A new Ernst & Young study of corporate directorship has uncovered a stark statistic. According to a report in the Washington Post, there are more men on corporate boards named John, Robert, William or James than there are women on boards altogether. In the words of an Ernst & Young executive quoted in the article:
"The idea that we can essentially pick out four common men’s names, at random, and find this shows there’s a long way to go."
Pick out "at random"? If that's Ernst & Young's idea of a random sample, I don't want them anywhere near my accounting. What they picked out were the four most common names in their sample -- and, not coincidentally, America's top four male names for a spate of decades from the 1910s through the 1940s.
From the 21st-century perspective, four baby names may sound like an incredibly small demographic slice. We live in a world where names are selected as distinctive style statements, for boys and girls alike. If you add up today's four most common male names, Noah, Liam, Jacob and Mason, you'll account for just 4% of American boys.
That wasn't always the case. Parents used to stick more closely to the classic English regal names, especially for boys. The average corporate director is 68 years old, born back in 1946-47. In those years, the top four names accounted for a whopping 19% of all boys born. They account for the same percentage of directors in the Ernst & Young study.
In other words, the name stat says that in this sample of very senior business executives, men outnumber women 5 to 1. That figure may be discouraging, but not surprising.
The study's authors were trying to drive a point home. They hoped that couching the statistics in baby name terms would make the gender imbalance more shocking. For me, though, the message that John, Robert, William and James delivered wasn't about gender at all, but about age.
Consider that Michael was America's #1 male name for almost half a century starting in 1954, but it doesn't even crack the top four names on corporate boards. And of course, when it comes to workplace power, age and gender are closely linked. In 1970, when the typical director might have been pursuing an MBA or JD, only 4% of those degrees were awarded to women. Increasing board diversity is bound to remain a struggle if your dominant name curve looks like this:
In 1953, America was in the grips of the "Red Scare." From Washington D.C. to Hollywood, careers and reputations could be shattered by the mere hint of communist ties. And yet this name shows up in the 1953 baby name records as given to six newborn girls:
A show of pride by communist parents? An act of defiance in the face of witch hunts? Perhaps, but I suspect the real explanation is less dramatic. Take a look at the popularity history of the name Connie:
The orange line highlights 1953, the year that the oh-so-similar Commie hit the baby name stats. One Commie for every 1,500 Connies doesn't sound so surprising. My question is, was it deliberate? Did a handful of parents decide to give the popular name a little twist...or did the national focus on "commies" make that word a likely slip-up in the records process?
Mistakes do happen. On the path from parents' dreams to birth certificate, a name can be misheard, misspelled, misread or mistyped. It's not always easy to tell a typo apart from a creative name choice. And realistically, some mistakes are more likely than others. Try typing your own full name, but in place of the last two letters type "xz." Chances are your fingers will rebel and try to follow the more familiar groove. That same autopilot effect makes common words particularly likely to pop up as typos.
Of course, a common word may also be deliberately chosen as a name if it fits in perfectly with the baby naming sound of the times. Here are some more examples of unlikely words that hit the name charts when a similar baby name was at its peak. Creative name choices or typos? What do you think?
The second in a series of reports based on exclusive user ratings of names.
Can a name be sexy on its own, without a person attached? Absolutely. When we asked thousands of BabyNameWizard.com readers to rate the names in our Namipedia on "sexiness," specific name styles kept rising to the top. Most of those styles have shown staying power, sounding sexy for decades or even centuries.
Take a look and see whether these names send your heart aflutter:
If you're a Bob or a Gert, don't despair. Sexiness isn't a universal positive in a name. Every name style comes with tradeoffs, and what sounds good on a lingerie label may not serve as well for a salesperson or aspiring politician. But if you're looking for pure sex appeal in a name, here's what the results tell us:
1. Latin lovers never go out of style. Romance languages, especially Italian, dominate the sexiest boys' list. That romantic image goes back not just to film heartthrobs like Fernando Lamas and Rudolph Valentino, but all the way back to Shakespeare. Italy was his favorite setting for romance, and names like Lorenzo and, of course, Romeo are plucked straight from his plays.
2. Vive la différence. Italian names make a strong showing on the girls' list too, but French comes to the fore as well. The French girls' choices add a saucy flavor, with the flouncy diminutive Nicolette and the literarily erotic Anaïs.
3. Gender front and center. More than half of the names on the sexy lists end in the classic gender markers -o and -a.
4. Double your pleasure. Doubled letters seem to amp up a name's sexiness, especially for girls.
5. Hitch your wagon to a star. Almost 80 years after the publication of Gone With the Wind, Rhett and Scarlett both still hit the sexiest name lists. But they're newbies compared to Romeo, which is celebrating its 5th straight century of star-driven sexiness. Clearly, a romantic tale can attach itself to a name for the long term.
6. Deliver youth or excitement. The names rated least sexy for girls fit a clear formula. They're two syllables, packed with consonants, and old. Really old: as a group, they peaked in the 1890s. The boys' names are no spring chickens either, but at least they hit their popularity peak within the past century. It's a good bet that you know someone living named Bob, Ernest, Norman, Dick or Howard, but not Gertrude, Bertha, Agnes, Ethel or Mildred. The main marker of "unsexiness" for boys seems to be a lack of excitement. The names are all plain-spoken with heavy sounds.
But keep in mind...
These results are based on ratings from Namipedia visitors, the majority of whom are female. It's certainly possible that an all-male panel would choose differently. Yet the girls' style, including Italian and French names and double letters, does line up with a style heavily favored by the adult entertainment industry for targeting male customers. (Missing is a second common stage-name style: meaning names like Angel and Candy, which emphasize the role being played.) As for male names designed to appeal to a gay male audience, one 2005 study found a proponderance of simple boy-next-door stage names like Tom and Mark.
In the end, though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do the names on the list fill the bill for you?
Methodology Notes: Ratings were submitted by tens of thousands of BabyNameWizard.com visitors over the couse of five years, rating names they chose to visit on a scale of 1-100. Rankings are based on names rated by a minimum of 150 users. Alternate spellings may be dropped from lists to avoid repetition. Rare names (outside the current top 1,500 for boys and girls and no apperances in the top 500 in the past century) are excluded as they are easily dominated by a particular character, e.g. Sherlock or Bellatrix.