Are Baby Names Tied to Political Beliefs?
A University of Chicago study finds a surprising link between a parent’s political leanings and her choice in baby names
When Nicolette Fajardo, 31, decided to name her son Liam, after a friend, she never thought that her liberal political inclinations were at play. But a new study suggests there’s more of a connection than parents might think.
An analysis of baby names by researchers at the University of Chicago found that people living in liberal neighborhoods are more likely to give their children names that include “feminine” sounds, such as the L-sound. Those living in conservative areas are more attracted to names with hard consonants—which are considered more masculine—like the hard C sound.*
Study researcher Eric Olivier, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, told Live Science that those falling into the trend were more educated, and college-educated people are known to hold stronger political views than their less-educated peers.
A report on the study, presented in the 2013 annual meeting of the Midwestern Political Science Association, also noted that college-educated liberal mothers tend to pick more obscure names (such as “Sojourner“) more often than their conservative peers, while less-educated women are more likely to create entirely new names, such as “Berjo.”
Researchers reached their conclusions based on their analysis of more than 500,000 birth certificates issued in California in 2004 and on data from the US Census and state voting records.
Among their findings:
- A mother from a conservative neighborhood who chooses an uncommon name has an 18 percent chance of picking a name that starts with a hard C, while one from a liberal neighborhood has a 12 percent chance of doing the same.
- The chance of a girl being given a name containing what’s known as the “schwa” A-sound—as in “Ella“—is 10 percentage points higher if she comes from a liberal neighborhood than a conservative one.
- Boys from liberal neighborhoods are five percentage points more likely to have names that contain the L sound.
The study’s conclusions come as a surprise to moms like Fajardo and Emily Glidden Cohen, 35, also of New Jersey—a state that leans Democratic but has a Republican governor.
Unlike Fajardo, Cohen is conservative. Both women happened to give their sons names that align with the study’s findings. Fajardo’s Liam is now two years old; Cohen’s 3-year-old is Cayden.
Cohen, too, said that politics had nothing to do with Cayden’s moniker.
“The first time my husband and I saw that name was in a Restoration Hardware Baby catalog. We both thought it had a nice ring to it,” Cohen said.
Olivier told BabyZone that he doesn’t think the trends he discovered reflect conscious choices. “I seriously doubt anyone is saying ‘Hey, to show the world I’m a liberal, I’m going to name my son Julian,’” he said.
Indeed, at least one prominent conservative bucks the trend. As noted by blogger Michelle Zipp on The Stir, four of Sarah Palin’s children have hard consonant names—Track, Trig, Bristol and Piper—but the Palins also have an L-rich name in the family, that held by daughter Willow.
Zipp warns not to go “passing judgments on your friends and neighbors if their kids have names that lean in either direction” and Olivier seems to concur, noting that popular names are especially common across the ideological spectrum.
“I’m not trying to shape anyone’s name choice,” he said. “Any one name does not necessarily signify the ideology of the parent.”
*Sounds were determined to be masculine or feminine based on the frequency with which they appeared in male and female names. The sounds made by the consonants K, B, D and T, for instance are more common in male names while the sounds made by L and the schwa A were more common in female names.
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