Contours and Consequences of Black First Names in the Historical United States

Joshua R. Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley
Guy Stecklov, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The distinctiveness of African American first names has become a topic of much interest in recent decades. In this paper, we document the historical pattern of distinctive naming using census microdata from 1900 to 1930. We show (1) Certain first names were given disproportionately to African Americans (2) The distinctiveness of naming was related to the social position of the parents and (3) Even controlling for parental social position, more distinct names were associated with lower occupational achievement. This third finding suggests that even in environments of high racial segregation and where people differ by skin color that the use of cultural symbols like names can influence socio-economic achievement.

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Presented in Session 37: Demography and Ethno-Racial Inequality I