A 2016 Washington Post article detailed a Verdant Labs project. Using data from the Federal Election Commission for 20 million (or so) campaign contributions, they sorted the names by party affiliation.
From a list of hundreds of female and male names, I copied the most common Republican names:
These were the top ten Democrats’ names:
Where are we going? To the message conveyed by a baby’s name.
Names and Politics
Please imagine for a moment a continuum of names. On the right we have the conservative wing while the liberals are on the left.
Names like Elizabeth and John occupy the right side of the scale because they are traditional and more masculine sounding with harder consonants and/or fewer syllables. The names that signal a conservative outlook tend to be simple and familiar.
On the liberal end of the scale, names can convey a more cerebral message and have a more “feminine feel” and softer sounding letters. The Zooeys in our world can probably thank J.D. Salinger. Chelsea Clinton was named after a Joni Mitchell song.
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, our next step could be to hypothesize consumption patterns based on ideology. Distinguishing themselves through tradition and wealth, conservative households vote Republican, own small businesses, and occupy managerial positions. Liberals meanwhile like to communicate their cultural prestige by driving a Prius, having solar panels and wearing a Peruvian woven scarf that expresses a social concern for the world.
I don’t quite see the correlation between the University of Chicago conclusions and the donor names list. Perhaps we are talking about what the donors named their children?
Our Bottom Line: Signaling
While I am not sure about the academic rigor for some of the baby naming research, I do believe that many parents say something through their children’s names. They send a signal.
Explained by behavioral economists, signaling can involve a very specific act that conveys a much broader message. A politician votes for the death penalty to show he is tough on crime. Someone shops at Annye’s Organics to demonstrate concern about the environment. And, you name your little boy Odysseus to display your knowledge of Greek mythology as you nudge him in a literary direction.
In his Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen explains that the upper class signals its power by living extravagantly. Calling expensive purchases conspicuous consumption, he says their primary purpose is a social message.
Because baby names display the type of identify and power that parents want to convey, maybe we have conspicuous naming..
My Sources: H/T to the Washington Post for alerting me to the Verdant Labs lists of names tending toward political parties. You might also enjoy reading about why candidates’ names matter. Meanwhile, trying to find more up-to-date data, I discovered this Medium article and was directed to Eric Oliver. Finally, you might enjoy this econlife that also looks at names and jobs. Please note that the second half of today’s post was first published at econlife in 2016.