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Video: Names linked to bad behavior

TODAY contributor
updated 7/17/2009 9:13:32 AM ET 2009-07-17T13:13:32

New parents may balk at naming their newborn boys such tried-and-true but yawn-inducing names as Michael or David — but a new study shows that if they play it safe, they may be doing their babies a favor.

Writing in Social Science Quarterly, Shippensburg University professor David Kalist says giving  newborn males oddball, girly or strange first names may just help land them in jail.

In alphabetical order, the Top 10 “bad boy” names, according to Kalist, are Alec, Ernest, Garland, Ivan, Kareem, Luke, Malcolm, Preston, Tyrell and Walter.

What’s in a name?
So if Ivan is terrible or Alec turns out to be a smart aleck, Kalist and his associate, Daniel Lee, believe they know the reason why. While noting that “unpopular names are likely not to be the cause of crime,” the social factors of being tagged with an offbeat moniker “increase the tendency toward juvenile delinquency.”

The pair based their report on a study of some 15,000 names given to baby boys between 1987 and 1991. They found that the more unlikely the name, the more likely a boy is to commit a delinquent act.

In revealing the 10 “most likely to” list on Friday, TODAY’s Erin Burnett gave her own interpretation to the study: “Basically, if you’re teased mercilessly your entire childhood for your name, you become an angry, bitter person, and you lash out in a way that could be negative.”

While Burnett and TODAY’s Matt Lauer noted that having a name making the list of possible future criminals didn’t stop the likes of Alec Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway from succeeding in life, there are plenty of prior studies that back up the Kalist report.

In writing about the Social Science Quarterly report, Time magazine pointed to a 1993 study that showed boys who have strange spellings of common first names (read Patric, Geoffrey) are less likely to be upstanding and successful; a 2001 study showing that boys are judged for their moral character and masculinity by their first names; and a University of Michigan study that stated, “having an unusual first name leads to unfavorable reactions in others, which then leads to unfavorable evaluations of the self.”

Exceptions to the rule
Still, what’s in a name? TODAY looked at the list of 10 heading-for-trouble names and found an example of each that could refute the findings. Along with Baldwin and Hemingway, there’s pop singer-songwriter Garland Jeffries, film director Ivan Reitman, basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actors Luke Wilson and Luke Perry, black leader Malcolm X, legendary filmmaker Preston Sturges, Olympic gold medal boxer Tyrell Biggs, and a host of Walters — from Walter Cronkite to Walt Disney to Sir Walter Scott. Video: Most popular baby names announced

And within moments of the Social Science Quarterly report’s release, many Web sites were already poking fun at it. Writing on the Laughing Stork Web site, Candy Kirby commented, “People warned my parents I would end up a hooker or a stripper if they named me ‘Candy.’ And look at me. I NEVER dabbled in prostitution!”

The Kalist-Lee study also touched on baby girl names, noting that previous research showed a baby gal given the name Allison is seldom the daughter of high school dropouts — and that, on the whole, the less schooling they have, the more likely parents are to give their kids unpopular names.

While male names have traditionally gone the John-Steve-Michael-Matthew route, recent surveys have shown parents are getting a bit more creative. Baby Center reports that Aiden, Hayden, Jackson and Noah were among the Top 10 names for newborn boys last year — Michael finished only 14th, James 32nd, and John a lowly 55th.

Just don’t tell that to Ivan.

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