On the Naming of Me

My name is pretty unusual, in and of that I’ve been challenged by telemarketers, customer service people, and baristas alike that “That can’t be your name” or “What’s your real name?” (As if the sort of person who gives out a fake name would abruptly turn around and provide a real one). My name is in fact Bobbie, although legally it is Roberta; the only people who call me Roberta are telemarketers, teachers, and attorneys.

Per Wolfram Alpha, fewer than 200 people each year are given the name Bobbie (as a given female name – and yes it does say it assumes Bobbie is female). Less than 1 in 3331 people have the name, and the most common age for a person with the name Bobbie is 76 years. (Roberta clocks in at much the same, with 1 in 1823 people having the name and the common age is 57 years).

So it’s safe to say “Bobbie” is an unusual name, and that is that.

Over the years my name has been mangled quite a bit, from the masculine “Bobby” to the alternative female “Bobbi”. I also oftentimes get the email typo of one more o, one less b; for the most part I choose to ignore these and hope the sender goes away. That said, I wasn’t really particularly particular about how people spelled my name (with the exception of that last) until I read Freakonomics.

Freakonomics has a pretty good chapter on Correlation vs. Causality, particularly around naming conventions. The main anecdote is about a man who named his sons Winner and Loser, and the indication that the son named Loser had an extremely successful life, whilst the son named Winner had an extremely unsuccessful one. There is no causality in naming. However it also had a second anecdote, and a study, around names given to female children. Specifically, names that one would associate with strippers.

The idea was thus: if I name my daughter, say, “Bambi” or “Sugar” or something like that, am I dooming her to life on the pole? The short answer is no, you are not. By virtue of naming your daughter anything like that (there is a third indication of a daughter named Temptress who indeed had a pretty name-similar life) you are not going to ensure she ends up with a job whose uniform consists of two ounces of elastic and slightly more than that of glitter. But there’s still a good chance it will happen. Why? Because the parent who names their kid something like that is also probably not going to make sure she gets home in time for a curfew, or is getting her homework done. It’s the correlation – the fact that a parent who names their kid something like that isn’t likely to be hammering on the grades – rather than the causality that drives the preponderance of “Crystals” and the like to the pasties.

As part of this chapter in Freakonomics, there is a list of the top 10 names found amongst strippers at time of publication. The name “Bobbi” – with an “I” – is on that list. The name “Bobbi” with an “I” has a common age of 39. That means those Bobbi’s were born in 1975 or thereabouts, and Freakonomics was published in 2005, with data from studies probably the year previous, and so I think it’s entirely reasonable that their stripper population was about 29 at the time.

Since reading that I’ve made it a point to educate people on the value of the “e”. I don’t look good in glitter.

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