From Patrick to John F.: First-Name Choice as a Measure of Assimilation and Predictor of Occupational Achievement in Historical U.S. Censuses

Joshua R. Goldstein, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Guy Stecklov, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The ethnic distinctiveness of first-names of the children of immigrants can measure assimilation and predict occupational attainment in early the United States in the early 20th century. Some names like "Patrick" or "Antonio" are ethnically distinctive from the Anglo majority. Others like "John" or "Charles" are less so. In this research, we develop a measure of first-name ethnic distinctiveness using the relative frequencies of father's birthplace. We then show (as with recent research on the "Blackness" of names) that ethnically distinct names are correlated with lower socioeconomic achievement for some groups but not others. We use multivariate models to sort out various mechanisms of selection (e.g., ethnically distinctive names due to lower assimilation of the parental generation) and causation (the "signalling" effect of an ethnically distinctive name). Our results inform the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of cultural assimilation of the second generation for socio-economic achievement.

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Presented in Session 25: Immigrant Assimilation