5.17.2005

what's in a name?

the semester has ended and i need to make a decision about what to do with this blog. one of the decisions, no doubt, will have to address the blog title. i originally chose it because of its use in the class of the same name, however the posts and my use for this space have transgressed these initial naming bounds. so, it got me thinking... just how important is a name? for a blog, or, for that matter, for a child...

according to research done by steven d. levitt, names matter - or at least enough for him to write about names and naming... in april, slate published an article that includes stories from levitt's book, titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. the article shares the story of two boys belonging to the same family and the impact that naming had on their lives. they were named Winner and Loser and, as things so contrived often turn out, Winner turns out to lead a life of crime and misdoings where as Loser enjoyed success in the police department. the authors of the article (of which levitt is one) ask of the father (who named the boys): "Though he got his boys mixed up, did he have the right idea—is naming destiny? What kind of signal does a child's name send to the world?"

levitt's bigger analysis has to do with the great chasm between black names and white names, which he then analyzes for success in life (across the dimensions of education, health, and income). he found that on average, individuals with distinctively black names had a worse life outcome than those who didn't. so what does he conclude?
from the article's final thoughts:
If two black boys, Jake Williams and DeShawn Williams, are born in the same neighborhood and into the same familial and economic circumstances, they would likely have similar life outcomes. But the kind of parents who name their son Jake don't tend to live in the same neighborhoods or share economic circumstances with the kind of parents who name their son DeShawn. And that's why, on average, a boy named Jake will tend to earn more money and get more education than a boy named DeShawn. DeShawn's name is an indicator—but not a cause—of his life path.

naming is a cultural artifact (the process) that is universal (that we are all named) but also highly differentiated by region, affiliation, and/or community. but naming, as levitt describes it from an economics perspective, is not only the act of giving or receiving a name - here is where the economics leaves holes for further exploration. naming is a multidimensional interaction in which exists not only the named and the namer, but also the immediate interpreter of the name. the third party here could be said to be institutions, hiring personnel, etc...

the question remains however: what becomes of this blog's name? should the contents reflect the title? do the contents help to expand the expectations of the title?

side note - my little red honda i drove in high school, the only thing i ever named (no pets, not even fish), was named jerry. hmmmmm....