Naming for Success: The Name On The Resume Will Influence the Number Of Job Interviews Your Child Gets

Veronica Agard has a first name that doesn’t send any signal about whether she is black, brown, white or yellow. Veronica skillfully presents the story of Yolanda Spivey, an African-American woman who performed an experiment by applying for the same jobs with two different names and profiles (ethnic identification) on

– Yolanda Spivey (her real name), with an African-American profile

– Bianca White (a fabricated “white” name) with a Caucasian (white) profile

You can probably guess which “applicant” got the most interviews—which says something about the job market in the U.S. and naming strategies for African-American parents.

After reading the article, I strongly suggest you peruse some of the readers’ comments below the article. Several refer to a chapter in Freakonomics which concluded that names which create an impression that the applicant is from a “low-rent” neighborhood and has low socio-economic and educational status seems to be a more accurate cause of the problem than “racism.”

Some of the comments also mention successful naming strategies African-American parents with high socio-economic status use to increase the odds their children will also be perceived as having high socio-economic status. So the strategy of naming for success may be even more important for ethnic minorities than for Caucasians.

Although the Hispanic population in the U.S. is rising rapidly, the popularity of Spanish names like Manuel, Javier, Alejandro, and Julio is declining rapidly. Apparently an increasing percentage of people whose families came from Spanish- speaking countries are choosing “Anglo” names for their children.

Naming for success is a time-tested strategy for upward mobility that has been used by countless ethnic groups in the U.S. This strategy was used by Veronica Agard’s mother and is used by upwardly mobile African-American families throughout the U.S. Let’s face it: names are often used as an indicator of social class, whether we like it or not.

Sorry Fido, Today’s Pet Owners Prefer Human Names

Just read an article in the Daily Mail by Ryan Kisiel reporting on research that shows “today’s pet owners prefer human names” instead of traditional pet names. The Daily Mail article listed the top 20 dog and cat names in the U.K as:

Dogs: Poppy, Alfie, Molly, Bella, Charlie, Ruby, Daisy, Millie, Lola, Tilly, Rosie, Max, Oscar, Bailie, Archie, Holly, Coco, Barney, Monty, Toby

Cats: Poppy, Daisy, Charlie, Millie, Molly, Bella, Oscar, Rosie, Tilly, Lola, Alfie, Lily, Willow, Coco, Tigger, Smudge, Milly, Monty, Ruby, Jasper

Two observations:

-There doesn’t seem to be much difference between names for dogs and cats. Thirteen of the names are on both lists.

-The majority of names on both lists have a “y” or “ie” (diminutive) ending—including 15 of the dog names and 12 of the cat names

At the same time, the long-term trend for top-10 girls’ names  is to move away from “pet names” with “y” and “ie” endings in favor of names with “a” endings and consonant endings.

It’s fair to speculate that as names with “y” and “ie” (or “i”) endings become increasingly perceived as names appropriate for pets, they may not be as attractive or appropriate for use on humans.

Alex Baldwin and Wife, Hilaria, AnnounceTheir Baby Girl: Carmen Gabriela

“Carmen” is the name of an opera by French composer, George Bizet, which features a beautiful and fiery gypsy who becomes involved in a romantic triangle that doesn’t end well for her—but the music and dancing are a treat for the audience. The Latin name refers to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (aka Virgin Mary). However the protagonist in the opera isn’t much like her namesake, which is why she’s so fascinating.

Gabriela is an Italian form of Gabrielle and reminds me of Gabriela Sabatini, a beautiful, athletic Argentinian tennis star who won the U.S. Open, in 1990. Altogether, the name creates an aura of  beauty, drama, romance and athleticism.

If Carmen Gabriela were a book or movie, reviewers might say it “has everything.” So Alec and Hilaria Baldwin’s baby girl is off to a very good start: two thumbs up.

Brussels Prevents Israeli Couple From Naming Baby “Jerusalem”

I’m linking this article because I found it interesting that famed legal scholar and political pundit, Jonathan Turley, would be writing about baby names. Apparently the city of Brussels didn’t like the name “Jerusalem”–not because of a theological issue (as in the recent “Messiah” flap) or a religious rights issue (as in last year’s “JesusIsLord ChristIsKing religious liberty flap) but because it isn’t on the list of permitted names in Brussels.

The Israeli couple picked the name Alma Jerusalem for their daughter because they were from Jerusalem and missed the place, among other reasons. One of the responses to the article (on pointed out that many common Dutch surnames (like Van Damme and Van de Velde) mean “from” (Van) a particular town or geographic area. So objecting that a name selected by an Israeli couple who are from Jerusalem and miss Jerusalem does not seem to be consistent with Dutch naming customs.

To me, the religious names that have received adverse rulings in Tennessee and New York are a major disservice to the child (which was not cited as the rationale for either ruling). It’s hard to see Alma Jerusalem as anything but nostalgia. Does Jerusalem meet my standards (for useful middle names) of being a reasonable “fallback” name in case Alma doesn’t work well (for whatever reason)? No.

I’m not impressed by either Alma or Jerusalem. But I don’t think either name will cause practical problems (for the child) or religious problems for the couple or for citizens of Brussels anything remotely like the kind of problems Messiah (an inflated title) or JesusIsLord (a bumper-sticker name) would rain down on the children whose parents picked them.

