Liberellas versus Konservatives: Parents’ partisanship determines what they name their baby

Elizabeth Dorton Contributor
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A new study by University of Chicago political scientists shows that names are indicative of political demographics and that political opinions come out in the process of naming newborns.

Names that end in a long “a,” (think Barack’s daughter, Malia Obama), are likely to belong to residents of typically democratic neighborhoods, while hard vowel sounds, like “K,” “G,” or “B,” (like Sarah Palin’s son, Track, or Romney’s Tagg), are found among conservatives, reported The Washington Times.

The research paper, titled ‘Liberellas versus Konservatives: Social Status, Ideology, and Birth Names in the United States,’ finds “strong differences in birth-naming practices related to race, economic status and ideology,” say authors Thomas Wood, Eric Oliver, and Alexandra Bass.

Better-off liberal mothers are interested in rarer names, that come with a “cultural cachet,” and prefer names that are more ‘feminine’ and ‘soft.’

“Although higher status mothers of all races favor more popular birth names, high-status liberal mothers more often choose uncommon, culturally obscure birth names,” the paper said. “Liberals also favor birth names with ‘softer, feminine’ sounds while conservatives favor names with ‘harder, masculine’ phonemes.”

Data for the study was based off of electoral precincts, California birth records from 2004, and the 2000 U.S. Census.

Though all parents are more likely to get creative when naming their daughters, liberal mothers are more likely to give their sons less common names, such as Julian, while conservatives favor more popular names like Kyle.

According to the Social Security Administration, based on the 2012 election, the most popular names in red states that Romney took were James, William, Liam and Jacob, in Alaska, Utah, Wyoming and Texas, respectively, with Ethan and Benjamin in blue Hawaii and Massachusetts. Mason took both Vermont and Maryland.

As the neighborhood becomes more liberal, names become less popular. “For instance, popular names are chosen for boys among 42 percent of mothers in conservative neighborhoods but only among 35 percent of mothers in the most liberal neighborhoods,” the report said.

Income, education, and race also come in to play. Asian and black parents were most likely to incorporate ‘unique’ baby names, defined as names which were only given to one Californian child in 2004. White and Hispanic families were less likely.

No matter the race, ‘unique’ or one-of-a-kind names appeared more often in lower-income neighborhoods and among infants born to less-educated mothers.

Political opinion and baby names were most strongly associated with one another among well-educated, white mothers. The study went on to say that a “college-educated white mother is twice as likely to give her child an uncommon name if she lives in one of the most liberal neighborhoods versus one of the most conservative ones.”

‘Innovative’ names, which tend to start in more elite neighborhoods, begin to show a downward trend in popularity as they start to get picked up in the lower-income neighborhoods, such as the names Brittany, Dylan, or Amber.

The study suggests that ‘innovative-naming’ is really all about novelty. “If innovative birth names first appear as expressions of cultural capital, then liberal elites are most likely to popularize them, especially given that liberals are typically more comfortable embracing novelty and differentiation,” and “Sometime afterwards, the name will diminish as a prestige symbol as lower classes begin adopting more of these names themselves thus sending liberal elites in search of ever new and obscure markers.

When discussing this cultural cachet and how liberals using obscure-naming ‘tactics’ are more likely to use less-popular names than simply making one up for themselves, the authors write, “the value of cultural capital comes, not from its uniqueness, but from its very obscurity”- something for mothers-to-be to  consider as they mull over what to name their bundle of joy.