Names and Character

September 8, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tough uses the word “grit” a lot.
In today’s Times (here), Joe Nocera writes about a book, How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough.  Mr. Tough recommends that schools teach not just reading and math but “character” – traits like “resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism, and ambition.”

In the past few years, some psychologists have published peer-reviewed papers supposedly showing a relation between names and life choices or behavior. Dennis becomes dentist, George becomes a geologist and moves to Georgia.  It sounds silly, and it is. The research doesn’t hold up.  Andrew Gelman (here) has written about it.  So have I (here).

But even when you know the systematic evidence, the anecdotal data jumps out at you.  Like Mr. Tough and grit. 

Having endured “I presume” my entire life, I sympathize with Mr. Tough for the “jokes” he must have tired of long ago.  I just hope that the research on grit and schools is better than the research on names and personal choices.

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