A Judge Named Sue

A month ago the Vancouver Sun picked up on study done by two South Carolina economists at Clemson University, Bentley Coffey and Patrick A. McLaughlin, entitled “Do Masculine Names Help Female Lawyers Become Judges? Evidence from South Carolina” (American Law and Economics Review, January 2009, 11 (1), pg. 112-133 — behind paywall). The gist of the article, if there can be such a thing in a heavily statistics-based study, is that in South Carolina a woman lawyer has a better chance of advancing in her career and of becoming a judge if she has a “masculine name.”

I thought that it might be amusing to examine the first names of the judges of a Canadian bench — I chose the Ontario Superior Court — to see, in a casual way, what that might suggest. But before I look at that bench, I should give you a somewhat better sense of the Coffey-McLaughlin paper.

The study made use of South Carolina bar membership records and state voter registration lists, which identify voters by name and sex. The “nominal masculinity” or femininity of a name is determined from the ratio of men to women who use a given name according to voter lists. The authors conclude:

The Portia Hypothesis tested in this paper is that females [sic] with masculine names fare better in legal careers than females with feminine names.

. . . The SC Bar data indicate that nominal masculinity is significantly higher in the judiciary; however, these data cannot pin down whether the higher nominal masculinity in members with judicial status is due to the Portia Hypothesis or an overrepresentation of males. Expanding the scope to voters allows us to control for gender, and our results support the Portia Hypothesis. This result seems to be robust across different tests constructed from different assumptions.

In more detail:

The probability of any woman becoming a judge, regardless of her name, is virtually the same as the probability that a woman with an extremely feminine name becomes a judge. Changing a girl’s name from something fairly feminine, like “Sue” (which is less masculine than the mean female voter’s name), to a more gender-ambiguous name, like “Kelly,” increases her probability of becoming a judge by roughly 5%.16 This effect may appear small, but it is highly nonlinear in nominal masculinity; changing a girl’s name from “Sue” to a predominantly male name, like “Cameron” (75% of those named “Cameron” in South Carolina’s voting population are male), increases her probability of becoming a judge by a factor of 3 (roughly). Moreover, changing a girl’s name from “Sue” to “Bruce” (99% of those named “Bruce” in South Carolina’s voting population are males) increases her probability of becoming a judge by a factor of 5 (roughly).

I cannot test any aspect of this hypothesis against Ontario data, if only because my knowledge of statistics is weaker than a wet noodle. And, of course, I don’t have access at the moment to the necessary sets of base data. However, in order for the hypothesis to be true here in any sense, there would have to be at least one name, and preferably more, on the list of women judges that could be identified as in any way “masculine.” Naming and gender are tricky matters, governed by culture and class, and so I’ll leave it up to you to judge by your own lights which, if any, of the names of Ontario’s women judges are masculine.

On to the Ontario data, then.

There are 312 judges on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, 102 of whom are women. Their names are set out alphabetically below; when more than one judge bears the same name, the number is shown in parentheses.

Alexandra
Alison
Andra
Andromache
Anne (4)
Barbara
Beth
Bonnie (3)
Caroline
Carolyn
Catherine
Cheryl (2)
Cory
Dannielle
Darla
Deena
Denise
Elizabeth (2)
Ellen
Eva
Faye
Frances
Francine
Gertrude
Giovanna
Gisele
Gladys
Gloria
Harriet
Heather (2)
Heidi
Helen (3)
Jane (3)
Janet
Jayne
Jennifer (2)
Joan
Johanne (2)
Julianne
Julie
Katherine (2)
Kelly
Kendra
Kim
Linda
Lois
Lorna-Lee
Louise
Lydia
Lynn
Lynne
Margaret (2)
Maria
Mary (4)
Mary Jo
Mary Lou
Maureen
Michelle
Monique
Myrna
Nancy (3)
Nola
Patricia
Ramona
Renee
Ruth
Sandra
Sarah
Sherrill
Silja
Susan (3)
Susanne
Tamarin
Templeton
Thea
Theresa
Wailan
Wendy
Wilma

The names of the male judges are, if anything, even more “conventional” within Ontario’s Western European tradition. There are 17 Johns, 14 Roberts, 12
Davids, and 9 Peters, for example. (Click here to see a table of the men’s names.)

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Comments

  1. Fascinating, Simon.

    I guess my statistical knowledge is hazy too – ‘highly nonlinear in nominal masculinity’ tells me little about the number involved, I fear.

    But did they look at the names of judges and the proportion of women and men in the population who had those names, then decide that the judges who had those names divided by sex in the same proportion? Or did they have independent evidence of the sex of the judges? It seems to me (subject to what may be low-level education) that doing the former would tell you nothing about who is actually a woman judge. That 25% of the people named Cameron in SC are women does not mean that 25% of the judges so named are women.

    Out of the 79 women judges’ names in the Ontario list, I would classify only maybe 4 or 5 as gender-neutral, and then not 50/50, probably. So parents thinking of naming their baby girl with a judicial appointment in mind probably don’t have to worry too much about this factor. OTOH I don’t see a single Portia on the Ontario bench …

  2. John, the investigators did know which judges were male and which female; as I understand it, they were able to factor out a sufficient number of other variables to be able to say that a “masculine” name was a significant factor in a woman’s judicial position. It seems that of the 156 male judges and 52 female judges, some were appointed and some elected. I have an easier time understanding how a “masculine” name could possibly influence voters than I have understanding what would be going on with an appointment committee. But the authors do address that issue in the article.

    What interests me is what our run of judges’ names might suggest about the racial and immigrant makeup of the bench. Thus far there’s no significant representation from Amir, Umberto, Jyoti, Akanke, or Xiuxiu (which is not the same thing as saying that there are no minority judges, I understand).