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Opening Arguments

Name of the game

Good lord -- the partisan divide is reaching even into the crib:

Mothers who had at least some college education were more likely to give their child an uncommon name — and less likely to give the child a popular name — when they lived in relatively Democratic or liberal areas.  If neighborhood characteristics corresponded to the mother’s own characteristics, better-educated Democrats or liberals were more likely to give their babies unusual names than better-educated Republicans or conservatives.

This leads to the second difference: the names they chose. Oliver and colleagues find that there were roughly two kinds of uncommon baby names: ones that are completely made up or just different spellings of common names (like “Jazzmyne” for Jasmine), and ones that are just esoteric. When racial minorities and the poor chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the former. When Democrats or liberals chose uncommon names, they were more likely to choose the latter.

Oliver and colleagues argue that liberals, consciously or unconsciously, signal cultural tastes and erudition when picking their child’s name. In conversation with me, Oliver used himself as an example. He and his wife, a novelist, named their daughter Esme — a name gleaned from a story by the writer J.D. Salinger.

On the other hand, conservatives, by being more likely than liberals to pick popular or traditional names (like John, Richard, or Katherine), signal economic capital. That is, they are choosing names traditional to the dominant economic group — essentially, wealthy whites. Oliver noted to me that some immigrants also try to help their children assimilate and succeed by choosing names in this fashion. And, given research that shows that the ethnic connotations of a job applicant’s name can affect the possibility of getting an interview, choosing names this way may make economic sense.

So, Democrats choose fancy, Repulicans choose traditional. Go figure. I wonder how many of the kids will grow up to acctually follow the paths their parents hope the names will lead them to. Not all, I assure you.

Names do matter, though. I was born a Leonard, but I never felt like one. It's always seemed like an old name to me, the kind a stuffy and stodgy person would have. Then in high school, somebody called me Leo, and it just sounded so bright and shiny. Suddenly I knew who I was supposed to be. I've been Leo ever since.

Hmmmn. Leonard to Leo. Stuffy to shiny. I should be a Democrat, huh?