Stephen among top 10 names for probability of getting to Oxford

by Stephen Tall on April 11, 2014

The BBC reports some unsurprising but fascinating research on the vexed question, Does a baby’s name affect its chances in life?:

For the main part the effect of a name on its bearer rarely amounts to more than the effect of being raised by parents who would choose such a name.

names oxford university

A similar conclusion is reached by Gregory Clark, the economist behind the book The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Although the main focus of his research is family names, Clark has looked at first names too – specifically, the names of 14,449 freshmen students attending the elite University of Oxford between 2008-2013. By contrasting the incidence of first names in the Oxford sample with their incidence among the general population (of the same age), he calculated the probability, relative to average, that a person given a particular name would go to Oxford. (For the purposes of his research he excluded students with non-English or Welsh surnames.)

He notes that there are more than three times as many Eleanors at Oxford than we might expect, given the frequency of that first name among girls in the general population, and Peters, Simons and Annas are not far behind. Conversely, there is less than a 30th of the expected number of Jades and an even smaller proportion of Paiges and Shannons. An Eleanor is 100 times more likely to go to Oxford than a Jade.

However, there is no evidence that it’s the names causing such a marked discrepancy, rather than other factors they represent, Clark says. Different names are popular among different social classes, and these groups have different opportunities and goals.

If I’d known about this nominative determinism a few years back, I’d have worked less hard for my A-levels.