new research which examined three million death certificates from 1802 to 1970 revealed that black men with historically distinctive black names such as Elijah and Moses lived a year longer, on average, than the other black men.
The study, co-authored by Michigan State University economist Lisa D. Cook, is one of the first to find benefits of having a racially distinctive name. Other studies that looked at current black names such as Jamal and Lakisha suggest that having these modern-day monikers leads to discrimination.
Cook said a number of studies indicate that modern black names can act as a burden, whereas their findings show that historical black names conveyed a large advantage over a person's lifetime.
Using historical death certificate data from four states Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, the researchers previously established the existence of a set of distinctive names given to black men, mainly in the early 20th century. The names range from Abraham to Booker to Isaac.
The current study examined mortality rates among men with those names. It found that having a distinctive black name added more than one year of life relative to the other black males.
The researchers ruled out socio-economic and environmental factors such as single-parent households, education and occupation.
Many of the distinctive names come from the Bible and possibly denote empowerment. Cook, who has five generations of Baptist ministers in her family, said one theory is that men with these Old Testament names may have been held to a higher standard in academic and other activities, even implicitly, and had stronger family, church or community ties. These stronger social networks could help a person weather negative events throughout his life.
Cook further said when the people see a name that's foreign or strange to them in their profession, implicitly they shut down, as these studies have shown. Then there is an extra layer of bias suggesting this is possibly a female, poor or somehow unqualified candidate.
Research has found that it is associated with racial discrimination in the United States and class discrimination in Britain, he added.