Name study seems flawed

September 16, 2009
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Samantha, you should just go by Sam. Alexandra should stick to Alex. If your name is Robin, Terry, or Pat, you’ll probably be OK, according to a new study that says women with more masculine sounding names have a better chance of becoming a judge.

A paper in the August issue of America Law and Economics Review used South Carolina microdata to find a correlation between an individual’s advancement to a judgeship and his or her name’s masculinity. The authors claim they found robust evidence that women with masculine names are favored over other females.

In a news article I found about the paper, one author said that changing a woman’s name from something feminine to a gender-neutral name increases her odds of being appointed a judge by 5 percent. And if you want to just change your name from Amy to Steve, you increase your chances of taking the bench by a factor of five.

I have a few of problems with this study. First, consider some of our country’s highest judges who have feminine names – Sandra, Ruth, and now Sonia. In Indiana, our female judges have names such as Sarah, Theresa, Sally, Barbara, and Debra. In fact, after examining the list of trial judges in Indiana, there were only a few gender-neutral names in which I couldn’t tell based on the name alone if it was a male or female judge.

Also, the study used data from South Carolina. Could South Carolina show some kind of bias toward women with feminine names – bias not shown in other parts of the country?

I know some women, in all professions, have changed their name in order to try to get ahead. I hope in the 21st century that this is no longer needed, and women can succeed based on their merits, not their name.
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  • If the semantics of your entry are correct, the discussed study seems to deal with judges who are appointed. If I\'m not mistaken, Indiana chooses judges predominantly by election, which may account for the difference.

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