Baby names may reveal the politics of the parents — or at least provide some unintentional clues to their partisan beliefs. That’s the conclusion of a new University of Chicago study by political scientists recently presented at the 2013 Midwestern Political Science Association Annual Meeting.
Eric Oliver, Thomas Wood, and Alexandra Bass wrote in their paper:
“We find strong differences in birth naming practices related to race, economic status, and ideology. Although higher status mothers of all races favor more popular birth names, high status liberal mothers more often choose uncommon, culturally obscure birth names.”
The world laughed when outspoken musician Frank Zappa and his wife Gail named their oldest daughter Moon Unit in 1967 — but apparently it isn’t just your imagination that, say, Pat Boone or Ted Nugent wouldn’t have made that choice.
They went on to assert that liberals prefer names that include soft, feminine sounds while conservatives lean toward hard, masculine sounds.
Here they’re wading into some pretty deep water if you ask me. Apparently, certain sounds like “l” are considered soft and feminine, while sounds like “k,” “b,” and “d” are hard and masculine. To me, that’s getting pretty close to woo, but you’re welcome to read the whole thing for yourself and make up your own mind.
The baby names politics paper is even called Liberellas versus Konservatives: Social Status, Ideology, and Birth Names in the United States. Get it? Lots of “ls” for those wimpy liberals, and a hard “k” for those macho conservatives?
The team studied over 540,000 babies born in California in 2004, which meant they covered over 52,000 baby names. Each spelling change was considered a different name.
As an example, if you’re a baby named Shelia, the researchers didn’t assume that your parents were idiots who couldn’t spell Sheila. They counted Shelia as a real, unique name. (My apologies to anyone actually named Shelia.)
I hate to say that the study confirmed most people’s prejudices, but the results showed that the less educated and the lower income the parent, the more likely they were to choose an unusual or even a completely unique name. In the less educated groups, getting creative with a baby name didn’t reveal anything about anyone’s politics. People on both sides of the aisle did it.
The baby name politics did come into play among college-educated white parents. And it wasn’t a small difference, since parents in liberal neighborhoods were twice as likely to pick an unusual or unique baby name as a parent from a conservative area.
However, educated liberal mothers are not getting creative with the spelling to make their baby’s name stand out. Eric Oliver said, “Educated liberal mothers are not making names up. They’re choosing more culturally obscure names, like Archimedes or Finnegan or, in our case, we named our daughter Esme.”
Lower-status mothers are the ones picking deliberately wrongly spelled names like Andruw instead of Andrew, the study claimed.
So we’re back to that infamous Moon Unit Zappa — easy to spell but still somehow not a name that any other parent will ever choose again in the history of the human race. That’s probably remarkably difficult to do.
Are you surprised by the findings of the baby names politics study?
[crying baby photo by Dubova Via Shutterstock]