How Black Are Lakisha and Jamal? Racial Perceptions from Names Used in Correspondence Audit Studies

S. Michael Gaddis

Sociological Science, September 6, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a19



Online correspondence audit studies have emerged as the primary method to examine racial discrimination. Although audits use distinctive names to signal race, few studies scientifically examine data regarding the perception of race from names. Different names treated as black or white may be perceived in heterogeneous ways. I conduct a survey experiment that asks respondents to identify the race they associate with a series of names. I alter the first names given to each respondent and inclusion of last names. Names more commonly given by highly educated black mothers (e.g., Jalen and Nia) are less likely to be perceived as black than names given by less educated black mothers (e.g., DaShawn and Tanisha). The results suggest that a large body of social science evidence on racial discrimination operates under a misguided assumption that all black names are alike, and the findings from correspondence audits are likely sensitive to name selection.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
S. Michael Gaddis: Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

Acknowledgements: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago, IL. Larry D. Schoen provided access to birth record data from New York. Anup Das, Qing Zheng, Betsy Cliff, and Neala Berkowski served as excellent research assistants on this project. I also thank Shawn Bauldry, Colleen Carey, Philip Cohen, Jonathan Daw, René Flores, Devah Pager, Lincoln Quillian, Charles Seguin, and Ashton Verdery for their helpful comments.

  • Citation: Gaddis, S. Michael. 2017. “How Black Are Lakisha and Jamal? Racial Perceptions from Names Used in Correspondence Audit Studies.” Sociological Science 4: 469-489.
  • Received: May 18, 2017
  • Accepted: June 12, 2017
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a19

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