Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Common Names for Serial Killers

Hello, readers!

Today's post takes a bit of a turn from previous writing, as I'm incorporating one of my other major interests: serial killers. I'm a huge fan of true crime media, and over the past few months of traveling I've binged crime documentaries, podcasts (My Favorite Murder and Last Podcast on the Left in particular), and dramatizations on the lives and deeds of some of the most deranged murderers in history. Of course, I've been keeping an ear out for name-related trivia as well.

Edmund Emil Kemper III, the "Co-Ed Killer"

Years ago, I read an article online that claimed Wayne was more popular as a middle name among criminals (here's a more recent article on the "Wayne Theory") than in the general population. While there's no real evidence of this phenomenon - the United States doesn't collect or publish data on middle names, as far as I can tell - the idea that one's name might predict later criminal behavior was fascinating to me. Family relationships, class, financial status, race, gender, and environment all factor in to the likelihood of someone becoming a criminal - could names indicate these factors early on?

I'm not going to draw any dramatic conclusions until I can look at real data and sift through the complicated links between predictive factors for criminal behavior, but some theories have come to mind. What if men of a certain personality - hyper-masculine, traditional, intimidating - named their sons after a hero of mid-century cinema, John Wayne? And what if these men were more likely to raise children who would exhibit criminal behaviors?

What else can name data tell us about "deviants"? I decided to look at the data on the first, middle, and adopted names of serial killers in the United States. Using this Wikipedia entry (obviously not complete, but a decent representation) and discarding the names of female killers, I came up with a group of 201 names.

These are men of varying ages, mostly white, with some black and Latino individuals. A majority of these men were active in the twentieth century. Most common first/middle names:

12   - Joseph 
11   - Edward
10* - John 
10* - Richard 
10   - David
10   - Robert
9     - Lee 
8*   - Michael 
8     - Charles
7     - William
6*   - James 
6     - Anthony
6     - Wayne 

* = One name would be added if nicknames were to be included

Of the 13 names listed above, 11 fall into the 25 most popular names for men in the United States over the past century: Joseph, Edward, John, Richard, David, Robert, Michael, Charles, William, James, Anthony. The other two names rank much lower for the general male population versus the serial killer summation: Lee and Wayne.

Wayne! Based on my not-super-scientific data, there may be a correlation between criminals and use of the name. I'm eager to access real data someday and follow this theory.

Lee's popularity over time is directly related to the Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee - many Southern parents chose the name Lee to honor him in the decades after the war. The name has been decreasing in popularity since 1900, and since many of the killers listed were born in the twentieth century, it may indicate that their families had stronger-than-average ties to the South, or the tradition of using honorific names. Which brings me to another interesting finding...

The name community uses the term "honorific name" to refer to the practice of choosing a name for a child that celebrates a relative, friend, or place important to the parents. This could be anything from using Charlotte to honor Uncle Charlie, Ruby to honor Grandma's birthstone, Denali in honor of her parents' honeymoon site, etc. However, I'm going to use the term here to specifically refer to names directly taken from fathers and grandfathers, names that end in Jr., III, IV, etc.

Out of 201 names, 23 of these serial killers have Jr/III/IV at the end of their names. That's over 11% of them! This number seems particularly high, but the only article I found that listed data on the percentage of honorific names in the population referred to studies from the 1940's. At that time, 3% of the general population was named for a father, and that number has been supposedly decreasing over time. But among serial murderers, the tradition of naming a child after the father seems to be alive and well (excuse the terrible joke).

Using honorific names for children is a practice much more common in "honor states," where an emphasis on "traditional family values" is at play (these values include adhering to assigned gender roles, identifying as a Christian, and highlighting nationalism). Often, these communities also exhibit higher rates of patriarchal thought and the elevation of stereotypical masculinity. Honor states mostly include Western and Southern states - another connection to the Southernness of Lee and my John Wayne theory mentioned earlier.

What's the takeaway from this? Well, since it's correlative data and a small sample size, not much. But there's enough here to keep me asking questions... what questions would you want to ask?


