Freakonomics: What's in a Name?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The latest episode of Freakonomics explores how much your name is your destiny. Host Stephen Dubner discusses the episode and what he learned. Listeners: Is your name your destiny? Let us know here, or call 212-433-9692!

→ Listen to the Full Freakonomics Episode Below


Stephen J. Dubner

Comments [44]

fuva from harlemworld

dboy, nonresponsive. Too bad. (And they may also jump off roofs...)

Apr. 12 2013 11:31 AM

...apparently, I'm not the only one here, "missing the point".

Apr. 10 2013 10:49 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Again, SHELDON, studies have shown that the structure of created black names are very similar to indigenous names. Most blacks, however, are not conscious of this connection; due to the separation, most blacks don't know enough ACTUAL names from the motherland. When it is not intentional, this is often part of the reason they make names up...

Under such conditions, name creation seems a commendable attempt at self-definition and self-determination, and, in any case, preferable to the perpetuation of slave names.

Perhaps they sound "extravagant" to you, because of your conditioning -- a conditioning you are perhaps under-conscious of and therefore subject to. Names listed in ELLIOT'S very perceptive comment may sound weird to you too. Again, let's remember that ALL names are made up.

In any case, if this nominal phenomenon troubles you, seems the progressive thing to do is encourage blacks' awareness of the motherland -- NOT to promote slave names and cater to people who automatically and acontextually deride all things "ghetto", stereotype and deny people opportunities based on what their mamas named them..

Stop deferring to damn fools.

And, DBOY, you're either missing the point or tryna play me. Exactly who is denying that people with created blacks names will be subject to ignorant assumptions and prejudice? Please. The simple point -- as exemplified by the risky, self-validating name you gave YOUR child -- is to not capitulate to and, in turn, enable ignorance.

Apr. 10 2013 09:18 PM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

(Thank you Mr. Dubner - I've been mis-using "schwa" for years.) I grew into wanting to use my middle name as a distinction, because there were so many others with the same first and last names. In childhood, a person who was one of the pedophiles I suffered made a point of using the name tauntingly, because he knew I didn't like it - but maybe also because of what it signifies. I've found an interesting relationship between all three of my names and Bible text - elemental, and experiential.

Apr. 10 2013 04:56 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Fuva - fair points but there is a difference between using names that reflect one's ethnic roots (due to slavery, African descendants in the diaspora, are the only people I know of, where this is not the case, hence there should be more of it actually) and phonetically extravagant, made up names, that sound, in my opinion - plain silly - and to dboy's slightly unrefined, yet valid point, indeed rings - fairly or not, of "ghetto" connotations.

Thanks Rich.

John - the truth, is one thing. People's perception of it, is another. It's sad that you can't see or act on the differences.

Apr. 10 2013 03:16 PM

fuva from harlemworld ~

You're suggesting a name NEVER comes with any of it's inherent baggage?? It's NEVER indicative of the place it comes from???

...ghetto, ethnic or otherwise?? No prejudicial assumption by anyone?? Ever??

Winthrop... Shaneequa... each conjure a definite set of assumptions/prejudices.

My kid has what is considered a "ghetto"/working class southern Italian name. His mother is southern Italian and we wanted a name that helped to proudly define where he came from. We have bourgeois members of his own family (in Italy) who look down on him and his name. If this kid ever has the need or opportunity to apply for an "educated" position in northern Italy, he will face definite discrimination based solely on his name printed on a piece of paper. Fortunately for him, he is a US citizen where that particular name is simply considered "exotic"... by most, hopefully. Although, one could probably find folks in the US who would know this distinction and discriminate against him here.

Am I ever going to fix this culturally endemic prejudice?? Nope. Can I think about the impact on my child before I choose a name?? Yep, we did. We took a calculated risk.

On a piece of paper, are you suggesting the Kiswahili name Daudi (da-OO-dee) is going to be met with the same set of assumptions as Dayshown?? "john from office" suggests otherwise. I'm not denying anyone their "attempt to reclaim an authentic identity." I'm also not denying the fact that names have baggage regardless of ALL the best-intended PCness.

"Creative"?? Yep, derisive. My bad.

Apr. 10 2013 03:01 PM
Elliot from Manhattan

This has nothing to do with names.... this has to do with our society's constant stereotyping of Black people. So Black people have to stop giving their children "ghetto" names, but other groups can name their children whatever they like and not be automatically demeaned by society. What exactly is a "ghetto" name in the first place?

