June 30, 2012

Signaling theory: black first names

There aren't that many sports that girls really like, so the level of competition in the handful that many little girls very much care about, such as gymnastics, is high, requiring years of dedication. 

A friend notes that two African American girls have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic tumbling squad.
They are Gabrielle Douglas and Elizabeth Price.  
Signaling theory: both have normal names, have parents with normal names, and sibs with normal names. 

Steven Levitt and Roland Fryer's study of a huge number of black first names in California concluded that black children who get saddled by their parents with oppositional ghetto names were probably doomed anyway by everything else they get (or don't get) from their parents.

I don't really buy that, however. I'm more of a believer in nurture than Levitt on this. I think nurture works most effectively through class and caste. Unfortunately, the challenges of coming up with a methodology to prove this are daunting.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

How do you categorize the names "Serena" and "Venus"?

Steve Sailer said...

"Serena" and "Venus"?

I wouldn't call those names "oppositional." "Serena" isn't bad: you take a nice quality -- serene -- and feminize it with an "a" at the end. "Venus" is a little much, but at least it references astronomy and Roman mythology.

Anonymous said...

How ironic, all those black people who named their children "Jason" and "Becky"...

only to end up with a president of the United States named,

wait for it,

Barak Obama.

SFG said...

Actually, it sounds almost Hebrew given the ironies of history, so you could say it's very upper-crust...

agnostic said...

How come no one mentions the Cosby Show when this stuff comes up? It's a perfect example. The names had to have been a big factor in making it a mega-hit with white audiences.

Heathcliff, Clair, Theodore (Theo), Rudith (Rudy), Vanessa, and Denise.

Anonymous said...

25 sec mark

TGGP said...

Judith Harris argues that peer groups are pretty influential in child outcomes. I bet the parents of Gabrielle & Elizabeth take care to ensure they have a very different set of peers than Leshawnda or what have you.

Anonymous, you can make the link go to a specific time in the youtube video by adding "&t=XmYs" where X is the number of minutes and Y is the number of seconds. So your link would be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMkCBxd-zWU&t=0m25s

Anonymous said...

natusha vs nurtusha

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/06/30/americas-tiger-immigrants/

new yeller

JayMan said...

I know one thing you want to start with: you need to control for IQ. I'd imagine that Blacks with higher IQs are less likely to give their children "ghetto Black" sounding names. My name is certainly pretty White sounding (a little too plainly White for my taste at times; but then, Jamaican proper names often are). A study that compared the outcomes of Blacks with more "Black" sounding names and those with more "White" names, with IQ held constant, might shed some light on things.

Of course, there's the issue of class, which signifies both cultural influences and personality traits endemic to the classes, which likely also has an impact, even considering IQ. That seems a little harder to test.

Anonymous said...

http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=mx&v=25

Anonymous said...

http://www.economist.com/node/15959332

Anonymous said...

I knew an extremely wealthy white woman, probably born in about 1900, as she was my grandmother's friend, named Serena. It's not a black name. Venus isn't either. It's odd, but it's not black. LaShonda -- that's black. 90% of employers would avoid hiring somebody named LaShonda.

The Jackson family is interesting. They have both Janet (white) and LaToya (that's super-black).

I know somebody named Moneeka. That's black. What's wrong w/ Monica? I call her Monica.

Anonymous said...

"Natusha versus nurtusha"

Heh!

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

Given that African Americans descended from East Africans would have more fast-twitch muscle, I suspect that they would not be very good at graceful sports like gymnastics.

However, those descended from West Africans might have a better shot.

Anonymous said...

About Serena--I went to school with a white girl named Serene. Her grandparents had come from Spain.

Steve Sailer said...

In Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full," Charlie Croker's trophy wife is named "Serena."

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

I'm guessing that the parents who give their kids names like that think they're being all creative and unique and s---, but most tend to follow patterns. The girls' names especially: three syllables, accent on the second, third ends in the "schwa" sound.

The boys' names don't tend to follow one pattern, but a number of smaller ones. One is derivatives of other languages; Antonio, Andre, Latin-ish names ending in "ius." An older one is using more standard English names that are embellished or altered with accents like LeRoy.

Kylie said...

"How do you categorize the names 'Serena' and 'Venus'?"

Good names for female cats.

Bulldog owners tend to give their dogs very masculine names and their bitches very feminine names. E.g., Bruiser, Tank, Winston, Harley for dogs and Chloe, Daphne, Jezebel for bitches.

I think Serena and Venus would also be good names for bullie bitches. (No pun intended but now that I've spotted it, I'll leave it in.)

