One of the first subjects that got me excited about behavioral economics was the research that had been conducted on the names parents choose for their children, made popular in the Freakonomics books. Perhaps the most profound revelations from the books was the idea that the way parents name their kids is partially related to what types of success the parent expects the child to have. This was highlighted quite comically in this Deadspin post. Another piece of interesting research showed that the name you give your child can affect them economically as well:
But now we’re learning through donation records that your name may be indicative of your politcs as well. For example, people named “Liz” were overwhelmingly likely to donate to Democrats. While people named “Betty” lean to the right. “William” leans a bit to the right but “Willie” is about as democratic as they come.
While these insights are interesting, they also disturb me. I don’t like the idea that people can struggle to score an interview simply because of their name. Or that research confirms certain names are likely to be more lower income or less successful. It gives some people too much leeway to stereotype individuals in negative ways. However people that want to stereotype will find other ways to do it without having research to back them up.
Name research can be beneficial though, if you’re trying to reach certain populations. Anyone trying to target a group of people can use all kinds of data to do it. A local retailer might send ads to addresses of high income zip codes. A pharmaceutical company with a new blood pressure medication might run some commercials during Jeopardy or the news.
Just imagine being targeted based solely on your name though. If your name is Ashley you have overwhelming odds of being a Republican. So a politician looking to get her supporters up and moving might target the Ashleys.
Unique names make for good conversation starters, but that’s about as far as they go. Unique spellings of any name just makes life harder for everyone. Parents, do yourself a favor and if you want a special name for your child put it between the first and last name. Don’t name your kid “Sharpay” and hope they end up special. Let them find their own identity without relying on what their birth certificate says.