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What’s in a Name?

  • Saku Aura
  • Gregory D. Hess

Plenty. This paper analyzes two broad questions: Does your first name matter? And how did you get your first name anyway? Using data from the National Opinion Research Centers (NORC’s) General Social Survey, including access to respondents first names from the 1994 and 2002 surveys, we extract the important “first name features” (FNF), e.g. popularity, number of syllables, phonetic features, Scrabble score, “blackness” (i.e. the fraction of people with that name who are black), etc ... We then explore whether these first name features are useful explanatory factors of a respondent’s exogenous background factors (sex, race, parents’ education, etc...) and lifetime outcomes (e.g. financial status, occupational prestige, perceived social class, education, happiness, and whether they became a parent before 25). We find that first name features on their own do have significant predictive power for a number of these lifetime outcomes, even after controlling for a myriad of exogenous background factors. We find evidence that first name features are independent predictors of lifetime outcomes that are likely related to labor productivity such as education, happiness and early fertility. Importantly, however, we also find evidence based on the differential impacts of gender and race on the blackness of a name and its popularity that suggest that discrimination may also be a factor.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 1190.

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Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_1190
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  1. Levy, David M, 1997. "Adam Smith's Rational Choice Linguistics," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(3), pages 672-78, July.
  2. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2000. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," NBER Working Papers 7487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:119:y:2004:i:3:p:767-805 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 991-1013, September.
  5. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," NBER Working Papers 9938, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. repec:oup:qjecon:v:115:y:2000:i:3:p:715-753 is not listed on IDEAS
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