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You're in good company John and Sarah

13 September 2013

New Zealand’s 11,805 practising lawyers share 2,316 different first names. Analysis shows that the “top 10” of male and female first names is dominated by what might be called “traditional English” names: John, Sarah, David and Nicola lead the lists.

The table below looks at given first names. Many people choose to be known by a variant of their name or by an entirely different name. Of the 99 lawyers called either Anthony or Antony, 51 prefer to be called “Tony”. And the most popular variation is “Chris”, used by 97 of the 168 Christophers (and three of the 28 Christines: the most popular women’s variation is “Kate”, used by 35 of the 128 women called Katherine, Kathryn, Katie or Kathleen). To keep this concise, we’ve stuck with the name imposed at birth.

Names, of course, come and go. Take “John”. Extremely popular with (male) lawyers – just under 9% of the lawyers admitted in the 1970s and still practising are called John. However, it’s clear that either people called John are now choosing to work elsewhere, or else people just aren’t conferring that name as often any more. Of lawyers who were admitted after 2000 – 46% of all lawyers in practice – only 0.6% are called John.

Women make up 45% of lawyers in practice and 60% of new entrants to the profession, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the number of women being admitted overtook the number of men. The dramatic emergence of women is shown in the table below. “Sarah” pops out of nowhere in the 1990s. The relatively small proportion of women who began practice before then are more likely to have names such as Helen, Margaret and Rosemary.

In the absence of further more detailed research, one “time capsule” exists for lawyers’ first names in New Zealand. The Crown Law list of Queen’s Counsel (with the addition of one name missed out) shows that since 1907 there have been 264 people appointed to the rank. Of these, 29 (11%) have carried the first name “John”. Quite a long way back are David and Robert, each with 11 appointees of that name.

This raises the fascinating question of whether people named John, or Sarah, or (these days) Emma or Jessica, are more likely to become lawyers than choose a career elsewhere. The answer would depend on knowing how many people of each name were born in a particular year and how many ended up as lawyers or in some other career.

That information is not available. The Department of Internal Affairs now releases lists of the most popular first names given to babies each year, but this doesn’t go back nearly far enough. For the record, the most popular baby boys’ names in New Zealand in 2012 were Jack, Oliver, William, Liam and Mason. The most popular baby girls’ names in 2012 were Olivia, Sophie, Emily, Charlotte and Ruby. It will, of course, take at least 20 years before these babies consider a legal career.

Back in 2002, three psychologists at the State University of New York produced an article entitled “Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2002, Vol 82 No 4, 469-487).

Driven by the view that implicit egotism appears to influence major life decisions, they put forward the theory that “people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names”. They pointed to evidence that people named Dennis or Denise were overrepresented among dentists. The researchers had a go at testing this with lawyers, with the hypothesis that people with first names beginning “Law…” might be overrepresented in the legal profession. The problem was that there aren’t too many first names beginning with “Law…” and search engine difficulties meant they abandoned the lawyer research (with the rather petulant comment: “Critics with large amounts of time on their hands are invited to conduct these analyses themselves”).

Within New Zealand’s legal profession, it can be reported, there are 445 lawyers with a first name beginning with “L” (3.8% of all lawyers) and 99 with a first name beginning “La…”. Wikipedia (sometimes good, sometimes bad) provides the information that 2.7% of words in English begin with “L”. The jury may not come back with a guilty verdict.

To round things off, an American law directory called Avvo has analysed 1.5 million lawyer first names dating back to 1808 and produced a number of lists. It is worth recording that the most common American lawyer first name of all time was … John.

Most popular first names of New Zealand lawyers currently practising

Rank

Men

Number

Women

Number

1

John

304

Sarah

152

2

David

293

Nicola

80

3

Michael

242

Susan

77

4

Andrew

195

Catherine

75

5

Peter

191

Jennifer

71

6

Christopher

168

Rebecca

68

7

Richard

168

Anna

64

8

Paul

152

Emma

63

9

Mark

144

Elizabeth

61

10

James

143

Rachel

60


Most popular first names of currently practising lawyers by decade of admission to the bar

Rank

1940s and 50s

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s

1

John

John

John

David

Andrew

Sarah

Sarah

2

Allan

Peter

David

John

Michael

David

Emma

3

Gordon

David

Peter

Michael

David

Andrew

Jessica

4

Michael

Michael

Michael

Peter

Paul

James

Matthew

5

Peter

James

Paul

Christopher

Richard

Rebecca

James

6

Robert

Richard

Richard

Andrew

Sarah

Michael

Andrew

7

 

Robert

Christopher

Mark

John

Christopher

Thomas

8

 

Ian

Alan

Stephen

Mark

Matthew

Anna

9

 

Anthony

Robert

Paul

Christopher

Nicholas

Michael

10

 

Christopher

Anthony

Richard

Timothy

Simon

Nicholas

 

Last updated on the 17th March 2016