A Lack of Security or of Cultural Capital? Acculturative Conservatism in the Naming Choices of Early 20th-Century U.S. Jews
50 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2014
Date Written: September 9, 2014
Research demonstrates a marked tendency towards “acculturative conservatism,” whereby immigrants select given names for their children that are “established” -- i.e., popular in an earlier generation of the native population. Two explanations for this tendency are: (a) Immigrants lack the cultural capital to discern which mainstream cultural practices are fashionable; and (b) Immigrants are insecure in their membership in the host society, and they use established names to signal such membership. This paper develops a novel analytic strategy for distinguishing these two mechanisms and uses it to examine unique data on given names among World War II Jewish servicemen and compare them to given names in the general U.S. population. We first demonstrate that the parents of these servicemen exhibited a pattern of acculturation that was (a) selective (in avoiding popular native names with strong Christian associations, and embracing certain unpopular native names) and (b) conservative (in their tendency to favor established popular names relative to newly-popular names). We then show that these parents favored those established names whose popularity was rising and avoided those that whose popularity was declining. This suggests that Jewish immigrants had the mainstream cultural capital to discern recent fashion, but deliberately chose established names so as to express their membership in the U.S. society.
Keywords: Immigration, fashion, acculturation, American Jews, naming
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