“What’s in a Name?”

August 20, 2015 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Many of my unfortunate students over the last half century or so would immediately recognise Shakespeare’s “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Many would also argue that Juliet, in her amorous ecstasy, did not quite get the point because it would appear that there is a great deal in a first name – when it comes to their links to the individual name holder’s GCSE results.

I spent a lot of time over the last year analysing GCSE English and mathematics results covering five consecutive years. This was a small scale action research using no more than 1500 first names correlated with results in the two core subjects.

My initial hypothesis was that there will emerge some pattern from such research. I had assumed that the names chosen by parents for their children reflected more than just personal taste. They reflected social status, aspirations, socio-economic background …etc… What I was unable to do was to be certain how to reason such a hypothetical result. For example how does naming one’s new born baby link to the parents’ level of education, socioeconomic background, parental aspirations and other such factors? Can such a link be convincingly proven?

The results were not entirely surprising. After over forty five years of working in education, I had accumulated my fair modicum of prejudicial snap judgements made as soon as I heard a first name. Any teacher who pretends otherwise is being a trifle too politically correct. Ask teachers to name successful students and those who do less well. Most would do so almost without reflection as if first names had some cabalistic power beyond our “heaven and earth”.

My findings showed that the top fifteen names of those students attaining the higher grades A*-C were, in order to frequency: Daniel, Jordan, James, Charlotte, Katie, Michael, Jack, Joshua, Chloe, Emma, Sophie, Amy, Joseph, Christopher and Callum.

The top fifteen names of those students attaining the lower grades D-U were, in order to frequency: Matthew, Luke, Ryan, Daniel, James, Joshua, Ashley, Jordan, Nathan, Aaron, Jade, Connor, Kayleigh, Liam and Kieran.

We can immediately notice the overlaps between the two groups. The following names attain both top and bottom grades in both English and mathematics: Daniel, James, Joshua and Jordan. This may be accounted for because these names may have been particularly popular within the group born within those five years sixteen years prior to taking their GCSE examinations.

There is, however, another apparent pattern that emerges from this research. I do not know why a Daniel or a James or Charlotte should do so much better than a Liam or a Kieran or a Luke. I dare not postulate on possible social reasons for fear of being branded a snob. I would prefer not to talk about the educational level of parents choosing their children’s first names for fear of being called politically incorrect whatever pretentions my research may have to objectivity.

There are other interesting patterns that emerge. The students attaining lower grades have a significantly higher proportion of shortened names or nicknames, for example Josh instead of Joshua, Beth instead of Elizabeth, Ali instead of Alison, Jamie or Jaymi instead of James. There is also a preponderance of irregularly spelt names within the group of those attaining the lower marks, for example Kaelyb for Caleb, Maison for Mason, Filip for Philip, Jorge for George, Shawnie, Tamzin and so on.

The higher grade students have a preponderance of traditional British / English names. The lower grade students have a higher incidence of names that are apparently either completely original or, in the case of minority ethnic descendants, possibly of foreign origins. This latter is another minefield within the race relations industry and its politically correct acolytes.

Can we make anything of these findings? Probably we can not do so, apart from the fact that they have emerged as statistical facts. An interpretation of their causes, provenances and implications would be better left to anthropologists, psychologists, social workers and other such competent practitioners.

We have the findings – in their glorious statistical objectivity. I would welcome interpretations from readers both in and out of education.

Meanwhile, should we rush off and change our names by deed poll from Matthew, Luke and Ryan to Daniel, James and Charlotte?

Probably not, for “what’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”‘

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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi

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