Thursday, May 12, 2005

What’s In A Name?

I find this report a bit disturbing.

A new study suggests that black students with exotic names don’t do as well in school as black students with more common names.

The University of Florida study found that students with names such as Da’Quan or Damarcus are more likely to score lower on reading and math tests.

Researchers said that black students with unusual names are also less likely to meet teacher expectations and be referred to gifted programs than black students with more common names, such as Dwayne.

“This study suggests that the names parents give their children play an important role in explaining why African-American families on average do worse because African-American families are more inclined than whites or Hispanics to give their children names that are associated with low socio-economic status,” said David Figlio, a University of Florida economist who did the research.

Figlio said boys and girls with exotic names suffer in terms of the quality of attention and instruction they get in the classroom because teachers expect less from children with names that sound like they were given by parents with lower education levels. He said the lower expectations often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“When you see a particular name, like David or Catherine, you internalize it in a different way than a name such as LaQuisha,” said Figlio, whose findings appear in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“And it could be that teachers start to make inferences about a student’s parents, the parent’s education level and the parents’ commitment to their children’s education based on the names the parents give their children,” he said.

Figlio found that poorly educated black women overwhelmingly gave their children names that begin with certain prefixes, such as “lo,” “ta” and “qua,” and certain suffixes, such as “isha” and “ious.”


“The black-white test score gap has been a persistent issue in American education for decades, despite the fact that African-Americans and white children are receiving increasingly similar education,” he said. “Our study shows that names are partly to explain for this gap.”

Figlio found opposite results for children with Asian names.

Students with Asian-sounding names were more likely to be recommended for gifted programs than siblings with common American names and similar test scores, he said.

Names are important because they can reveal a parent’s educational level and parental aspirations, and help to mold a person’s identity, becoming information that people use in forming expectations about a child, Figlio said.

To what degree do you form impressions about someone based solely on their name? Do you think it has any impact on how you treat them — subconsciously or otherwise? We all attach stereotypes to names, but how much does it shape your thinking about the person attached to it?