Answer: Playground Beatings

Tyler Cowen exposes the fact that girls are more likely to recieve creative names than boys. He then wonders:

[I]t remains a mystery why parents take more chances with the names of their baby girls.

He also remembers when his own name was not so common (I swear every little rug monkey in the local beastiary–er, coffeehouse–has that name now):

I can remember a time when the only other “Tyler” in my mental universe was Henry Kissinger’s dog.

Lemme guess–he got teased about it. Or maybe worse. Anyway, there inlies the answer to his quandry: boys with silly names will be beaten mercilessly by their peers. The pressure to conform starts earlier and is more physically enforced than with girls. When women around the office start pondering names, the guys there always start shooting down names for boys. “Nope, that’s a playground beating name for sure.”

Girls are more cooperative at first, and are expected to show some individuality (within carefully restricted rules) of dress later–that is, such things can be an asset if they’re popular enough, and the name is not likely to be the source of initial unpopularity. Boys, on the other hand, are much more likely to pounce on such a difference, often literally. Trust me, as the only male Sandy south of the Mason-Dixon line, I know this. This can affect your popularity and hence your reproductive chances. So naturally, you would expect the type of people to give boys odd names to be selected out, at least in modern suburban American culture.

Obviously this isn’t a 100% thing; otherwise I would not be one of the few non-Alexander Sandys. Probably just enough sacrifice their sons’ popularity that the cycle of names continues on (with the addition of last names of popular figures, I’m guessing). But a testable prediction of my wild speculation would be if boys’ names’ popularity rises and falls as quickly as girls. My guess would be “no.”

Update: I’ve corrected the sex difference to be between girls and boys as opposed to girls and women–though it’s true that women recieve far fewer creative new names than girls, since they just tend to take existing last names, if any.

4 thoughts on “Answer: Playground Beatings

  1. I also think that there’s a certain amount of cultural bias to it beyond simple playground predation.

    When boys become men, they are still expected to be serious members of the working world. Women on the other hand are more often encouraged to be aesthetic and perhaps fanciful.

    You’re more likely to get ahead as a dude if you’ve got a conservative name like Thomas than with even a heroic-but-fanciful classical name like Perseus. It would seem like hubris to have such a flashy name for a guy, but for a woman Pheobe or Cassandra are perfectly acceptable names. It’s analogous to clothing. The power-color for men is the dark blue suit. For women it is red.


  2. Interesting concept.

    Come to think of it, maybe this is part of the underlying reason for my brother to adopt his English-based name as his first name rather than his Mandarin-based birth name. As I have never considered using my English-based name as my first name. Of course, I run into the problem of most people either not being able to pronounce or remember my name, so I’ve resulted in using my middle name more often than not. Yet, I still didn’t have the desire to adopt my English-based name as my first name when we became citizens. I don’t know for a fact if my brother was teased at school when we first got here for his name, but I sure know that I wasn’t. I have definitely run across some rather interesting names for little girls working in a children’s hospital. Girl’s names are more unusual than boy’s name by large.


Comments are closed.