I passed up this reprinted advertising-oriented survey story about “The naughtiest names” the first time it came around. It’s back.
The findings come from a survey that looked at the names of more than 63,000 school children who logged good behaviour or achievement awards in online sticker books.
Those with the most good behaviour awards were named Jacob and Amy, closely followed by Georgia and Daniel.
Coincidentally, I’ve been listening to the BBC production of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s available online for the next three weeks. People who like that sort of thing will find it’s the sort of thing they like. Early on, names are being suggested for a baby who turns out to be the Antichrist:
“Wormwood’s a nice name..Or Damien. Damien’s very popular….Or Cain. Very modern sound, Cain, really.”
This attempt to suggest ‘the naughtiest name’ failed dismally, and that’s probably true of the British survey as well. The survey is probably a bit more representative of the population, but Good Omens is probably more realistic about the impact of names on the behaviour of children.
If you go to the original source, you see the originators of the survey didn’t really believe it either:
Neil Hodges, School Stickers Managing Director says, “The annual ‘Santa’s Naughty and Nice list’ is just a bit of fun, and obviously there are many Ella’s and Joseph’s that are perfect little angels, just as I’m sure there are many Amy’s and Jacobs that can be a bit of a handful.
though most of the mainstream media stories lost the disclaimer. This time it wasn’t the press release that was to blame.
It’s not that names have no effect. There’s a lot of research showing that identical job applications, for example, may be handled differently if different names are attached. There’s also a lot of social information in names — the story mentions research showing that you’re much more likely to get into Oxford or Cambridge if you’re called Eleanor than if you’re called Jade.
It’s possible there is some effect beyond social stratification and teacher prejudices, but this sort of survey is hopelessly unfit to reveal it. That’s not the worst aspect, though. Even if the patterns of behaviour and name were real, they are soon going to be out of date. Patterns of first names change quite quickly, and this data presumably refers to kids who were named 5-10 years ago. ‘Eleanor’ is now one of the names on the Naughty list.