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What's in a Name?

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.

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File URL: http://economics.missouri.edu/working-papers/2004/wp0407_aura.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Missouri in its series Working Papers with number 0407.

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Length: 37 pgs.
Date of creation: 16 Dec 2004
Date of revision: 16 Dec 2004
Publication status: Published in Economic Inquiry 2010
Handle: RePEc:umc:wpaper:0407
Contact details of provider: Postal: 118 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-0063
Fax: (573) 882-2697
Web page: http://economics.missouri.edu/

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  5. Levy, David M, 1997. "Adam Smith's Rational Choice Linguistics," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(3), pages 672-78, July.
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