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Shippensburg profs' baby name research draws media attention

July 23, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- A pair of Shippensburg University economics professors who published research on baby names in March have encountered international media attention in response.

In just the past week, the work of David Kalist and Daniel Lee has been discussed on NBC's "Today" and Fox's "Fox & Friends." It also has been featured in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and the U.K. Daily Telegraph, and online at www.time.com.

"A host of media in other countries, like India, picked up on it. Scores of blog sites did also," Lee said, explaining he and his colleague were surprised by the media reaction.

The findings, published in Social Science Quarterly, reveal baby boys with unpopular or uncommon names have a greater rate of juvenile delinquency. Eight of the 10 first names of people listed as the FBI's 10 Most Wanted are below average in popularity, the professors found.

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The eight names are Glen, Victor, Alexis, Jorge, Emigdio, Usama and, perhaps surprisingly, Edward and Jason.

"There was a statistically significant correlation between unpopular names and crime," Lee said.

Lee, who has taught at Shippensburg University for 22 years, said people often ask why two economists are conducting research in behavioral sciences. He said there's an emerging trend to apply research in "behavioral economics."

Kalist is next looking into juvenile obesity trends.

The professors received an onslaught of phone calls and e-mails from oddly named people who say they're living productive lives. The messages were not unexpected, and Lee said the results are statistical, not an examination of a single case.

Kalist and Lee offered several potential reasons for what they found. Among them were bullying and employers who discriminate against job applicants with unpopular names. Most importantly, they found juveniles with unpopular names tended to come from nontraditional families or areas with lower socioeconomic status.

"We conclude, therefore, that 'unpopular names are likely not the cause of crime but correlated with factors that increase the tendency toward juvenile delinquency, such as a disadvantaged home environment and residence in a county with low socioeconomic status,'" Lee wrote in an e-mail.

The professors found, on average, parents with less education were more likely to pick unpopular names.

Kalist and Lee spent a year on the research, which acknowledged several other studies that linked name trends to school disruption, level of education and socioeconomic status. They did not test the relationship between unpopular names and crime for girls or adults.

Kalist did not respond to e-mails or a voice-mail message at his office.

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