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Lawyer first name changes show growing diversity

26 June 2018 - By Geoff Adlam

We're given it at birth. We might change it later in life and often shorten it, but our first name is a hugely important part of our identity. Most of us hang on to something chosen for us by other people with the attitudes and influences of an era 20 years or so before we became adults.

Take the first names of New Zealand lawyers...

Until the last couple of decades, the first names of New Zealand lawyers basically had one thing in common: the vast majority had what might be called “traditional English” names: Sarah, David, John and Rebecca are still among the most common. Emerging, however, are a much wider range of names from many other cultures and backgrounds.

The first names of lawyers provide a few interesting indicators of social change in general, and more specifically, in the legal profession. Women made up just 7% of lawyers in 1980, so lawyer names were largely male and reflective of the social and cultural background of those entering the profession. By 1990, 21% of lawyers were women, but the pool of lawyer names was still dominated by male names. To some extent that is still the case. A working life of over 40 years means it takes a long time for indicators such as names to work their way through the system. Of the top 20 lawyer names today, just three are female.

There are a lot of names to choose from. At 1 June 2018 the 13,992 practising lawyers had 2,891 different first names between them. However, if you look at the 4,397 lawyers who have started to practise since 2010, they have 1,603 different first names – over half the total. The legal profession has become a lot more ethnically diverse and everyone’s a lot more imaginative now when it comes to first names.

So, here are the 10 most common first names held by female and male lawyers practising at 1 June. These are the given names (meaning that those who go by “Chris” who have Christine or Christopher on their birth certificate have to revert to the name imposed at birth for this).

Most common New Zealand lawyer first names, 1 June 2018

Rank

Women

Number

Men

Number

1

Sarah

202

David

286

2

Rebecca

94

John

259

3

Emma

93

Michael

256

4

Catherine

85

Andrew

211

5

Anna

82

Peter

176

6

Nicola

82

Christopher

170

7

Rachel

81

Richard

163

8

Elizabeth

79

James

154

9

Jennifer

79

Mark

149

10

Jessica

73

Paul

149


And, while you’re there, the table below shows the most common first names of currently practising lawyers by the decade(s) in which they were admitted to the bar. It’s an interesting social indicator in itself.

Most common lawyer first names at 1 June 2018, decade of admission

Rank

1940s, 50s and 60s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s

1

John

John

David

Michael

Sarah

Sarah

2

David

Peter

John

Andrew

David

Jessica

3

Peter

David

Michael

David

Andrew

Michael

4

Robert

Michael

Peter

Paul

Michael

James

5

Ian

Paul

Stephen

Sarah

James

Thomas

6

James

Richard

Mark

Richard

Mark

Emma

7

Michael

Alan

Paul

John

Christopher

Matthew

8

Brian

Christopher

Richard

Mark

Matthew

Samuel

9

Barry

Robert

Robert

Christopher

Nicholas

Rebecca

10

Bruce

Anthony

Susan

Timothy

Daniel

Hannah

Last updated on the 23rd January 2019