Posted by Jay Livingston
A little data ’bout Jacques and Diane
Two French kids taking the college entrance exam.
Over in France it’s known as le bac
Diane often gets très bien, not so much Jacques.
The baccalauréat exam taken by French students at the end of high school serves as qualification for university admissions and scholarships and for certain jobs. Those who pass at the highest level get très bien. The other levels are bièn, assez bièn, pass, and not pass. For some reason, the government publishes the results for each prénom. This year, 89 students named Jacques took the exam. Of these, 75 passed, but only 11 of them at the très bien level.
Here are the results for the names with the highest percent of très bien. (Only names with 100 or more are included. Sixty-seven percent of those named Pavel, Louis-Raphael, and Hans got très bien, but there were only three of each.)
And here are the names with the lowest proportion of très biens.
The year-to-year consistency is striking. In 2016, Diane was fourth highest in percent of très biens. Last year, she was #2, and in the years before that, #13, #2, and #9. Alice, Josephine, and Clotilde, were also in the top ten last year. At the other end, Jordan, Dylan, Bryan, Anissa, Anthony, and Steven all scored in the lowest ranks this year and last. And to state the obvious, the 584 (of 601) Dylans who scored below très bien this year cannot be the same Dylans as the 956 (of 982) who did so last year.
Social class has much to do with it. The children of the wealthy get educational advantages. They also get different names. Coulmont identifies some upscale names too infrequent to appear in his graphs but which typically have high rates of très bien – Guillemette, Quitterie, Anne-Claire, Sibylle, Marguerite, Domitille. I confess that I am not familiar with the class subtleties of French names. I didn’t even know that Quitterie and Domitille were, in fact, names. And then there were those names familiar to my American ear –Kevin, Cindy, Sandra, Alison, Kelly, in addition to those already mentioned. Why are all the Anglo-name kids sitting in the low end of the scale?
One explanation is that these names are chosen by parents who watch American soap operas on French TV, parents not likely to be found in Bottin Mondain (roughly parallel to the Social Register). Possibly. But that doesn’t explain Kevin, a name that has not appeared on any soap. Maybe Anglo names just have a middlebrow appeal in the same way that French imports like Michelle and Nicole came to enjoy great popularity in the US.
If only we had a breakdown by name of SAT scores, would it show any consistent patterns?.