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Given Names as Indicator for Measuring Social Change

Project coordinators

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gerhards
Prof. Dr. Gert Wagner (German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) Berlin, SOEP)

Project researcher

Denis Huschka, M.A.

Research question

Given names can be seen as useful indicators to monitor processes of social change. Due to the unavailability of appropriate data and privacy security restrictions given names have not been widely analysed until now. The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) provides an outstanding and usable data base. Alternatively to so far used register data the SOEP offers background information (education, occupation, sex, religion, individual values, political orientations etc.) for named persons as well as for the name givers, the parents. This information can be used to analyse the determinants of changing naming patterns.

Originally the given names were surveyed to enable the right linkage between the household members in the SOEP over time (SOEP is a longitudinal survey of households), but they never have been in the focus of a special analysis. Using SOEP data we analyse a) whether there are secularization processes (measurement: the amount of first names of Christian origin), b) whether the importance of family relationship is decreasing (measurement: number of children who are named after their parents), c) whether social class is loosing its importance (measurment: homogenity of names in social classes), d) whether there are processes of individualization (measurment: heterogenity of names) e) whether there are processes of globalization of culture. f) whether there are gender differences and h) whether first names can be seen as an indicator of acculturation of several migrant sub-populations in Germany. The mentioned processes can be specified when looking at differences between social strata, the urban-rural split, the East-West split and ethnical groups.



01.04.2004 – 31.03.2006


The project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation).


Project documentation


  • Gerhards, Jürgen (2014): First Names and Globalization Processes: Lessons from Germany. In: Nigel Thrift, Adam Tickell & Steve Woodgar (eds.): Globalization in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming).
  • Gerhards, Jürgen & Silke Hans (2009): From Hasan to Herbert: Name Giving Patterns of Immigrant Parents between Acculturation and Ethnic Maintenance. American Journal of Sociology 114 (4): 1102-1128.

  • Huschka, Denis, Jürgen Gerhards & Gert W. Wagner (2009): Naming Differences in Divided Germany. Names 57 (4): 208–228.

  • Gerhards, Jürgen & Silke Hans (2008): Akkulturation und die Vergabe von Vornamen: Welche Namen wählen Migranten für ihre Kinder und warum? [Acculuration and the Choice of First Names]. In: Frank Kalter (ed.): Migration und Integration. Sonderheft 48 der Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, S. 465-487.

  • Gerhards, Jürgen (2005): The Name Game. Cultural Modernization and First Names. New Brunswick/London: Transaction Publishers (revised English version of Gerhards 2003).

  • Gerhards, Jürgen (2003): Die Moderne und ihre Vornamen. Eine Einladung in die Kultursoziologie [Modernity and First Names. An Invitation to Cultural Sociolgy.] Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag.

  • Gerhards, Jürgen (2003): Geschlechtsklassifikation durch Vornamen und Geschlechtsrollen im Wandel [Gender Classification by First Names and the Change of Gender Roles]. Berliner Journal für Soziologie 13: 59-76.

  • Gerhards, Jürgen (2003): Globalisierung der Alltagskultur zwischen Verwestlichung und Kreolisierung: Das Beispiel Vornamen [Globalisation of Every Day Life. Between Westernisation and Creolisation: The Example of First Names]. Soziale Welt 54: 145-162.