Freakonomics
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt
Contributed by Marshall Raine

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Chapter 6
Summary

As a continuation of Chapter 5, Levitt and Dubner claim that every parent hopes that they are able to impact their child’s future in every decision they make in raising them, starting with the action of naming their offspring (163). Thanks to a wide array of websites, books, and even consultants dedicated to baby-naming, most parents believe that a child cannot succeed unless given a suitable name. However, the authors provide an anecdote about Robert Lane who named one of his sons “Winner” and his last-born “Loser.” Conversely, to what the name Loser signified, Loser [who was nicknamed as Lou since people felt uncomfortable addressing him as Loser] become successful while Winner ended up as a criminal (163-164). The authors use this story to pose a question to readers: if Winner could merely be expected to fail; could Loser possibly succeed? The authors share another story of a baby girl named “Temptress” [meaning a woman that attempts to seduce someone] who unfortunately ended up living as her name suggested. The authors ask a difficult question of whether the name given to a child affects his or her file or if it is a parent’s life reflected in the child’s name (165).

To provide the answer to the above question, Levitt and Dubner suggest that in the U.S., parents name children along the lines of social class and race. Although whites and Asians appear to name their children similarly, it is a different case in black culture (167). In his research, The Black Underachievement, Ronald Fryer realized that blacks were the worst performing ethnic groups compared to whites and Asians, and thus focused on investigating whether the culture and names given to black children were attributable to the economic difference between whites and blacks. After studying birth certificates in the state of California, Ronald discovered that white and black families indeed named their kids differently (167) As a result of Ronald’s finding, Levitt and Dubner assert that parents living in the black communities gave their kids traditionally black names as a way of solidarity to their community (168). Moreover, the authors cite from a series of audit studies which revealed that employees were likely to offer a job opportunity to an applicant whose name sounded more white than black, for instance, DeAndre [black] vs. Connor [white]. The implication as put forward by Levitt and Dubner was that a black sounding names carried an economic penalty (170).  Nonetheless, if DeAndre and Connor lived in the same neighborhood, were exposed to the same economic status, and had comparable family circumstances, they would have had similar life results. As a result, Levitt and Dubner posit that the disadvantage of blacks does not lie in their names, but instead blacks are more likely to be born into families with low economic advantage (173).

Accordingly, Levitt and Dubner ask where names come from and to respond to their question, the authors posit that there exists a relationship between parents' socioeconomic class and babies’ names. When choosing a baby's name, Levitt and Dubner state that a clear difference exists between low income, middle, and high-income earners. For example, a middle-income parent would name her girl Ashley, a low-income parent names her girl Jenifer, a highly educated parent names their girl Emma, an  and poorly educated parents name their child Amber (177-178). Levitt and Dubner conclude the chapter by informing readers that parents have motives behind the naming of children, such as seeking for a traditional, bohemian, or trendy mane (188).

Analysis

The chapter starts with an anecdote comparing two different set of names. The author uses this example to suggest that if indeed a name influenced a child’s future success, Winner Lane could have been the successful than their sibling Loser Lane. The authors support their argument in chapter five that who the parents are and not what they do determines their child’s success. Although certain names like “Winner” relate to success, the authors assert that simply having such names does not determine future success. The parent’s socioeconomic status, however, is the greatest forecaster in a child’s success.

In this chapter, the authors also reveal name stereotypes among different ethnic groups. As certain names are associated with black people, black parents who give their child a white name are criticized for lacking solidarity with their ethnic culture. In the corporate world, having a black name can be limiting in terns of opportunity during the job application process, thereby, revealing the existing achievement gap between black and white people. Notably, the authors state that different spellings of names are also associated with different levels of education, for instance, when a person has variations of the name (for example, Jazmine, Jazmyne, Jazzmin, and Jasmyne), it is expected that their parents are not educated.

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