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Distinctively Black Names in the American Past

  • Lisa D. Cook
  • Trevon D. Logan
  • John M. Parman

We document the existence of a distinctive national naming pattern for African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We use census records to identify a set of high-frequency names among African Americans that were unlikely to be held by whites. We confirm the distinctiveness of the names using over five million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois and North Carolina from the early twentieth century. The names we identify in the census records are similarly distinctive in these three independent data sources. Surprisingly, approximately the same percentage of African Americans had "black names" historically as they do today. No name that we identify as a historical black name, however, is a contemporary black name. The literature has assumed that black names are a product of the Civil Rights Movement, yet our results suggest that they are a long-standing cultural norm among African Americans. This is the first evidence that distinctively racialized names existed long before the Civil Rights Era, establishing a new fact in the historical literature.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18802.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18802.

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Date of creation: Feb 2013
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Publication status: published as Cook, Lisa D. & Logan, Trevon D. & Parman, John M., 2014. "Distinctively black names in the American past," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 64-82.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18802
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  1. Cook, Lisa D. & Logan, Trevon D. & Parman, John M., 2016. "The mortality consequences of distinctively black names," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 114-125.
  2. Parman, John, 2015. "Childhood Health and Human Capital: New Evidence from Genetic Brothers in Arms," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(01), pages 30-64, March.
  3. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(3), pages 767-805.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2003. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 9873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Fogel, Robert William, 1975. "Three Phases of Cliometric Research on Slavery and Its Aftermath," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(2), pages 37-46, May.
  6. Irma Elo & Samuel Preston, 1994. "Estimating African-American mortality from inaccurate data," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 31(3), pages 427-458, August.
  7. Costa, Dora L. & Kahn, Matthew E., 2006. "Forging a New Identity: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity in Civil War Combat Units for Black Slaves and Freemen," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 936-962, December.
  8. Steckel, Richard H. & Ziebarth, Nicolas, 2013. "A Troublesome Statistic: Traders and Coastal Shipments in the Westward Movement of Slaves," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 73(03), pages 792-809, September.
  9. Cook, Lisa D., 2011. "Inventing social capital: Evidence from African American inventors, 1843–1930," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 507-518.
  10. Claudia Olivetti & M. Daniele Paserman, 2013. "In the Name of the Son (and the Daughter): Intergenerational Mobility in the United States, 1850-1930," NBER Working Papers 18822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Jack Eblen, 1974. "New estimates of the vital rates of the United States black population during the nineteenth century," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 11(2), pages 301-319, May.
  12. Irma Elo, 2001. "New african American life tables from 1935–1940 to 1985–1990," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 38(1), pages 97-114, February.
  13. Jack Eblen, 1974. "Erratum to: New Estimates of the vital rates of the United States black population during the nieneteenth centrury," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 11(4), pages 715-715, November.
  14. David N. Figlio, 2005. "Names, Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap," NBER Working Papers 11195, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. John Parman, . "Gender and Intergenerational Mobility: Using Health Outcomes to Compare Intergenerational Mobility Across Gender and Over Time," Working Papers 122, Department of Economics, College of William and Mary.
  16. Samuel Preston & Irma Elo & Andrew Foster & Haishan Fu, 1998. "Reconstructing the size of the African American population by age and sex, 1930–1990," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 35(1), pages 1-21, February.
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