The Importance of Anthony Weiner, Lance Armstrong, Britney Spears and the Names of Your High School Classmates

I’ve seen Anthony Weiner on the news, recently, dithering about how he “no longer” engages in sexting—except on a few recent occasions. There goes the name Anthony! Same thing happened when Britney Spears famously decided panties were optional for barhopping photo ops and Lindsey Lohan’s police mug shot became a staple in celebrity gossip columns. The use of those names for new babies has dwindled. And when Lance Armstrong was outed as a serial liar, if the name Lance had any luster, it was lost.

So much for names of people you see on TV. What about people you know? I’ve known a few girls/women with birds’ names. Larks and Wrens I knew tended to be “wee sleekit cowring timorous beasties.” But girls and women named Robin I knew were “early birds who caught lots of worms.” In schools I visit girls named Brie are often cute, blonde, attractive and bright. Just saw a photo in today’s NY Times showing an attractive, blonde author named Brie Somethingorother, which confirms the “picture” I have in my head about Brie.

I used to think that the “impressions” which mattered most could be measured using responses to questions like these (asked of 50 to 100 people about each name): What comes to mind when you hear the name Brie (for example)? What does Brie look like? What is her personality like? What famous namesakes with that name come to mind?

But when I ask people those questions in person, some have pictures in their heads shaped by famous namesakes like Britney Spears or Lance Armstrong. But some picture a girl named Lindsey or Brie or Samantha whom they know now or knew as kids. I used to think: I wish they’d forget about those old friends or classmates. Now I realize that people should “believe” their own eyes about namesakes they have known and namesakes they have seen on TV or read about in history books.

I would never have mentioned Reno and Geo on a list of cool names if I didn’t know great guys with both names. In fact, Reno and Geo are nicknames for a doctor named Steve and an arbitrage trader named George. The fact that their friends and family call them Reno and Geo and that they are bright, successful and warm people who answer to those names is evidence that they like their nicknames, refer to themselves as Reno and Geo and that those names seem to be “working” well for them. That’s pretty strong evidence to support the idea that parents should consider Reno and Geo for children (unless the gambling image of the Nevada town or the clunky image of the Geo car nix those names for you).

I still suggest that parents test names they are considering on friends. It’s worth asking friends what comes to mind when they hear the names you are considering in addition to asking “Which of the names on my list do you like most?” It doesn’t matter if your friends are thinking about famous namesakes or thinking of current friends or old classmates with those names which shape their impressions.

You’re looking for a name that will be a plus your child—put his or her “best foot forward.” So, however your friends form their impressions of the names on your list—you’ll want to know what they picture or think—before making your final choice.

Dear Bruce: What Do You Think of Religious Names Like Messiah?

I’ve written two posts in the last week about a Judge in Tennessee who prevented a mother from naming her baby boy Messiah and a judge in New York who prevented a family from changing their family name to ChristIsKing and naming their boy JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and their girl Rejoice ChristIsKing.

The main focus of the articles was on the legal rationales for preventing parents from using those names. So I’m happy to respond to the question.

There are several problems with the name Messiah. In fact, a boy named Messiah is neither The Messiah nor is he a messiah–any more than naming your child King or Prince would make him a real king or a real prince. So the name is misleading. It may mislead the child into thinking he is something he isn’t. And it will create the impression that the mother thinks her son is The Messiah or a messiah. (When interviewed, Messiah’s mother thought the name went well with the child’s siblings names–which began with the letter “M”).

And because the name is misleading, it makes a silly or ridiculous
impression to others and to the child. People who believe they are The Messiah or a messiah are sent to psychiatrists for treatment. They are deemed not to be in touch with reality. How can a name like Messiah be healthy for a child or an adult? (Likewise, how can a name like King, Queen, Prince, Princess–or IAmTheGreatest! be healthy for a child?)

There are several problems with the names JesusIsLord (as a given name) and ChristIsKing (as a family name). Both “names” are statements of the parents’ religious faith. They are similar in nature to the statements on signs outside churches announcing the title of a Sunday sermon and to bumper stickers pasted on the back fenders of cars. In the same way that Ypsilanti is the name of a town in Michigan, but doesn’t come across as attractive or appropriate as the name for a child (in comparison, say, to Paris or Siena or Madison), statements of belief neither sound like names nor function like names.

And think about what it would be like to have a name that comes across as a “bumper sticker” for a religious belief–which the parents may hold but the baby is in no position to affirm or abandon until he or she is an adult. Many people doubt the faith of their parents and ultimately pick their own religious or spiritual path through life. It seems highly disrespectful of parents to stick a bumper-sticker name like that on a young child. It’s a little like naming a child Liberal or Conservative or Monarchist or Anarchist–names that reflect political or philosophical positions that the baby has no way to understand or affirm until adulthood.

I haven’t mentioned either the embarrassment problem or the teasing and bullying problem that the parents of Messiah and JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and Rejoice ChristIsKing would have caused to rain down on their children every day of their lives–if those names had remained in effect. These names are more than embarrassing; they would put children in a position to suffer hostile words and, possibly “sticks and stones” from people their children know and people their children don’t know.

One final point: I don’t think Rejoice is as objectional a given name as either JesusIsLord or Messiah. Rejoice suggests the parents were happy she was born (like the names Glory or Gloria). Although it doesn’t sound much like a name, it’s more awkward than awful. But when anyone speaks the child’s full name: Rejoice ChristIsKing you’ve got a bumper sticker that would be a tremendous burden for any child to bear.