Does the name that your parents give you play a role in how high you climb in life? Maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt, and it may be of actual benefit, to be a male with a common name like Robert, John or Steve. That’s the conclusion of a study by Lee McPheters, senior associate dean at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
That’s the conclusion of a study by Lee McPheters, senior associate dean at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, who concedes that the correlation he found between the highest paid executives at Valley companies and certain common names has a slight tongue-incheek quality.
While looking over a list complied by The Business Journal of the 100 highest paid executives at Valley public firms, McPheters noted that they were overwhelmingly males. That was no surprise. Efforts to break the glass ceiling still have a long way to go. But he also noticed that many of those executives have common first names, and that intrigued him.
Three names — Robert, John and Steve — accounted for 20 percent of the executives on the list. But according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, those names accounted for less than 10 percent of the male births in the United States from 1945 to 1965, the years when today’s executives were most likely born.
The top six names — Robert, John, Steve, Richard, Donald and William — accounted for 35 percent of the CEOs but less than 16 percent of the male population in that age group.
That over-representation of certain names in Arizona might seem to be just a fluke, but the same names stood out when McPheters looked at the Forbes magazine list of the 100 highest-paid chief executives nationally.
John accounted for eight of the 100, who were all male, and Robert, Steven and Henry tied for second with five each.
“These four popular names accounted for 23 percent of the highest paid CEOs nationally, and three of the names (John, Robert and Steve/Steven) were the same three that were most frequent in the Phoenix listing,” McPheters said.
He noted, however, that the correlation between popular names and business success isn’t absolute. For example, McPheters asks, what happened to James? It was the most popular boys name between 1945 and 1965 at more than 4 percent but accounts for only 2 percent of Arizona’s highest paid executives today.
So what does all this mean?
McPheters admits there isn’t any profound economic theory to be drawn from the numbers. If your parents give you a popular name, that’s doesn’t mean you’ll automatically rise to the top.
But it doesn’t hurt either, he said.“People who chose a popular name for a child probably don’t have any problems with having the child fit in in other dimensions of life as well,” he theorizes. “Having a popular name may be a head start on fitting in.”
That issue of “blending in” frequently poses a dilemma for ethnic minorities who feel that giving their child a distinctive ethnic name will be a disadvantage when that name appears on a résumé. Many Jews, Asians and others have changed their names to sound more Western or “Anglo” in the hopes of improving their economic advancement in the face of discrimination.
One study by the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Bureau of Economic Research found that employers were 50 percent less likely to respond to dummy résumés with black-sounding names than white-sounding names, even with comparable experience and education.
The issue of discrimination was one that McPheters avoided, saying that his expertise is economics, not sociology.
However, he did note that names given to babies have become increasingly varied across the American population.
In 1955 the top 10 names for boys accounted for more than 30 percent of boy births, and the 10 most popular girl names accounted for 20 percent of girls.
By 2005, the top 10 boys names accounted for only 10 percent of boy births while the 10 most popular girl names accounted for only 8 percent of girls.
If executives continue to have the most popular names, Arizona’s CEO list in 2055 is likely to feature Jacob, Michael and Joshua, and maybe Emily, Emma and Madison, he said.