Why Your Name Matters : The New Yorker

Posted: December 21, 2013 in rants, work
Tags: , ,

Why Your Name Matters : The New Yorker.

 In 1984, the psychologist Debra Crisp and her colleagues found that though more common names were better liked

They found that the “white-sounding” candidates received fifty per cent more callbacks, and that the advantage a résumé with a “white-sounding” name had over a résumé with a “black-sounding” name was roughly equivalent to eight more years of work experience. 

These findings have been demonstrated internationally as well. A Swedish study comparedimmigrants who had changed their Slavic, Asian, or African names, such as Kovacevic and Mohammed, to more Swedish-sounding, or neutral, ones, like Lindberg and Johnson. The economists Mahmood Arai and Peter Skogman Thoursie, from Stockholm University, found that this kind of name change substantially improved earnings: the immigrants with new names made an average of twenty-six per cent more than those who chose to keep their names.

The effects of name-signalling—what names say about ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and socioeconomic background—may begin long before someone enters the workforce. In a study of children in a Florida school district, conducted between 1994 and 2001, the economist David Figlio demonstrated that a child’s name influenced how he or she was treated by the teacher, and that differential treatment, in turn, translated to test scores. Figlio isolated the effects of the students’ names by comparing siblings—same background, different names. Children with names that were linked to low socioeconomic status or being black, as measured by the approach used by Bertrand and Mullainathan, were met with lower teacher expectations. Unsurprisingly, they then performed more poorly than their counterparts with non-black, higher-status names. Figlio found, for instance, that “a boy named ‘Damarcus’ is estimated to have 1.1 national percentile points lower math and reading scores than would his brother named ‘Dwayne,’ all else equal, and ‘Damarcus’ would in turn have three-quarters of a percentile ranking higher test scores than his brother named Da’Quan.’ ” Conversely, children with Asian-sounding names (also measured by birth-record frequency) were met with higher expectations, and were more frequently placed in gifted programs.

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