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What's in a name? Maybe juvenile delinquency

January 31, 2009 |  9:00 am

Wondering what to name your baby? Bucking convention and choosing something more original might not be the best way to go, according to a new study that suggests that unpopular names may be linked to juvenile delinquency.

JailThe study authors don't go so far as to suggest that having an unusual name makes people criminals, but those with odd names may be more prone to crime because of some sociological factors associated with them.

Researchers looked at names given to boys born in one state from 1987 through 1991. They devised a popularity name index, with the most popular name having a PNI of 100, and extremely unpopular names a PNI of 1. Michael, for example, the most popular name during those years, has a PNI of 100, while names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, Malcolm, Preston and Tyrell have a PNI of about 1. None of the names was associated with where the boys were born, their last name, family situation, or the demographics of their parents.

They also obtained names of men in the state's juvenile justice system from 1997 to 2005, noting their first and last names, date of birth, sex, race and family living arrangements. Half the names in the entire population of the state had a PNI of more than 20, but half the juvenile delinquents had a PNI of more than 11, leading researchers to conclude that compared with the general population, a greater percentage of juvenile delinquents had unpopular names. The study appears in the March issue of Social Science Quarterly.

But they stop short of suggesting a direct cause and effect between having an odd name and being a crook. Family dynamics and socioeconomic status could come into play, such as coming from an abusive home, income, healthcare, child care and education.

That's because other studies have shown that those with unpopular names may have a higher likelihood of being disadvantaged — having poor parents, for example. Another study suggested that mothers who are less educated are more likely than better educated women to give their children unusual names.

Not everyone is convinced the researchers from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania have their figures right; this writer thinks their statistics might be a little fuzzy.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times