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What's in a Name?

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Abstract

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 an respondent's exogenous background factors (sex, race, parent's education, etc...) and lifetime outcomes (e.g. financial status, education, occupational prestige, perceived social class, 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Saku Aura, 2004. "What's in a Name?," Working Papers 0407, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised 16 Dec 2004.
  • Handle: RePEc:umc:wpaper:0407
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    File URL: https://economics.missouri.edu/working-papers/2004/wp0407_aura.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
    2. Arai, Mahmood & Skogman Thoursie, Peter, 2006. "Giving up Foreign Names: An Empirical Examination of Surname Change and Earnings," Research Papers in Economics 2006:13, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
    3. Oswald, Andrew J, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-1831, November.
    4. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
    5. 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.
    6. Levy, David M, 1997. "Adam Smith's Rational Choice Linguistics," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(3), pages 672-678, July.
    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. Richard Woodward, 2005. "Do Americans Desire Homogeneity? Evidence from Names from 1900-2000," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 4(9), pages 1-6.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stepan Jurajda & Dejan Kovac, 2016. "What's in a Name in a War," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp573, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    2. Franklin Mixon & Richard Cebula, 2012. "More is More: Some Economics of Distinctively-Named White Kids," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 40(1), pages 39-47, March.
    3. Costanza Biavaschi & Corrado Giulietti & Zahra Siddique, 2013. "The Economic Payoff of Name Americanization," Economics & Management Discussion Papers em-dp2013-08, Henley Business School, Reading University.
    4. Stepan Jurajda & Daniel Munich, 2014. "Candidate Ballot Information and Election Outcomes: The Czech Case," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp500, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague.
    5. Solow, Benjamin L. & Solow, John L. & Walker, Todd B., 2011. "Moving on up: The Rooney rule and minority hiring in the NFL," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 332-337, June.
    6. Antecol, Heather & Cobb-Clark, Deborah A., 2008. "Identity and racial harassment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 66(3-4), pages 529-557, June.
    7. Costanza Biavaschi & Corrado Giulietti & Zahra Siddique, 2017. "The Economic Payoff of Name Americanization," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(4), pages 1089-1116.
    8. Jurajda, Stepán & Münich, Daniel, 2010. "Admission to selective schools, alphabetically," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 1100-1109, December.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Names; Identity; Discrimination;

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination

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