bar would be pretty high for me. The second is just bizarre.

There's a very dangerous slippage here between the assigning of "gender" to a sound on the basis of its relative prevalence in a pool of names, "gender" as associated with a particular biological sex and "gender" as a characteristic associated with political identity. In the early 20th century, there was a strong claim made for an association between language use and identity. It quickly collapsed under the weight of empirical evidence and returns to the question of language and cognition have been, as far as I know, limited to the realm of metaphors and cognitive categories or illocution and political speech. In both cases, invocations of the linguistic relativity principle have been carefully delimited and operate not at the fundamental structure of language itself (i.e., syntax or phonology), but in terms of its higher-level semantic or performative dimensions.

I'm not a specialist in the field by any means, but I know of no language theorist who has argued that sounds themselves have an inherent political value, and I honestly can't imagine anyone making that claim and not getting laughed right off the podium they're standing on.

I'll tell you what this sounds like to me. Two graduate students sat at Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap one night and realized that "Sasha" and "Malia" were soft, sibilant names, while "Track," "Trig," "Bristol," and "Piper" sounded staccato and hard (poor Willow Palin, btw). They pitched this to their doctoral advisor, who had already done work on psychology and political affiliation, and he gave them the go-ahead to write this up for a conference paper. They presented it with him as first author at a regional conference and the paper probably got a big buzz. On that basis, the paper got discussed (prematurely) in a national newspaper's blog, and here we are.

Again, either Oliver doesn't know that a WaPo blog is discussing his article (unlikely), or he doesn't care. If it's the latter, then this is, as I have repeatedly said, another case of a Chicago social scientist grabbing headlines with reductive, ill-considered arguments that appear to overturn established consensus on some aspect of human social life. The tell here is that the paper never cites Michael Silverstein, a world-class linguistic anthropologist at the University of Chicago who is deeply embedded in the sorts of questions Sapir and Whorf first started asking a century ago. The kind of methodological muddle-headedness this paper exhibits would, I think, get its authors nailed to the back wall of Silverstein's classroom and so the question is why these students and their doctoral advisor haven't sought to test their provocative thesis against the critical response of a more careful scholar working just across the quad.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Christ, what does it take to get a languagehat assist around here?
posted by R. Schlock at 2:22 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did you turn on the Hat signal?
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you make two generalizations about two groups like that and you put them next to each other, it can come across to the reader like you think the two groups don't overlap.
The reader would either have to be astoundingly aloof from American politics or else have to think that the writer is astoundingly aloof from American politics in order to think that the writer thinks that "Democrats and liberals" and "minorities and the poor" are disjoint sets.
posted by Flunkie at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2013


Heh. Hat signal has been activated and received. But I'm afraid I don't have anything useful to add; the results are mildly interesting if true, but as R. Schlock says, there's not much point discussing a conference paper except to vent. Which, hey, this is MetaFilter and that's what we do, but still. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest is insisting on a narrow, historical definition of "Chicago School"

...which is the only correct one!

But even so, the polisci department isn't known for the kind of work you're talking about. That doesn't mean it's completely absent, but "Chicago political science" = "IR theory and those crazy Straussians."

What if the linguistic research they rely on to build this claim, and the research and statistical tests they use to test this claim, are sound? Is it so bizarre then?

Yeah, kinda. It all seems to rest on one poorly-cited article about gender. Which isn't to say that the article they're citing is wrong; like Jon Snow I know nothing about linguistics. But it does imply that they're not simply grabbing uncontroversial, universally-acknowledged received wisdom from linguistics.

This appears to be a conference paper, which begs the question of why we, as non-specialists, are discussing it at all.

No real disagreement there, and

Two graduate students sat at Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap one night and realized that "Sasha" and "Malia" were soft, sibilant names, while "Track," "Trig," "Bristol," and "Piper" sounded staccato and hard (poor Willow Palin, btw).

This is Mike Munger's basic idea too, except that he puts it in the shower. And that's how it feels to me too. Even if there's something in the statistics, I'd be astonished if their causal mechanism is right.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:54 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


or else have to think that the writer is astoundingly aloof from American politics

I mean, yeah. Elsewhere in the article the writer gives the impression that they think Democrats constitute some sort of highly-educated elite, so this seems like a possibility to me.

There's a tendency among certain members of the American right to believe that progressive ideology is driven by cloistered ivory-tower academics, and that minority voters lean Democratic out of short-sighted self-interest rather than real ideological affiliation. That the writer has bought into this myth doesn't seem totally out of the question.
posted by my favorite orange at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a comment about my own project, but I think it's really relevant here.

I wrote an app (Nametrix) that shows name analysis of first names and their political party leanings. It's not exactly the same thing as in this study; it shows you what first names tend toward which parties rather than what people in each party tend to name their babies. Somewhat more interesting, in my view...

Rather than have to use a roundabout/approximate approach like in this study, I was able to use raw campaign contribution data instead. This accurately associates a party with every single one of the several million individuals (vs. half a million approximations here) in my data, so you can really see some interesting results emerge.

For example, people with the name Aaron skew much more toward Libertarian vs. other parties, compared to the rest of the population.

Another factoid -- here are the names that skew most toward Libertarianism:
1) Tanner
2) Trenton
3) Tristan
4) Dustin
5) Connor

A few of the top Republican names:
Beckham, Gannon, Stormy, Kade, Gunner, Tatum, Braxton, Britney

#1 Democrat name:
Lyric

More info about it is here on MetaFilter Projects.
posted by hodgebodge at 9:21 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I met a kid once named Forbes.
posted by danb at 10:19 PM on June 5, 2013


The reader would either have to be astoundingly aloof from American politics or else have to think that the writer is astoundingly aloof from American politics in order to think that the writer thinks that "Democrats and liberals" and "minorities and the poor" are disjoint sets.

Yeah, that was super weird framing, I thought. The whole article left a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by empath at 1:24 AM on June 6, 2013


I mean, yeah. Elsewhere in the article the writer gives the impression that they think Democrats constitute some sort of highly-educated elite, so this seems like a possibility to me.

I got the impression that they wanted to use easily identifiable, comparable demographics, so they picked middle class/upper middle class whites and focused on them specifically, looking at the differences in naming when it came to politics, not that they think Democrats in general are a highly educated elite.
posted by deanc at 3:38 AM on June 6, 2013


Please, people implicitly use a "minorities aren't real X" formulation all the time. If you say something like "Democrats tend to do Y, but Americans tend to do not-Y" this is a strange formulation that suggests that Democrats aren't "real" Americans; it would be better to frame this as "Democrats tend to Y, but Republicans tend to do not-Y." And likewise for minorities. It's OK to explicitly label white people, we don't have to act as if they naturally represent the entire group.
posted by leopard at 6:23 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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