Boys With Unpopular Names Go Bad
Boys with uncommon names are more likely to commit crimes, a new study concludes.
Boys in the United States with common names like Michael and David are less likely to commit crimes than those named Ernest or Ivan.
David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania compared the first names of male juvenile delinquents to the first names of male juveniles in the population. The researchers constructed a popularity-name index (PNI) for each name. For example, the PNI for Michael is 100, the most frequently given name during the period. The PNI for David is 50, a name given half as frequently as Michael. The PNI is approximately 1 for names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, and Malcolm.
Results show that, regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity. The least popular names were associated with juvenile delinquency among both blacks and whites.
The findings, announced today, are detailed in the journal Social Science Quarterly.
While the names are likely not the cause of crime, the researchers argue that “they are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime, such as a disadvantaged home environment, residence in a county with low socioeconomic status, and households run by one parent.” “Also, adolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships,” according to a statement released by the journal’s publisher. “Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they consciously or unconsciously dislike their names.”
I would not dismiss out of hand the causal relationship, which was anecdotally suggested decades ago by Shel Silverstein’s story song about a “Boy Named Sue” who, because of said appellation, “grew up quick” and “grew up mean” and whose “fist got hard” and “wits got keen.” Indeed, he even vowed to “kill that man who gave me that awful name.” Ironically, Johnny Cash recorded the song in his famous concert for the inmates at San Quentin prison.
Regardless of the generalizability of the causality, the concluding advice of that song, it seems, was apt: “If I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him… Bill or George! Anything but Sue!”
For those looking to more contemporary pop culture references for their social science, in the movie “Mean Girls,” the Tim Meadows character, Mr. Duvall, says, “I have a nephew named Anferny, and I know how much he hates it when I call him Anthony. Almost as much as I hate the fact that my sister named him Anferny.”
And, come to think of it, almost all of the criminals on “The Wire” had unusual names (Avon, Stringer, Wee-Bey Brice, Poot, Bodie, Marlow, Omar, etc. ).