- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mama, stick with Michael. But Malcolm? Maybe not.

A man’s first name can predict his criminal tendencies, according to research released Wednesday by economists who compared crime statistics and a roster of more than 15,000 first names to reveal a distinct “name-crime link” among American males.

The more unpopular or uncommon the name, the greater the chance the lad will end up in jail, said David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University.

“Regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity,” the study said.

It applied succinct values to the names - Michael, for example, was rated at 100, and the least likely name to be associated with juvenile delinquency. David was in the middle at 50, with Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Malcolm and Tyrell languishing with a 1-point rating.

The researchers found that for every 10 percent increase in a name’s popularity, there was a 4 percent decrease in the number of juvenile delinquents of the same name.

There’s no handy-dandy list of what not to name the baby, though.

“Unfortunately, we did not look at the data in such detail to compile a top-10 list,” Mr. Kalist said. “There are likely to be some statistical issues with such a list.”

There are greater implications of a name bias, however.

“First-name characteristics may have implications for other types of crime and law research. Are first names useful in predicting criminal recidivism? Do jurors use information on the defendant’s name to help decide guilt or punishment?” the study said.

“It is possible that police officers may profile based on a person’s first name, causing officers to further interrogate and physically search people with unpopular names. For example, police traffic stops may more frequently result in vehicle searches of drivers who have unique names.”

The name-crime link could prove unpredictable, however.

The first names of the FBI’s 10 most-wanted fugitives, for example, are Edward, Jason, Robert, James, Glen, Victor, Alexis - along with Jorge, Emigdio and Usama. The latter is Osama bin Laden, whose surname the FBI spells with a “U” rather than an “O.”

Some of those fugitives have fairly common names: According to the Social Security Administration’s current list of the nation’s top-1,000 baby boys’ names, James is at No. 15. Robert ranks at 47, Jason at 59, Victor at 104.

And in theory, if that mammoth list was used as a reference in the equation, the top-three most popular names - Jacob, Michael and Ethan - would be least likely to grow into criminals. Tryston, Leroy and Daxton - the least popular - would be the most likely.

Social and cultural factors come into play, said Mr. Kalist, whose study was published in Social Science Quarterly, an academic journal.

“While the names are likely not the cause of crime, they are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime, such as a disadvantaged home environment, residence in a county with low socioeconomic status, and households run by one parent,” he said.

Yet, weird names also are common among our most well-heeled citizens. Celebrities are often notorious for bestowing odd monikers on their offspring. In recent years, magician Penn Jillette named his sons Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten, for example, while singer Gwen Stefani called her second baby boy Zuma Nesta Rock.

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