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

See all articles by Jiayin Zhang

Jiayin Zhang

Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management

Ezra W. Zuckerman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Elena Obukhova

Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University

Date Written: September 9, 2014

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Jiayin and Zuckerman Sivan, Ezra W. and Obukhova, Elena, A Lack of Security or of Cultural Capital? Acculturative Conservatism in the Naming Choices of Early 20th-Century U.S. Jews (September 9, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2507677 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2507677

Jiayin Zhang (Contact Author)

Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management ( email )

Beijing, 100084
China

Ezra W. Zuckerman Sivan

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Elena Obukhova

Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University ( email )

1001 Sherbrooke St. West
Montreal, Quebec H3A1G5 H3A 2M1
Canada
5143985919 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.mcgill.ca/desautels/elena-obukhova

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