Anonymous said...

A newer black male name pattern is, of course, adding prefixes to common names, e.g, DeShawn, JaMarcus, and (G-d help us) LaMichael.

Anonymous said...


A newer black male name pattern is, of course, adding prefixes to common names, e.g, DeShawn, JaMarcus, and (G-d help us) LaMichael.


Not to mention, ShitAvious

Anonymous said...

"A newer black male name pattern is, of course, adding prefixes to common names, e.g, DeShawn, JaMarcus, and (G-d help us) LaMichael."

LaTrinas are out there too. That's not a joke, you can Google that name if you doubt me. Linkedin profiles, Facebook pages.

I've seen Tequila as a female name. Toshiba too, and she was definitely not Japanese.

carol said...

wait for it,

Barak Obama.


I thought his real name was Barry Soetero. Don't most ambitious leaders-in-waiting change their names to better suit their own self-image?

I suspect a lot of girls nowadays change their given names to something they find more exotic sounding.

Anonymous said...

"Not to mention, ShitAvious"

OMG, it's real

"Shitavious J. Cook, 15, was arraigned Thursday morning on his charges, punishable by up to life imprisonment.

He also was charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm for a shotgun attack on a motorcyclist who Cook mistakenly believed to be Rutherford."

Anonymous said...

The Shitavious thing is something that teachers serving ghetto populations see all the time. It comes from people who can't spell deciding on a suitably unique name, and then spelling it phonetically. Another example (not nearly so dire) was a little girl named Kayeatta. How would you pronounce that name? All the teachers pronounced it "Kay - etta." Her mother came in one morning, asking if everyone could please pronounce her daughter's name correctly. It was "Kay EAT ta. Kay - eat - ta."

Glaivester said...

Barack isn't exactly a ghetto name, it's an African name. While there may be black people who want to name their kids names from the mother continent, it does not have the specifically ghetto quality of Shitavious or Shaniqua. Plus, Barack has bona fide foreign roots, and it was his father's name, so it seems naturally exotic rather than something an idiot came up with trying to be exoitc.

JSM said...

"I know somebody named Moneeka. That's black. What's wrong w/ Monica? I call her Monica."

Then there's the ubiquitous, egregiously superfluous apostrophe.

Ex:
Mo'nique.

Just what, exactly, is that apostrophe supposed to stand in for? An r-e on the end of Mo and a u on the front of nique such that Mo'nique is a contraction of "more unique"? It's a clever play on the normal, White, French name of Monique, right?

Except, to be unique is a singular condition. So how is it possible to be *more* unique?

Anonymous said...

You know what the best black male name is?

It's Kevin. Not strange or flamboyant, yet not white sounding either. Problem solved.

As for females, I knew a black girl named Summer, which I still think is pretty good. Creative but not crazy.

Anonymous said...

Barak is as muslim as Muhammad.Not african. Is it becoming popular?

alex said...

"LaTrinas are out there too. That's not a joke, you can Google that name if you doubt me. Linkedin profiles, Facebook pages."

LOL.

http://www.facebook.com/latrina.wilcher

Anonymous said...

It's also a fact that there are black girls named Shitonia.

Anonymous said...

"something that teachers serving ghetto populations see all the time. It comes from people who can't spell deciding on a suitably unique name, and then spelling it phonetically."

White underclass and reverse mode :

http://ukcommentators.blogspot.co.uk/2005/09/names-from-hell.html

"Recently, at the school where my mother teaches, a mother took her child to be registered. When asked the child's name she said SHLORE (apparently she had found the name in a baby book). When asked to spell the name as it was unusual, she replied 'C H L O E'."

William Boot said...

"I think nurture works most effectively through class and caste. Unfortunately, the challenges of coming up with a methodology to prove this are daunting."

Can you explain this further because I can't see how this is daunting at all. There are plenty of studies about how kids fare when rich families adopt them vs. how they fare when less rich families adopt them. (Granted, the floor here is probably the upper range of lower middle class, except for kids who stay in foster care.) And what you're really studying there is how kids fare when raised by the upper class raise kids. Those kids aren't just part of that family. They're part of that family's world.

Anonymous said...

You know what the best black male name is? It's Kevin. Not strange or flamboyant, yet not white sounding either.

The name "Kevin" is of Irish origin, and plenty of whites are named Kevin (e.g. Costner, Federline, etc.)

Mr. Anon said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you categorize the names "Serena" and "Venus"?"

Serena is a perfectly normal name. Venus is a little pretentious.

