Apparently, you shouldn’t name your daughter “Barbie” unless you want her to grow up to be an airhead. A study, reported in the Guardian, claims that names have a powerful influence on social expectations — they report a significant effect in lowering exam scores based on whether the student’s name is classifiable as coming from a distinct ethnic/socioeconomic class, and further claim that the femininity of a name has a negative correlation with performance in math and science.
It’s somewhat odd. For one thing, they calculated a femininity score for various names based on letter and sound combinations—”Isabella” is the most feminine name, while “Abigail” comes out near the bottom. I don’t know any male Abigails, and Grace and Ashley, two other names in the list with low femininity scores, don’t sound particularly macho to me.
On the whole, people judged to have more traditional names such as Rachel and Robert did extremely well. More alternative names scored badly. Breeze, for example, was given 16 out of 100, while Christopher received full marks. ‘A name is part of an impression package,’ said Mehrabian. ‘Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish.’
Eh. It sounds like traditional conservative bigotry to me. If it holds up, though, it’s an interesting example of the way cultural biases can affect performance on supposedly bias-free examinations. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it’s valid, though: I know that when I grade exams and papers, I consciously avoid looking at the name on the exam until it’s time to record the scores in the gradebook, and I often grade from back to front to make that easier to do. That’s not to avoid bias from the femininity of the names, though, but because I know the students and want to avoid preconceptions.
I do have to note, though, that a) we named our daughter Skatje, and b) the author of the report is named “Anushka” (which sounds nice to me), and one of the teachers interviewed is named “Edyta” (an unfamiliar name, and now I suppose I’m going to imagine every Edyta I meet is a schoolteacher. Or not.)
(via Unhindered by talent)