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Distinctively Black Names in the American Past

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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Lisa D. Cook & Trevon D. Logan & John M. Parman, 2013. "Distinctively Black Names in the American Past," NBER Working Papers 18802, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18802
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. 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.
    3. David N. Figlio, 2005. "Names, Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap," NBER Working Papers 11195, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. John Parman, "undated". "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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pedro Carneiro & Sokbae (Simon) Lee & Hugo Reis, 2015. "Please call me John: name choice and the assimilation of immigrants in the United States, 1900-1930," CeMMAP working papers CWP28/15, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    2. Emily Nix & Nancy Qian, 2015. "The Fluidity of Race: “Passing” in the United States, 1880-1940," NBER Working Papers 20828, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Inwood, Kris & Minns, Chris & Summerfield, Fraser, 2018. "Occupational income scores and immigration assimilation. Evidence from the Canadian census," Economic History Working Papers 91317, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    4. Margo, Robert A., 2016. "Obama, Katrina, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 76(02), pages 301-341, June.
    5. 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.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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