An Apple By Any Other Name

Sticks and stones can break your bones but… names can make you commit crimes?

Criminal Kid

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A few weeks ago, some kids in New Jersey were removed from their home by Child Protective Services because their parents named them after Nazis. When the story got out, their dad told reporters that he didn't think there was anything wrong with naming a kid Adolf Hitler Campbell. The media coverage around this story created an interesting new controversy. Is giving your child a bad name really a form of abuse? Social scientists from Shippensburg University say yes.

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee just published an article in Social Science Quarterly linking juvenile crime to the popularity of the youth's name. The researchers created a popularity-name index (PN1) which allowed them to give an empirical value to each name. The higher the PNI value, the more popular the name. The PN1 for Michael, which was the most common name in the study, is 100, while names like Alec, Ernest and Malcolm had a PN1 of one.

Race did not necessarily play a factor, as Kalist and Yee found similar results among test subjects of diverse racial backgrounds. Kalist and Yee instead believe that, while names themselves do not cause their bearers to commit crimes, more unusual names are often associated with factors that lead to juvenile delinquency, such as disadvantaged home environments (single parents, low socio-economic status and residency issues). Low PN1 individuals may be more susceptible to bullying at young ages, and thus have difficulty forming relationships. Kalist and Yee hypothesize that these individuals act out, consciously or unconsciously, because they dislike their own names.

I am reminded of a girl I went to high school with. Her name was Galaxy Starcruiser. I kid you not. Her parents were avid Trekkies and thought naming their child after a spaceship was a good idea. I remember her as being an anti-social, bitter girl, and a small part of me wonders if she ever ended up in jail.

Of course, celebrities give their kids all kinds of crazy names. In a few years, little Harlow, Rocco, and Suri will be old enough to follow in Paris' wayward footsteps (and just look at how polished and successful Nikki Hilton is). Violet Affleck—you sound sweet: it will be up to you to save us from your peers.