Here are some interesting articles I referenced in this post:

The Wayne Theory - Heather Sutfin, Sword and Scale

Deciding on a baby name? Steer clear of these because they’re the most common among MURDERERS - Hannah Ferrett, The Sun

Babies Named After Dads: Which States Have More (And Why) - Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

Junior Status: Sharing dad's name a mixed bag - Melissa Dahl, NBC News

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sesame Street Names

Hello, readers!

"Can you tell me how to get / How to get to Sesame Street?" are lyrics that have rung through many American homes since the groundbreaking children's show debuted in 1969. I myself was an avid fan (as well as a member of the Barney generation) and I got to thinking how many people grew up with the knowledge of these characters in the back of their minds.

Sesame Street is known for including characters of all races, genders, abilities, cultures, etc., making their Muppet names pretty diverse. I'll be including names of the Muppets and not the humans here.

Everyone's favorite grouch was named for a particularly awful waiter that Jim Henson met in Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan - I wonder if his inspiration ever figured it out? This handsome choice is an excellent cross-cultural pick, and it's never been far from the top 200.

Unfortunately, this adorable old-fashioned name has been claimed by the furry red Muppet, one of the most popular characters in the show's history. Elmo ranked on the top 1000 until 1957, but it's barely been recorded for babies during the 1990's and 2000's.

Partially created as a counterpart to Elmo, vivacious Zoe debuted in 1993, during the period where her lovely name was skyrocketing up the charts. Today, both Zoe and Zoey are popular (along with Chloe and Khloe), with no sign of decline.

Rarely seen without his best friend and roommate (below), Ernie is an original Muppet character - with more than a few memorable songs over the seasons. His name, a popular nickname for Ernest, ranks in the top 500 in the UK but has yet to bring its retro charm overseas.

The serious half of the duo, Bert is particularly fond of collecting bottle caps and advocating on behalf of pigeons (something he and I have in common). Though Brett and Brent have had fans over the years, Bert still feels incomplete and a bit awkward.

Friendly and adventurous Grover has been beloved on Sesame Street since his debut in 1970. His name is worth a second look: though it fits in well with popular -er names and occupational picks (like Parker and Cooper), this adorable choice has never achieved the same level of popularity.

A relatively new Muppet, Abby Cadabby is a three-year-old fairy with boundless girly-girl energy. Her name is everywhere these days - Abigail is currently at #8, and Abby ranks at #441 - and the nickname is a sweet mix of classic and modern.

She made headlines with her debut in 2015 - this first Muppet with autism, performed by the parent of an autistic child - very important for disability representation! The name Julia has ranked in the top 100 since 1980, and it's a gorgeous choice with even more lovely namesakes and connections.

Worrying and dramatic, Telly's arrival on Sesame Street in 1979 followed another famous TV Telly - Telly Savalas, from the popular series Kojak. In fact, the actor's name directly inspired a blip of Telly's on the top 1000, though the fad was short-lived.

Bilingual Muppet Rosita was one of the first Spanish speaking puppets to grace Sesame Street, and she loves history, geography, and music. Though Rose and Rosalie have gained fans, Rosita is still flying under the radar - but this melodic Latin choice could appeal to many.

The little sister of Snuffy, Alice Snuffleupagus is a smaller character than her brother (not too difficult) but no less cute. The attractive name has been rising through the ranks, currently at #76 - might it one day join style sisters Abigail and Charlotte in the top 10?

All grown up at seven years old, Prairie Dawn has been on Sesame Street since 1971 - and the name has been recorded in the US since 1973. Windswept and winsome, Prairie is a cool yet underused choice that would fit in well with nature and geographical names today.

Elmo's dad Louie first appeared on the show in 2006, as a stay-at-home parent who later joins the military. While Louis (and its spelling variants) has gotten popular, nickname Louie is at the bottom of the top 1000, and adds a more friendly sound to the handsome name.

Elmo's mother Mae also debuted in 2006, as part of a series of videos about families dealing with military deployment. After a 40 year hiatus, magnificent Mae is now jumping back up the popularity charts, appealing to parents who love its simple, retro sound.

A Muppet that debuted this year - Rudy is Abby Cadabby's mischievous younger stepbrother. Though the name has been on the decline, this unisex pick still has a lot of charm. Rudy could also honor a familial Rudolph or Ruth.

Which characters would you add to this list? Tell me in the comments!