, Muskogee, OK


June 4, 2014

Author: Names influence success

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would still smell just as sweet, but is that necessarily true? Princeton professor Gregory Clark would probably beg to differ. In his latest book, “The Son Also Rises” (Princeton University Press, 2014), Clark asserts that our surnames can predict our family’s long-term social standing and possibly even the amount of hard work or determination exerted by singular individuals within a given family.

While Clark does acknowledge that certain groups continue to experience slower social mobility based on ethnicity, it is the claim that one’s last name carries a greater weight in ensuring social status that is most profound. His conclusion, elegantly argued using the statistical regression to the mean over the long term, is that it is possible to strongly predict who is likely to have the wherewithal to strive for success and the talent to prosper based on family background. There is a difference then between social mobility, which is fluid, and social standing, which is more constant, and Clark argues this position has rarely been studied.

One example Clark uses is the Pepys family, whose unusual surname was made famous by the British diarist, Samuel Pepys. Because of the rarity of the name, it was easy to trace the small number of descendants. One of the Pepys entered Cambridge University in 1496, starting a tradition that encouraged 56 family members to also attend either Cambridge or Oxford during the last 17 generations. The statistical average for this family size should be only 3 or 4 Oxbridge graduates. Today out of the remaining 18 Pepyses alive, four are medical doctors, and during the last decade, decedents have left estates averaging over 416,000 pounds or 5 times that of the average estate in England. It seems that although Pepys is a rare name, it is a productive one.

Lest we be depressed about the chances of achieving upward social mobility in coming generations, Clark argues that nature is the great equalizer. Based on his findings, he asserts that over a 300-year period, it is likely the rich and poor will switch places through the randomness of luck and choice. Our long-term social standing, however, is affected more by our genetic predisposition to a universal social law. Clark’s advice for us would seem to be choose a mate wisely, keep up the hard work, and just wait for the other factors to kick in.

Surnames carry a prominence all their own in the culinary world. Try the following menu for a summertime book study group and increase the status of your name.

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