Thursday, July 17, 2008

C.Y.I.N. CaseStudy: What's In A Name?!?

Sitting at the doctor's office with AverageToddler the other morning, I overhead another parent trying to summon her child.

"Come here, Sha-Vaughn-Dray!!!"

I had to do a triple-take. What the heck sorta name is ShaVaughnDray? Maybe I couldn't really comprehend the name cause you know how DC folks are with their accents and whatnot. Still, I couldn't help but think about this poor kid and the years of misspellings and mispronunciations his bright future would likely hold. And part of me wondered why the world she couldn't just call him Andre.

Many will argue that names don't make the (wo)man. Others would say that names are pretty darned important. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

I've got a very, very, very common government name. It also happens to be my father's name, but it's pretty darned common. Over the years I've tried dressing it up by using different variations of it, as well as adding or dropping letters (no, seriously), but reality is the name's the name.

And there's nothing wrong with that of course. The name's got history. I'm named after my Pops, and since I obviously admire him immensely, that's always been a huge source of pride and motivation to carve my own niche in this world. My brothers (although they're older) were named after older family members. Each of us carried our names forward, and bestowed them upon our firstborn sons. So, it's become a roundabout family tradition, one that I'm quite proud of.

If it were up to me, I'd create a new Man Law. Every man would have to name his son after himself, no matter how inane (in my case) or outrageous (ie: that NFL player named D'Brickashaw) it may be. Because there's just something really special about being a Jr., II, III, or in the rarest of cases, IV. Again, just my opinion.

That said, although I wouldn't do it, I guess I understand why people name their kids things like ShaVaughnDray and D'Brickashaw. Because beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and who the heck am I to tell someone that Marqueeshiah or Shenehneh isn't beautiful? They could just as easily look at me and say "John" is boring and unimaginative, and is some strange way, they'd be right.

The only real downside to these somewhat crazy names would be when the child has to someday attempt to get a job. That's where the unfortunate side-effects of gettin' cute with a name can come back to bite him/her in the butt. I'm sure this is hardly new-news to any member of AverageNation™ but having a "black" name can cost you when those HR folks are browsing thru resumes.

Two recent papers from the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research draw somewhat different conclusions about whether a black name is a burden. One, an analysis of the 16 million births in California between 1960 and 2000, claims it has no significant effect on how someone's life turns out.

If nothing else, the first paper, by the NBER's Roland Fryer and the University of Chicago's Steven Levitt, based on California birth data, provides probably the most detailed snapshot yet of distinctive naming practices. It shows, for instance, that in recent years, more than 40 percent of black girls were given names that weren't given to even one of the more than 100,000 white girls born in the state the same year.

The paper says black names are associated with lower socioeconomic status, but the authors don't believe it's the names that create an economic burden.

Using Social Security numbers, they track the changes in circumstances of women born in the early 1970s who then show up in the data in 1980s and '90s as mothers themselves. The data also show whether those second-generation mothers have health insurance and in which Zip Codes they reside - admittedly imperfect measurements of economic achievement.

The data do appear to show that a poor woman's daughter is more likely to be poor when she gives birth herself - but no more so because she has a distinctively black name.
So, one study says no real correlation between name and eventual outcome. But another study contradicts that to some degree.
The other, however, suggests a black-sounding name remains an impediment to getting a job. After responding to 1,300 classified ads with dummy resumes, the authors found black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than white-sounding names with comparable resumes.

The University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and MIT's Sendhil Mullainathan, however, appeared to find that a black-sounding name can be an impediment, in another recent NBER paper entitled "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?"

The authors took the content of 500 real resumes off online job boards and then evaluated them, as objectively as possible, for quality, using such factors as education and experience. Then they replaced the names with made-up names picked to "sound white" or "sound black" and responded to 1,300 job ads in The Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune last year.

White names got about one callback per 10 resumes; black names got one per 15. Carries and Kristens had call-back rates of more than 13 percent, but Aisha, Keisha and Tamika got 2.2 percent, 3.8 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. And having a higher quality resume, featuring more skills and experience, made a white-sounding name 30 percent more likely to elicit a callback, but only 9 percent more likely for black-sounding names.
Of course, no "study" is perfect, but I guess it's some minor food for thought.

Either way, it doesn't really matter to me. Life will prolly be harder for a black kid than a white kid in America any way you dice it, regardless of whether that kid's named Lawrence or LacKquan. And besides, a recent study also showed that education aside, blacks who merely "sounded black" were likely to be lesser compensated than blacks who "sounded white".

No, really.
Blacks who “sound black” earn salaries that are 10 percent lower than blacks who do not “sound black,” even after controlling for measures of intelligence, experience in the work force, and other factors that influence how much people earn. (For what it is worth, whites who “sound black” earn 6 percent lower than other whites.)

Grogger asked multiple listeners to rate each voice and assigned the voice either to a distinctly white or black category (if the listeners all tended to agree on the race), or an indistinct category if there was disagreement.

Then he put this measure of whether a voice sounded black into a regression (the standard statistical tool that economists use for estimating things), and came up with the finding that blacks who “sound black” earn almost 10 percent less, even after taking into account other factors that could influence earnings. One piece of interesting good news is that blacks who do not “sound black” earn essentially the same as whites.
So there you have it. You're darned if you do and darned if you don't. So name your child LayQuittria or BeYonDray all you want. Just make sure you teach them the joys of code-switching, no matter what.

Cause a name is truly a just name. But soundin' white is always right.

Question: Do you think a name is truly "just a name" or a self-fulfilling prophecy? Should parents give more thought to exactly what they're calling their kids? If you have an "ethnic" government name, do you think it's ever hurt your employment prospects? What's the weirdest (and I'm not talkin' "ghetto" here) name you've ever personally heard?

'Black' Names A Resume Burden? [CBS]

How Much Does It Cost You in Wages if You “Sound Black?” [NY Times]

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