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Naming your son 'Junior'? You might be part of an 'honor culture'

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What do executions, joining the military and naming your son “Junior” have in common?

They’re all more common in the South and the West, researchers found, and they’re all tied to a “culture of honor,” where reputation is at the core of how people see themselves.

In a study published online this week in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, University of Oklahoma researchers tracked the most popular names for boys and girls in 1960, 1984 and 2008, checking whether the same names popped up from generation to generation. 

When it came to naming boys, some states were much more likely to recycle the same names than others, they found.

Those same states tended to rank high in military recruitment, execution rates, suicides and other traits that researchers have previously linked to “honor ideology.” Men in such cultures are expected to be strong, brave and willing to protect themselves and their families; women are expected to be loyal and chaste, University of Oklahoma researchers wrote.

The study also found that in “honor states,” boys were more likely to get recycled names after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a possible reflection of the way threats are taken in honor cultures, they wrote. In other states, naming didn’t change after the attacks.

On top of that, researchers also asked men directly about whether they planned to give a son their own name or that of one of their forefathers, and compared that with their attitudes about whether a “real man” is tough and fearless, a scale meant to measure beliefs in honor. Once again, researchers found that the two were tied together.

A name "represents that person’s reputation -- how he or she is known in a community -- and all of the respect, status or infamy that goes along with that reputation,” University of Oklahoma associate professor Ryan Brown told the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

"Our baby naming practices can shed light on what we care about, in a subtle way, and they might also serve as a mechanism for transmitting our cultural values from one generation to the next,” Brown added.

What about girls? University of Oklahoma researchers found no link between “honor culture” and generations of women sharing the same name. Overall, they found it was much rarer for female names to resurface from generation to generation. Researchers said the pattern suggested that there was still a “special value placed on boys” in honor cultures in the U.S.

The only female name that popped up across the decades was Elizabeth, according to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. For boys, the most commonly recycled names were Michael, James, William, Robert and Christopher.

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