Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am somewhat fascinated with the power of names - something my Philosophy prof would have disputed and mocked, having read my essay on Kripke's Naming and Necessity, but that has manifested itself here with my posts on first and sur and awesome combinations (see entry 84). Therefore this article called A Boy Named Sue - and Other Bad Names - in the NY Times caught my eye (on a day when I'm trying to ignore Spitzergate). It details studies on the effects of naming children certain things.
“Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person,” said Dr. Ford, a developmental psychologist at George Mason University. “Add a picture, and the impact of the name recedes. Add information about personality, motivation and ability, and the impact of the name shrinks to minimal significance.”
But the most interesting bit was yet to come:
“Researchers have studied men with cross-gender names like Leslie,” Dr. Evans explained. “They haven’t found anything negative — no psychological or social problems — or any correlations with either masculinity or effeminacy. But they have found one major positive factor: a better sense of self-control. It’s not that you fight more, but that you learn how to let stuff roll off your back.”
So what this study really implies is that calling a boy a more feminine name still means he gets insults, because it's bad to be a girl. Still, at least they're not fighting back. Whereas there are studies showing that women with more "masculine" names - end and possibly start with a consonant sound - do better at science, physics, that ones with "girlier" names - that end and maybe start with a vowel sound.

Also interesting is the behaviour of fathers, indicating that people really should get this out of their system by having pets before children:
[Mr Sherrod, the study director] said the waning influence of fathers might explain why there are no longer so many names like Nice Deal, Butcher Baker, Lotta Beers and Good Bye, although some dads still try.

“I can’t tell you,” Mr. Sherrod said, “how often I’ve heard guys who wanted their kid to be able to say truthfully, ‘Danger is my middle name.’ But their wives absolutely refused.”

But my favourite bit, of course, because I'm juvenile - the listing of unbelievable names that people really, genuinely, think are cool for their children:
even if a bad name doesn’t doom a child, why would any parent christen an infant Ogre? Mr. Sherrod found several of them, along with children named Ghoul, Gorgon, Medusa, Hades, Lucifer and every deadly sin except Gluttony (his favorite was Wrath Gordon).

On the to read list, therefore:

"Bad Baby Names." Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback. Ancestry Publishing, 2008.

"First Names and First Impressions: A Fragile Relationship." K.M. Steele, L.E. Smithwick. Sex Roles, 1989. (PDF)

Effects of Social Stimulus Value on Academic Achievement and Social Competence. M.E. Ford, I. Miura, J.C. Masters. Journal of Educational Psychology, Dec. 1984. (PDF)

"The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names." R.G. Fryer Jr., S.D. Levitt. Quarterly Journal of Economics, Aug. 2004. (PDF)

"The Effect of First Names on Perceptions of Female Attractiveness." W.E. Hensley, B.A. Spencer. Sex Roles, 1985.

"The Psychological impact of names."R.L. Zweigenhaft, K.N. Hayes, C.H. Haagen. Journal of Social Psychology, 1980.

"A Boy Named Sue." Shel Silverstein.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating! So now I know why I was doomed in the algebra, chemistry, and mathematical arena: AdelA. Forget about self-control. It is true that a person's name resonates a lot when you don't yet know them. I hadn't thought about that... In Mexico you will find a beautiful array of names: A popular one for a while was "Leididi" (Lady Di, with an accent, of course)! I've also met my share of kids named "Byron" south of the border, and my college mentor was named Argentina, my brother had a friend in college named, America (not as surprising since the name for the continent comes of course from a person's name: Amerigo Vespuzio, but the story here is not one of imperial pride but of soccer pride--her father had the Mexican soccer team Club America in mind when he named his daughter...