The Strange German Disease Called "Kevinism": Can a Lame Name Mess Up Your Life?

By Sarah Zhang | February 1, 2012 8:33 am

spacing is important Young German Kevins are a few decades behind the U.S. trend.

Another day, another crazy German noun: Kevinismus, which basically means, “You’re named Kevin? Sucks to be you.” According to a study of interactions on the German dating site eDarling, online daters don’t even bother to click on the profiles of users with names that seem foreign and gauche to German ears, like Kevin. The authors suggest that this online neglect due to their unpopular names mirrors lifelong social neglect, which is also responsible for making Kevins smoke more, get less education, and have lower self-esteem.

That all sounds quite dire, but we’re gonna have to bust out the “correlation does not imply causation” card here. While exotic baby names may seem like a disease that most commonly afflicts celebrities, in Germany it’s really about the other end of the economic spectrum. An article on Kevinism [note: this article contains a lot of German] in Die Welt quotes sociologist Jürgen Gerhards, who asserts that Anglo-American names (Mandy, Justin, Angelina to name a few more) are a lower-class phenomenon. It seems that no one has actually crunched the numbers to prove that, but jokes like “Only druggies and Easterners are named Kevin” suggest he’s on to something. (Any Germans want to weigh in?) It seems very possible that German Kevins’ smoking and lack of education has as much to do with their family background as it does with their name.

Several years ago, Freakonomics popularized a study on the causes and consequences of black- versus white-sounding names, whose key conclusion is that parents who name their kid Jake are quite different from the parents who name their kid DeShawn. Yes, Jake will probably be more successful, but he is also likely to have had wealthier parents and grown up behind a white picket fence. In short, name is a sign, more than a cause, of difference. There may be a similar distinction between Kevin and Alexander, the most positive name according to the German study. The authors excluded all non-white-seeming names to get around potential racial bias in their dataset, but the socioeconomic problem remains entangled. While the paper claims to have controlled for economic class, self-reported income on online-dating profiles is, well, notoriously unreliable. It also uses a person’s own income rather than parental income, which is a better indicator of the socioeconomic class someone grew up in.

So if you’re named Kevin, that probably won’t hold you back much. But then, that also means you had parents who were the type to name you Kevin, which is another story.

At least in Germany.

Image via The Baby Name Wizard

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
  • http://twitter.com/skdh Sabine Hossenfelder

    So I’m German and (presently) live in Germany and I don’t know anybody who is named Kevin, Mandy, Justin or Angelina. I know a lot of Jürgens though ;o) I would guess we count as middle class and so do pretty much all people I know. I am very skeptic about the hypothesis that the first name messes up your life in Germany. Using first names is in Germany, still, reserved for people who know each other well (friends, family members). While it would appear on your CV of course, it might very well be that the people on your workplace exclusively address you by “Herr/Frau X” once you’re older than, say, 18 or so.  

    • http://twitter.com/settostun Amos Zeeberg

      Thanks for the ethnological (albeit anecdotal) info. Didn’t realize first names were treated differently over there. 

      • River Williamson

         Seriously.  It’s all surnames all the time.  Given names are far too personal.  This was a lesson that my German instructor drilled into our heads so that we would not seem impolite should we visit Germany.

  • sws

    It is a bit more complicated than that, because the English names are more common in former East Germany. So you also have to control for the dislike of “Ossis” and “Wessis”, who both still look down on each other. 

    • yogi

      Bust that´s not the case anymore. Berlin is the capital since 1989 (it is in the east) and while there are not enough jobs in the east country side the “Ossis” move to the west and fit in. In south or north of Germany Ossi and Wessi was never a point of discussion.

  • http://twitter.com/Yogzotot Sven Rudloff

    sws is right – English names were far more common in former East Germany than West Germany, with this trend also continuing well into after the reunification. Kevin especially surged as a first name due to the popularity of the movie “Home Alone” (1990), literally called “Kevin home alone” in the German translation.

    So there certainly is the Freakonomics issue of a name being a likely sign of a potential difference (here potentially West Germans looking down on stereotypical “backwater” East Germans, signified by their English first names), but not the cause of it. However, while Sabine is right that you are much less likely on first-name basis in most traditional German companies, people and employers still well know your first name and may judge your application / you accordingly nevertheless.

  • Giwimu

    A quick note from Germany: I remember that a few years ago I read studies that people with lower income tend to give their children names from moviefigures, pop stars, etc.. Names like Kevin are coming from there.

  • Michelle M

    I really wish parents would pay more attention to what kinds of problems their children will have if they are named strangely or if they have a name that is misspelled, either intentionally or accidentally. As a teacher I have run across a litany of names that the parents had burdened their child with, thinking these were great names. the child was mocked and learned to hate his or her name, and often would insist on a nickname.

    • Michelle M

      That is supposed to be a capital T at the beginning of the last sentence. Apparently you can’t edit comments if you see a mistake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Erik.Antone.Stensland Erik Stensland

    I am currently living in Bavaria, and the use of surnames is not as common, equally so with the formal use of Sie in German when referring to a formal acquaintance. Although, I must admit, I am not aware of a single person that has the name Kevin, or in fact any of the other mentioned names. It all comes down to where you live in Germany, it is only a fraction bigger than the US state of Oregon, but it has about 80,000,000 people residing in it, thus the cultural divides are strong, even when you are only talking about crossing from one side of Ulm to the other. (Ulm is split down the middle by a river, Bavaria on one side, Baden Wurttemberg on the other.)

    • yogi

      Yes, I NEVER knew a person named “Kevin”. I live in Munich. I think it might be a phanomen mostly in east-Berlin?

  • Cdv

    Interesting. Sonething similar here in Japan . Our first names usually using Kanji (Chinese characters) have had meanings. Nowadays, especially among relatively uneducated social groups, there are many (majority?) children with names that have no literate meaning but only “sounds” . Sounds that are either girlish or boyish, usually originating from a manga story cast .

  • Frankgarrett127

    You can fuck yourself

  • http://kldotcl.wordpress.com KeLópez

    I’m not German. I’ve been sent to this article. Why!

  • yogi

    I, as a German, jump in. It has nothing at all to do with rassism or anything like it. Native Germans with lower education gave their children these names. But probably the “Kevinism -discussion” all over the media, might prevent further exotic name-giving..

    What made it acutally “a thing” in the first place was, that these children often came form deprived areas or had problems like delinquency.
    Lower educated parents call their children “Kevin” or other
    exotic-sounding-names, more often – at least: that´s what everybody
    thinks!
    I really feel sorry for people with names like Jaqueline or
    Kevin. But on the other hand I don´t know any “Kevins” so I couldn´t
    proove the point nor name an opposite example. There actually aren´t that many
    “Kevins”.

    It is not really the name “Kevin” -which I think might come from the movie: home alone” -that could have inspired teenage-mothers.. just one try of an interpretation of the phenomen. Maybe the deprived-area-people do have a “harder time fitting in” and therfore feel the need to rebellion more often because the might want to change society. They might want to rebell in things like names as well?

  • Panchita

    Que Que What ?;o

  • http://www.facebook.com/kassonk Kevin Kasson

    My name is Kevin, I am 3/4 German, speak the language, studied in Germany at the Gymnasium, and have relatives in Hanover & Pegnitz. I have three college degrees, one a Masters in Science, and I work at a University. This is a rather verruckt article. Seems culturally biased. So much for European integration?

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