First Names and Crime: Can your name make you bad?

February 18,2009
Lindsay Hutton( )
A study published in the latest issue of Social Science Quarterly (Volume 90 Issue 1) found a correlation between unpopular first names and crime. Researchers David Kalist and Daniel Lee cross-referenced a popularity name index against the names of kids in the juvenile justice system, and found that both white and black juveniles with unpopular names were more likely to be delinquents.

What constitutes an "unpopular name"? For the most part, it's ones that are rarely used--if not downright obscure. For example, names like David and Michael are 100 times more popular than names like Tyrell, Ivan, and Ernest. The researchers emphasize that names are not likely to be the cause of crime, but they correlate with factors that increase the tendency toward juvenile delinquency--such as a disadvantaged home environment and residing in an area with low socioeconomic status.

I'm not sure there's much logic to the idea that unpopular names spell trouble. (If I name my dog Ivan, will he turn out to be vicious?) On the other hand, some studies seem to suggest that the bearers of popular names get higher grades and achieve greater success in life. Research by Lee McPheters found that just four names--John, Robert, Steven, and Henry--accounted for 23 percent of the highest paid CEOs in the U.S.

So there's one more thing you can blame on your parents: Your lack of success is due to the name they gave you!

If you're searching for the perfect baby name, you can find the top 100 names for boys and girls in FamilyEducation's NameLab. You can also track the popularity of a particular name (your own?) during the 20th century.