4 Most Popular Names in Corporate America Carry an Unsettling Message

A new Ernst & Young study of corporate directorship has uncovered a stark statistic. According to a report in the Washington Post, there are more men on corporate boards named John, Robert, William or James than there are women on boards altogether. In the words of an Ernst & Young executive quoted in the article:

"The idea that we can essentially pick out four common mens' names at random shows there’s a long way to go."


Pick out "at random"? If that's Ernst & Young's idea of a random sample, I don't want them anywhere near my accounting. What they picked out were the four most common names in their sample -- and, not coincidentally, America's top four male names for a spate of decades from the 1910s through the 1940s.

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From the 21st-century perspective, four baby names may sound like an incredibly small demographic slice. We live in a world where names are selected as distinctive style statements, for boys and girls alike. If you add up today's four most common male names, Noah, Liam, Jacob and Mason, you'll account for just 4 percent of American boys.

That wasn't always the case. Parents used to stick more closely to the classic English regal names, especially for boys. The average corporate director is 68 years old, born back in 1946-47. In those years, the top four names accounted for a whopping 19 percent of all boys born. They account for the same percentage of directors in the Ernst & Young study.

In other words, the name stat says that in this sample of very senior business executives, men outnumber women 5 to 1. That figure may be discouraging, but not surprising.

The study's authors were trying to drive a point home. They hoped that couching the statistics in baby name terms would make the gender imbalance more shocking. For me, though, the message that John, Robert, William and James delivered wasn't about gender at all, but about age.

More from The Stir: The Most Common Baby Name in America Revealed

Consider that Michael was America's #1 male name for almost half a century starting in 1954, but it doesn't even crack the top four names on corporate boards. And of course, when it comes to workplace power, age and gender are closely linked. In 1970, when the typical director might have been pursuing an MBA or JD, only 4 percent of those degrees were awarded to women. Increasing board diversity is bound to remain a struggle if your dominant name curve looks like this:

This article originally appeared on Baby Name Wizard.

Are you surprised by the reason for all the Johns and Roberts in boardrooms?

For more great baby name ideas, visit Baby Name Wizard.


Image via Pressmaster/shutterstock; Pressmaster/shutterstock

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