What’s in a name?

27th May, 2006

Dear Economist,

For the last few years I have lived in the US and have noticed there are quite a few girls, aged between 10 and 20, named Chelsea; yet few, if any, named Arsenal or Tottenham – but they must have been born when the latter two clubs were much more successful than Chelsea. Why would people name their daughters after a second-rate team?

Andrew Slaughter, via e-mail

Dear Andrew,

The natural person to answer this question is Stephen Dubner, who, as co-author of the bestselling book, Freakonomics, has explained the patterns behind the most popular names in the US. But when I asked him his answers were rather non-economic. “Tottenham” does not sound pleasing to his ear, and while “Totty” is acceptable, he believes that “Arsenal” can be truncated infelicitously. None of this sounds like solid neoclassical theory to me. I prefer a more rigorous explanation and can offer not one, but three. The first is pure information herding: parents have taken a signal from the Clintons, who named their daughter Chelsea and are undeniably successful. Rational name choosers will recognise that Bill and Hillary are probably good judges of a name…

Continued at ft.com.

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