Anyway, it's not like white people have much ground to stand on anymore in making fun of black names. Sure, "shitavious" is still pretty ridiculous, and we all can - and should - make fun of them. But the names that a lot of whites give their kids now are just awful - stupid-sounding and awful. It often seems as though the only people who give their kids traditional western names anymore are chinese immigrants.

IHTG said...

I thought Kevin was a typical 70's-90's suburban white kid name.

Iberian said...

Barack (lightning) is an ancient semitic name (like Hannibal Barca= Barack)and is common between Jews or Arabs.

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law has two daughters. They both married Kevins. One is Italian, and one is Irish. Both born in the 80's. So I second the point of view that Kevin is a typical suburban name of that period. I can't image why anybody would call it a black name.

Anonymous said...

"Barack (lightning) is an ancient semitic name (like Hannibal Barca= Barack)and is common between Jews or Arabs."

baraq with a qoph would be a cognate of arabic for lightning.

barak with a kaf would be a cognate of arabic for blessing. cf. Benedict

patrick said...

Barack comes from Barak (with a kaf in Hebrew) which is related to Baruch (Hebrew) or Mubarak (Arabic).
Baraq with a qoph (Hebrew Barak or Arabic al-Buraq) means "lightning" or "thunderbolt". It seems to have been a common name for ancient Semitic military leaders, eg. Barak from the Book of Judges or the Carthaginian Barcid family (Hannibal Barca, and his father Hamilcar Barca- namesake of the city of Barcelona.)

Anonymous said...

Everyone saying that Kevin is not a black name are misconstruing the point. The name has been co-opted. I'm sure there used to be white guys named Calvin all over the place, but the name has been taken.

Alice said...

--concluded that black children who get saddled by their parents with oppositional ghetto names were probably doomed anyway by everything else they get (or don't get) from their parents.

Either way, nurture or nature both fit Levitt's argument. Someone bright enough to give their child the name Elizabeth has other traits to give as well and likely a decent society for them to exist in, too. Likewise, some one too dull to realize giving your child a ghetto name is bad for you isn't likely to nurture you out of the ghetto either.

Pinker states heritability of intelligence is 50%, shared environment accounts for <10%, and the rest is likely peer group. Parents exert influence by picking peer group. Elizabeth and Gabrielle know their peer group is the one with other girls with names like theirs.

Paul Mendez said...

wait for it,

Barak Obama.


Obama would never have made it anywhere near the White House if his name were "Barry Washington" or "Daryl Johnson."

Gringo said...

I knew a black of middle class parents who, in the early 1970s, gave her child a Sawhili name.[She didn't note the irony of Swahili being a lingua franca for Arab slave traders.]

The child attended elite private schools for high school and college, and has had a successful career.
Who names you is more important than what you are named.

Anonymous said...

Steve:

http://www.ftiinstitutionalasia.com/asia/jsp_cm/perin_vinton.jsp

Truth said...

"Everyone saying that Kevin is not a black name are misconstruing the point. The name has been co-opted."

LMAO: White flight from names.

Eric said...

How ironic, all those black people who named their children "Jason" and "Becky"...

only to end up with a president of the United States named,

wait for it,

Barak Obama.


Yeah, a guy who went by "Barry" until he graduated from an elite college and decided to get into black politics.

avery said...

"It's Kevin. Not strange or flamboyant, yet not white sounding either. Problem solved.

As for females, I knew a black girl named Summer, which I still think is pretty good. Creative but not crazy."

Kevin is not a black name, though there are certainly blacks named Kevin. Kevin is a name common among the Irish--there was a famous hero of that name.

It's also the name of a paranormal talk show host (and ex-international cop). And then the director of gross, sort of adolescent flicks, is a Kevin Smith. Both these guys are white, though the former Kevin does claim some amerind ancestry, as do a lot of whites. But Kevin a black name? When did that happen? Next thing you'll be telling me George Washington is a black name.
"Summer" is a pleasant hippy name. One of RFK's grandchildren is named Summer Rose--happened to see photo of them somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Andrea Hill

Andrea pronounced Arn-drea Hill is on administrative leave because of behaving like someone with an exotic name.

Mr. Anon said...

"Truth said...

"Everyone saying that Kevin is not a black name are misconstruing the point. The name has been co-opted."

LMAO: White flight from names."

Yes, it is funny. Hell, people like you, "Truth", will give Truth a bad name.

Anonymous said...

Three groups of people in the US tend to give their kids weird names: poor ghetto blacks, wealthy white celebrities, and Mormons.