A Lack of Security or of Cultural Capital? Acculturative Conservatism in the Naming Choices of Early 20th-Century US Jews
Author(s)Zhang, Jiayin; Obukhova, Elena; Zuckerman Sivan, Ezra W
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Past research demonstrates a marked tendency toward “acculturative conservatism,” whereby immigrants select given names for their children that are established—that is, popular in an earlier generation of the native population. Prior research has generally understood such conservatism as reflecting a lack of “mainstream” cultural capital; established names are popular among immigrants because they are unaware of current fashion. But we argue and show that even when they are aware of current fashion, immigrants may favor established names to affirm their membership in the host society. Comparing given names among World War II Jewish servicemen (born around 1918) with given names in the general US population in 1920, we show that the parents of these servicemen exhibited a pattern of acculturation that was (1) selective (in avoiding popular native names with strong Christian associations, and embracing certain unpopular native names) and (2) conservative (in their tendency to favor established names relative to newly popular names). In addition, our key finding is that these parents favored those established names whose popularity was rising and avoided those whose popularity was declining. This suggests that Jewish immigrants were aware of mainstream fashion, but deliberately chose established names so as to express their membership in American society. More generally, this result indicates that the acculturation process is as much about gaining social acceptance as about becoming adept in the mainstream culture.
DepartmentSloan School of Management
Oxford University Press
Zhang, Jiayin; Zuckerman, Ezra W. and Obukhova, Elena. “A Lack of Security or of Cultural Capital? Acculturative Conservatism in the Naming Choices of Early 20th-Century US Jews.” Social Forces 94, no. 4 (April 2016): 1509–1538 © 2016 The Author(s)