So Shaniqua is a problem, but Ahmed (Arabic), Yu (Chinese), Cenk (Turkish), Emiko (Japanese), Sunitha (Indian), Ngozi (Nigerian) and Guadalupe (Hispanic) are perfectly fine.

This is such nonsense.

Apr. 10 2013 12:30 PM
fuva from harlemworld

dboy, nah.

You're advocating deference to behavior like that damn fool's. Progress is never made this way. There's no denying this...

Furthermore, your use of quotes around the word "creative" is derisive. In fact, ALL names are made up. The relationship of black "creative" names and names from the motherland has been documented. You deride this attempt to reclaim an authentic identity, and not names imposed by the lash. This is ignant.

Apr. 10 2013 12:23 PM

"Doom your kid to the ghetto, give him a "creative" ghetto name.

Not my opinion, simple fact."

...not suggesting it's right, it just is.

"john in office" exemplifies the odious/chronic condition I'm observing.

Apr. 10 2013 12:01 PM
john from office

To my detractors, read or see the Ibsen play An Enemy of The People, the one person saying the truth, is condemed. Truth is exactly as Dboy says.

It is easy to attack me and ignore the fact that your name matters, parents need to be more careful.

Apr. 10 2013 12:00 PM
The Truth from Becky

Fuva, Agreed.

Apr. 10 2013 11:54 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Becky and Sheldon, 'john from the office' may very well be a white Dominican...Being the progeny of cowardly conquistadors better explains his ignorance and predation; even one drop of idigenous or black blood would indicate severe self-hate/negation that's even more pathetic.

Apr. 10 2013 11:41 AM

Sheldon, your candor is impressive. There aren't many as honest as you regarding these kinds of issues.

Apr. 10 2013 11:37 AM

Sheldon, your candor is impressive. There aren't many as honest as you regarding these kinds of issues.

Apr. 10 2013 11:37 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Becky - "John" describes himself as a "White Dominican" - that says it all.

Apr. 10 2013 11:19 AM
The Truth from Becky

John lives in denial of his heritage..he is self hating racist of a different kind but I believe in karma and I foresee his undoing for the evil he has done.

Apr. 10 2013 11:12 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Point taken Fuva - so hard to ignore though.

Apr. 10 2013 11:08 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Exactly Becky - I get a lot of resumes and applications from Ortiz's and Rodriquez's, Sequandas and Taquandas and even if my prejudices want to start acting up, unlike certain people, I don't trash 'em. If they are qualified, I wait for them to open their mouths - that either confirms or denies, what I was thinking.

Apr. 10 2013 11:07 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Seriously, John? You penalize qualified people based on what their parents decided to name them? There's no reason someone named Dejon couldn't be good at any particular job. A better reason to trash a resume is that the applicant spells "a lot" as 1 word.

Apr. 10 2013 11:05 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Sheldon, your deference to damn fools like 'john from the office' (and whoever validated his comment) validates them. It is defeatist. I detect this in many of your comments...

Apr. 10 2013 11:01 AM
Leah from Bronx

Really...people who give their kids black names don't care about education...liberals you got to love them

Apr. 10 2013 10:59 AM
The Truth from Becky

Same issues with surnames...

Apr. 10 2013 10:58 AM
john from office.

Becky, thanks for making my point, she of the very white name. Blacks scar their children with nonsense, misspelled names. Sean is Sean, not what you want it to be. Say no to Deshawn!

Apr. 10 2013 10:58 AM

Doom your kid to the ghetto, give him a "creative" ghetto name.

Not my opinion, simple fact.

Apr. 10 2013 10:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

There used to be a different set of names that were more common among African Americans, although not to the same extent as the ones Mr. Dubner was talking about--names like Calvin & Tyrone.

Apr. 10 2013 10:56 AM
Julia Chance from BK

In the late sixties when my sister was born my parents considered naming her Chinyere, a Nigerian name, but thought teachers and friends would have problems pronouncing and spelling it. Instead they made it her middle name and her first name is Elise, which people often mistake as Elsie.

Apr. 10 2013 10:55 AM

What about those gender neutral names given to girls and sometimes I guess boys? I find that confusing and annoying, especially when trying to figure out which health class to put the kids into.

