What’s In A Name?

A new study says that boys with “strange” first names are more likely to end up in jail:

Writing in Social Science Quarterly, Shippensburg University professor David Kalist says giving newborn males oddball, girly or strange first names may just help land them in jail.

In alphabetical order, the Top 10 “bad boy” names, according to Kalist, are Alec, Ernest, Garland, Ivan, Kareem, Luke, Malcolm, Preston, Tyrell and Walter.

…[The report is based] on a study of some 15,000 names given to baby boys between 1987 and 1991. They found that the more unlikely the name, the more likely a boy is to commit a delinquent act.

The article goes on to suggest that merciless teasing during childhood gives rise anger and bitterness and, thus, incarceration. While I don’t see much likelihood of that for boys named, say, Alec, I can’t help but wonder if there’s not at least some degree of unaccounted-for selection bias involved (say in the upbringing provided by parents who would name a child Garland).

Others are apparently more interested in the humour value of the story.1

[W]ithin moments of the Social Science Quarterly report’s release, many Web sites were already poking fun at it. Writing on the Laughing Stork Web site, Candy Kirby commented, “People warned my parents I would end up a hooker or a stripper if they named me ‘Candy.’ And look at me. I NEVER dabbled in prostitution!”

To which one can only say, as the Kurgan did, “Of course you are.”

UPDATE (James Joyner): Apparently, there is a never-ending fascination among scholars with this subject.  Back in October 2003, I posted on a “study saying people with unusual names have trouble getting hired in corporate America.”  A post from January of this year also referenced Kalist and Lee’s study.  I used both occasions, naturally, to invoke Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” popularized by the late Johnny Cash.

Relatedly, I posted in October 2005 about Nicolas Cage naming his son “Kal-el.” While I refrained from Cash references, Kevin McGehee did not.

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1 Candor demands that I confess that I seriously considered naming this post “The Importance of Being Ernest.”

FILED UNDER: Crime, Parenting
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Naturally, my thoughts turned to Johnny Cash.

  2. Furhead says:

    As usual, the professor and journalist show little evidence that they know the difference between correlation and causation.

    With regards to the listed names: I don’t really see what is oddball, girly, or strange about several of them.

  3. DavidL says:

    Correlation and causation are above the paygrades of journalists, race baiters and politicians.
    From the article:

    The Kalist-Lee study also touched on baby girl names, noting that previous research showed a baby gal given the name Allison is seldom the daughter of high school dropouts — and that, on the whole, the less schooling they have, the more likely parents are to give their kids unpopular names.

    It seems that there are several factors which correlate with incarceration rates, which the original article overlooked. I would suspect that if you looked different demographic group, they would tend to give their children different names.

    May preference would bo give a child a common name, let him know that he viewed by the character his his achievments and my his name.

  4. Trumwill says:

    One thing that some people do is to give their kids a common first name and a more unique middle name. As they grow older, a lot of people will switch depending on their preference.

  5. […] I resemble this study. I just decided to write about crimes instead of committing them. […]

  6. Roach says:

    At least two of those names are clearly more common among blacks–Tyrell and Malcom–and that undoubtedly has more to do with this than anything. Not too many white kids named LeBron or Tyrese or whatever ridiculous names become fashionable among ghetto blacks in the seventies. Blacks are jailed at 4-5X the white rate. And they have more stupid names than whites more often.

  7. McGehee says:

    Relatedly, I posted in October 2005 about Nicolas Cage naming his son “Kal-el.” While I refrained from Cash references, Kevin McGehee did not.

    Actually that was Eddie Thomas, of the erstwhile One Good Turn blog. I wonder what Eddie’s up to these days?

  8. Eric Florack says:

    It seems that there are several factors which correlate with incarceration rates, which the original article overlooked. I would suspect that if you looked different demographic group, they would tend to give their children different names.

    Mmmphf. I’ve long held that the issue is cultural. Min-Culture, Micro-culture, what have you.

    Understand… Those that adopt the majority culture, tend to do better in the world. It’s that simple. For good or ill, that’s the nature of things.

    Thus, it’s not the name, per se’. It’s the cultural group who would place such names, and it’s values.

    For clarity: We’re not talking race, here, we’re talking about culture. To exemplify this, take Clarence Thomas. Thomas Sowell, etc. Does anyone suppose they’d have had a hope in hell of going to the levels they have, assuming they adopted cultures that would issue a name a name like Ahamad, D’Ante, or Rakeem, for example, instead of what they had?

  9. Rick Almeida says:

    Seems to me that “unusual” first names probably correlate reasonably with criminality because they’re a proxy for class. Similarly, didn’t Leavitt & Dubner do a chapter on girls’ names in Freakonomics?

  10. Eneils Bailey says:

    You addressed my point in your update.
    I have seen these studies over the years and the only thing that changes about them are the names. They come up with slight variations, ..middle name..being known by first and middle name..Jerry Lee. The only thing it convinced me of is that that some names are out-of-date.

    My only exception, if you ever had a number instead of a Proper name. Mister 666, doing 10 to 20 at Leavenworth. That’s not good.

  11. bobo Mcfadden says:

    Deleted racially offensive comment.

  12. Gabriel says:

    post hoc ergo propter hoc. Maybe the strange names and the jail time are both results of some other cause (*cough* being born in a ghetto *cough*) rather than the monicker causing the criminality.