Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on baby names

Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on baby names
By John Sides

Why study baby names at all? In order to understand all those other differences. The authors of this paper — Eric Oliver, Thomas Wood and Alexandra Bass — note that it’s often unclear whether partisan consumer habits are really due to partisanship. It could be that companies successfully market products to specific demographics that happen to have a partisan leaning. Baby names are different. As Oliver and colleagues write, baby names “are highly related to taste and fashion but largely free from market effects.”
To understand whether Democrats and Republicans choose different kinds of baby names, the researchers compiled an unusual set of data. They took all of the births in the state of California from 2004 — about 500,000 in all. For each baby born, the data contained the child’s first name, the mother’s first name, the father’s first name (where available) and the mother’s education, race and address. Using these addresses, they then matched each mother to her Census tract and thereby determined whether she lived in an area that was predominantly Democratic, Republican or somewhere in between. The question is whether mothers who lived in red, blue and purple neighborhoods were systematically different. They were, in two respects.
The first difference has to do with whether the baby’s name was unusual. Oliver and colleagues ascertained whether each baby’s name was unique (such that no other child born in California in 2004 was given that name), uncommon (20 or fewer children born that year were given that name), or popular (one of the 100 most common names in California that year). Unique baby names were more common among blacks and Asian Americans than among whites and Latinos. Within any racial group, unique baby names were more common when the mothers had less formal education or lived in a lower-income neighborhood.
But among whites, partisanship and ideology mattered, too. 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.
The names chosen by Democrats and Republicans differed in another respect: how they sound. Oliver and colleagues categorized each name by whether the sounds, or phonemes, it contained were more common in boy names or girl names. Boy names are more likely to contain “hard” sounds — consonants like K, B, D, T — while girl names are more likely to contain “soft” sounds — like the L’s in “Lola,” the A in “Ella,” and the Y in “Carly.” Oliver and colleagues found that, for both boy and girl babies, “softer” sounds were more prominent among educated whites living in more Democratic or liberal neighborhoods. That is, a boy’s name like “Julian” or “Liam” or a girl’s name like “Malia” would be more common in Democratic neighborhoods. A boy’s name like “Trig” or a girl’s name like “Bristol” would be more common in Republican neighborhoods. (Oliver and colleagues cannot help but note that the Obamas and the Palins conform to their findings.)

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Syrin
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 13:36:47

    Palin and her wacky way of naming her children has somehow reflected in the findings.. Crazy huh? Well, as stated and expected for a Republican I picked popular or traditional names.. my children’s names are as follows Jennifer– Scott– Emily.. Palin– not so much no matter what they say.. Trig, Bristol, Piper or Track, Tripp don’t strike me as popular or traditional names at all!


  2. Norbert
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 15:38:24

    What about those who choose to name their children with typical surnames for Christian names if their surnames sound like Christian names? For example, Washington Irving or Harper Lee.

    How about typical girl only names for boys or typical boy only names for girls? For example, Shirley Povich (Maury’s dad) or actress James King.

    We could go on, but space is limited!


  3. Norbert
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 20:38:02

    How come most of the folks who vote on your poll re: conservative v. lib, vote overwhelmingly (big word, huh?!) for the dems? Could it be that we sense you are a lib at heart? You are, Sher… admit it.


    • Syrin
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 08:44:38

      And how in the world would you sense I’m a liberal by a poll that is on my conservative blog? You might be a lib, Norb! As for me and my house…Nope you would be wrong!


      • Bert Swilling
        Jun 13, 2013 @ 11:55:29

        I prefer Bert to Knob, er, Norb, btw. Surely you must know more Libs visit your site.
        Your knowledge of, and antipathy toward, the Palin clan is probably the attraction.

    • Syrin
      Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:01:19

      Yes, I know I have liberals visiting my blog!
      It was my stance on Sarah Palin that started this odd but satisfying relationship with Liberal/ progressive thinkers.. Unlike Sarah Palin I’m not afraid to make friends and try to engage in a debate with those who may not agree with me about issues. The hate and aggressive opposition is not working on either side. Yes, I’m secure that small government, lower taxes and less over reach in private sector is a better economic model. I believe that the choice of a woman in most cases, not all, should be made before she becomes pregnant. I’m a Conservative Christian Republican if labels are necessary. My functioning daily politics is simply make friends and try to find common ground and influence!


      • Bert Swilling
        Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:16:15

        “My functioning daily politics is simply make friends and try to find common ground and influence!”

        I am convinced – more than ever – that you are destined to become an elected representative for any level of authority you wish to pursue. Coming from an avowed lib (accept for the law and order side of things – I believe if a person has done wrong, pay the price), I’d vote for you in a heartbeat.

  4. Syrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:54:09

    Bert, thank you for your vote of confidence!


    • Bert Swilling
      Jun 18, 2013 @ 18:22:39

      You’ve been told this before, surely.

      It’s not the because of the obvious (that you know what you’re talking about together with the fact that you write as you think – unedited and straight from the hip), but it’s also because you are always on the go; you’re all over the net involved in one activity or another.

      Anyway, good luck with your future endeavors whatever they may be. Over and out, Sher.


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