In generations past, was it advantageous for a black man to have a distinctively black name?
Yes, according to a study published recently in the journal Explorations in Economic History.
Researchers Lisa D. Cook, Trevon D. Logan, and John M. Parmanc analyzed over 3 million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina from 1802 to 1970. They looked specifically at the life expectancy of men with the following distinctively black names:
- Abe, Abraham
- Perlie, Purlie, Pearlie
- Presley, Presly
What did they find?
That black men with these names lived more than a full year longer (on average) than other black men. In fact, according to the abstract, “[a]s much as 10% of the historical between-race mortality gap would have been closed if every black man was given a black name.”
So what’s behind this beneficial effect?
It’s hard to say, but Lisa D. Cook believes that the black men with Biblical names specifically could have been “held to a higher standard in academic and other activities […] and had stronger family, church or community ties,” and that this could have played a part in their relative longevity.
Studies of modern black names, in contrast, regularly find that such names are a hindrance in the workplace, in academia, etc. My most recent post about this is: Men with “Black” Names Seen as Aggressive, Low Status.