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Kardashian baby name: the science of how names shape us

Kardashian baby name: some studies have linked unusual names to numerous disadvantages later in life. As for the Kardashian baby name, it remains to be seen.

By Contributor / June 21, 2013

Kardashian baby name: This 2012 photo shows singer Kanye West, left, talking to his girlfriend Kim Kardashian before an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks in Miami. A birth certificate released by the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health shows that the couple's daughter North West, was born last Saturday in Los Angeles.

Alan Diaz/AP

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Kim Kardashian, for reasons that are not yet clear, has named her baby North West.

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It's an odd choice that's unlikely to much affect Kanye West's and Kardashian's little girl – but, for a child born to non-famous parents, is a name that might critically shape who she grows up to be. Without the gilded Kardashian name to guarantee her success, that non-celebrity girl might struggle to fend off bullies, get hired, and overall surmount other people’s – and eventually her own – low expectations for her future.

Studies have increasingly shown that names are a highly relevant factor is how others perceive us and we perceive ourselves. In 2010, David Figlio of Northwestern University in Illinois analyzed names from millions of birth certificates for the probability that the name belonged to someone of low socioeconomic status – children whose names met those criteria would go to be discriminated against throughout life, he found. Similarly, a 2003 study from The National Bureau of Economic Research found that resumes with White-sounding names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than resumes with African-American-sounding names.

The significance of that research has grown in recent years, as baby names have become increasingly more unusual. In 2010, a British study of some 3,000 parents found that one-in-five of them regretted the name they had selected for their children, in that case often an unusual name or one with a strange spelling. That finding wasn’t surprising to scientists, since a growing crop of studies have linked unusual names to numerous disadvantages in life.

Much of how we perceive the world is unconscious, and our latent biases against particular names are often influential in how we treat people. A 2011 informal survey that combed baby name conversations on online message boards found that the names perceived to be highly trendy are the biggest culprits in jolting those biases and that those names often end up capping our lists of the most hated names.

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