Black men who have names such as Moses or Elijah and other historical names actually live longer, according to a study by the Michigan State University. They say that these names were associated with an additional one year of life.

The researchers speculate that these names allow these people to be seen in such higher regard academically and in other aspects of life, giving these men a sense of empowerment. These men are also more likely to have stronger family and community ties that help them endure discrimination.

“I think the teachers in these one-room schoolhouses – teachers who also taught Sunday school – probably placed implicit expectations on students with these distinctive names,” adds MSU economist Lisa Cook. “And I think that gave them a status that they otherwise would not have had.”


This charts shows the life expectancy of black males and black names, 1802-1970. Chart by the Michigan State University.

This chart shows the life expectancy of black males and black names, 1802-1970. Chart by the Michigan State University.

This study, the first one to explore the impact of having distinctive names, involved investigating three million death certificates dating back in 1802 through 1970 from four US states namely Alabama, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. The names included Biblical names such as Abraham, Isaac, and Booker.

They found that these black men with historically distinctive names lived one year longer. Meanwhile, those with modern names did not only live shorter but also suffer more discrimination.

Apparently, men with names such as Lakisha and Jamal are discriminated more than the rest. Unfortunately, men with these distinctive modern names face discrimination when they look for jobs or seek mentors when they are still in college. Even those educated men who seek funding for a research still suffer from the same consequences of having these modern names.

“When people see a name that’s foreign or strange to them in their profession, implicitly they shut down, as these studies have shown,” Cook says. “Then there is an extra layer of bias suggesting that this is possibly a female, poor or somehow unqualified candidate. Research has found that in the United States it’s associated with racial discrimination and in Britain it’s associated with class discrimination.”