Where baby names come from.

The search for better economic policy.
April 12 2005 7:35 AM

Trading Up

Where do baby names come from?

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Obviously, a variety of motives are at work when parents consider a name for their child. It would be an overstatement to suggest that all parents are looking—whether consciously or not—for a smart name or a high-end name. But they are all trying to signal something with a name, and an overwhelming number of parents are seemingly trying to signal their own expectations of how successful they hope their children will be. The name itself isn't likely to make a shred of difference. But the parents may feel better knowing that, from the very outset, they tried their best.

Steven D. Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago and is a recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every two years to the best American economist under 40. Stephen J. Dubner is a New York City journalist and author of two previous books: Turbulent Soulsand Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper. 

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