NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 17, 2008

Past studies showed that children with odd names got worse grades and were less popular than other classmates in elementary school.  In college they were more likely to flunk out or become "psychoneurotic."  Prospective bosses spurned their résumés.  And they were overrepresented among emotionally disturbed children and psychiatric patients, says the New York Times.

However, recent evidence does not support these ideas, says Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback, authors of, "Bad Baby Names."  They point out people with names like Ima Nut, Hysteria Johnson, Please Cope, Nice Deal and Wrath Gordon actually enjoy how there names make them stand out.

Studies by Kenneth Steele and Wayne Hensley point out that classic stereotypes don't hold up:

  • When people were asked to rate the physical attractiveness and character of someone in a photograph, it didn't matter much if that someone was assigned an "undesirable" name.
  • Once people could see a face, they rated an Oswald, Myron, Harriet or Hazel about the same as a face with a "desirable" name like David, Gregory, Jennifer or Christine.

Other researchers found that children with unusual names were more likely to have poorer and less educated parents, handicaps that explained their problems in school.  Martin Ford and other psychologists reported, after controlling for race and ethnicity, that children with unusual names did as well as others in school.

Cleveland Kent Evans, a professor at Bellevue University in Nebraska and past president of the American Names Society, says there is evidence for the character-building theory from psychologists:

  • Psychologists haven't found any 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, says Evans.

Source: J. Marion Tierney, "A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names," New York Times, March 11, 2008.

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