Apr. 10 2013 10:55 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Dejon - John, really???

That's why I'm not a fan of naming your kid Lequisha and Shaniqua - for a lot of reasons, including all the "Johns" in the world that will act on their worst impulses.

Apr. 10 2013 10:54 AM

It all depends. Sometimes its your name, but its really what you look like. I'm a black woman with a "regular" name, but I know I've been rejected for jobs once they saw me.

Apr. 10 2013 10:54 AM
Winnie from Midtown

If names have so much influence, how come Prince Fielder's so lousy on defense?

Apr. 10 2013 10:53 AM
rp from Manhattan

Progress of a name: Family Levine

Immigrant, born 1890: Isaac
Son, born 1920; Irving
Son, 1945: Irwin
Son, 1979: Ian
Son: 2005: Isaac

Apr. 10 2013 10:53 AM
fuva from harlemworld

C'mon. To even posit that black names are somehow causing black relative poverty is regressive. The truth is that “we” don’t "really" want to solve or honestly look at black socioeconomic disadvantage….

And black people who perpetuate European names don't understand how Kunta became Toby.

Apr. 10 2013 10:53 AM
Sarah from NYC

Growing up in the '60s I was always the only Sarah--yet many adults would tell me how they loved the name and wanted to name their eventual daughter Sarah...apparently they did, because it's been common since then. My husband on the other hand has an extremely unusual name--that many people consider quite goofy and a source of humor--yet, he's become quite successful--he's had to defend his name and stand up for it, which made him stronger. Ultimately I think it doesn't matter. Whenever I think of the name "Susan" (easily the typical girl's name when I was a child), I think of Susan Sontag--who clearly "made a name for herself".

Apr. 10 2013 10:53 AM
Carolita from NYC

My mother only called me Carolita when she was proud of me. In my thirties, tired of never pleasing her, I switched from carol to Carolita. I instantly felt better, every time someone said my name. When someone calls me carol, i still feel like I'm in trouble!
My friends say I probably saved thousands in therapy fees.

Apr. 10 2013 10:53 AM
The Truth from Becky

see, I told ya!..and no one can tell john from the office is hispanic because he is not using juan.

Apr. 10 2013 10:51 AM

Recommending the funny, charming, undeservedly under-sung 2011 Hindi film CHILLAR PARTY to my fellow WNYC lovers. Young middle-class kids, to their parents' dismay, all go by nicknames assigned by each other.

Apr. 10 2013 10:51 AM

Just a comment about "Stephen with a 'ph'".

Years ago, my business partner was responsible for hiring for our firm, and a potential applicant called to find out to whom to address the letter.

His secretary told him, and said, "It's 'Stephen' with a 'ph'".

The letter arrived addressed to "Mr. Phsteven ___".

Apr. 10 2013 10:50 AM

reminds me of an Asimov short story about a man who goes to a psychic who tells him to change his last name by one letter. First letter changes from S to Z and suddenly people around him, people in power get suspicious of why he made the change, and it ultimately leads to good changes in his professional life.

Apr. 10 2013 10:50 AM
antonio from baySide

Funny everybody calledl me "Tony" in Hell's Kitchen where I grew up, and when I went to college I felt it was time to grow up and use my full name, Antonio. My favorite moment is when the groups that refer to me as they know me...i.e. "tony" or "antonio" meet. They're like what's this antonio business? Or does "Tony" mean you were in a gang or the mob...

Apr. 10 2013 10:49 AM
john from office

I interview alot of people. I trash alot of resumes, just on the name. Say no to Dejon. Parent should really think twice about the names of their children.

Apr. 10 2013 10:49 AM
Ken from Bronx

Don't you dare let that Freakonomics guy get away without addressing the Chicago study of names.

They sent hundreds of identical resumes to companies...the ones with "Black" names got fewer call-backs.

This directly contradicts the "free-market economics" fantasy that businesses rationally evaluate opportunities.

Apr. 10 2013 10:48 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

Ethel. Nobody's named Ethel anymore....

Apr. 10 2013 10:47 AM

My first name Henry(age 43) was once rare. Only one other henry in my whole K to 12 life.
But now its on TV everywhere, now bunch of little kids have it. UGH

Apr. 10 2013 10:46 AM
The Truth from Becky

A slippery slope this topic..we will see how it goes.

Apr. 10 2013 10:45 AM

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