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Names and behavior in a war


We implement a novel empirical strategy for measuring and studying a strong form of nationalism—the willingness to fight and die in a war for national independence—using name choices corresponding to a previous war leader. Based on data on almost half a million soldiers, we first show that having been given a first name that is synonymous with the leader(s) of the Croatian state during World War II predicts volunteering for service in the 1991–1995 Croatian war of independence and dying during the conflict. Next, we use the universe of Croatian birth certificates and the information about nationalism conveyed by first names to suggests that in ex-Yugoslav Croatia, nationalism rose continuously starting in the 1970s and that its rise was curbed in areas where concentration camps were located during WWII. Our evidence on intergenerational transmission of nationalism is consistent with nationalist fathers purposefully reflecting the trade-off between within-family and society-wide transmission channels of political values. We also link the nationalist values we proxy using first name choices to right-wing voting behavior in 2015, 20 years after the war.

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  1. 1.

    At its peak, the volunteer force in active duty corresponded to about one-sixth of the Croatian male population aged 25 to 54.

  2. 2.

    The literature on name choices, our study included, is unable to decompose the behavioral concent of names into the part corresponding values inculcated by parents and the part corresponding to society’s or one’s own expectations about the identity of a person with a certain name, to the extent that such effects are plausible (Nelson and Simmons 2007; Simonsohn 2011).

  3. 3.

    We exclude from the analysis the 5% of female soldiers who all served in non-combat support jobs.

  4. 4.

    In total, 9378 soldiers died during the war, 7747 in active duty. For 7346 of these, we observe the cause of death: 77% were killed in action. We assume the remaining 401 soldiers were also killed in action.

  5. 5.

    The status of a volunteer is governed by the Croatian Act of Homeland War Veterans; it affects welfare support available to veterans and their families.

  6. 6.

    Exemptions from service were possible on health grounds, but were seldom granted (UN 1995).

  7. 7.

    For example, Ante Gotovina, who became a leading general during the 1995 Operation Storm, already had combat experience in 1991 when he volunteered for the Croatian army.

  8. 8.

    This set is defined in the Croatian Act on Areas of Special State Concern.

  9. 9.

    The name Ante also refers to Ante Starčević, the nineteenth-century Croatian politician and writer who is considered to be one of the founders of Croatian nationalism.

  10. 10.

    This may suggest Croatian nationalism was increasing long before the breakup of Yugoslavia after being activated during the “Croatian Spring” movement of the early 1970s (Motyl 2001).

  11. 11.

    We confirm that the draft was name-blind by combining the birth certificate data with the veteran data: being named Ante or having another nationalist name does not predict the cohort-specific draft rate; the effect is close to zero and precisely estimated.

  12. 12.

    The cohort-specific draft rates are highest, at 0.35, for the youngest cohorts born after 1973, and they gradually decline to 0.10 for the 1950 cohort.

  13. 13.

    Based on a referee’s suggestion, we have conducted a placebo test consisting of asking whether names of WoI leaders who only became notorious during the WoI affect behavior of the men we study who were born decades prior to the WoI. Such names had no effect on behavior; these results are available upon request.

  14. 14.

    In addition to robustness checks reported in this paragraph, we also estimated the specification from column (2) without the choice-based-sample weights and the estimates were not materially affected. Next, we compared the OLS coefficients reported here with probability derivatives corresponding to a Probit model. Again, the results were identical for all practical purposes. The results are available upon request.

  15. 15.

    Among volunteers Antes are 0.5 of a percentage point less likely to serve in the Civil Defense unit. This small effect estimated in a specification corresponding to that used in column (3) has a p value of 0.08.

  16. 16.

    In this specification, we find that compared with the base case of having a Croatian name, having a Serbian or a Muslim name lowers volunteering probability by 4 and 9 percentage points, respectively.

  17. 17.

    Note that our focus on draftees and the results of the volunteering analysis imply that the Antes drafted in 1991 are likely to be less nationalistic than the average Antes in the population. Hence, the results presented here provide a lower-bound on the effect of being Ante on the chances of being killed in action. As was the case with volunteering, the Ante coefficients are all large and statistically significant when estimated on sub-samples of soldiers’ places of birth based on size and share of agricultural employment (Table 5).

  18. 18.

    We also obtain highly similar effects using the Probit model.

  19. 19.

    Alternatively, behavior during the WoI may correspond to the war context activating political connotations of names that were assigned by parents independently of their political values. We cannot rule this possibility out even if we find it unlikely based on the literaure on implicit egotism (e.g., Simonsohn 2011), since we do not observe quasi-random assignment of the name Ante. In response to a referee’s suggestion we note that even parents whose sons are born on the feast of St. Anthony can avoid the use of Ante and name their sons Antun or Anto (the other Croatian versions of Anthony). Hence, there is potential selection on parental values into Ante even within children born on the feast of St. Anthony. We do not find Ante to have less of an effect on volunteering for Antes born on the feast of Anthony as opposed to other Antes. Importantly for our interpretation of the data, Antun/Anto have a precisely estimated zero effect on volunteering and on KIA deaths in our data. These results are available upon request.

  20. 20.

    This view of the past comes with the cost of making the strong assumption of a constant nationalistic content of a given name over time.

  21. 21.

    In the Jasenovac concentration camp alone, at least 80 thousand perished during the WWII, primarily Serbs, and also Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist Croats. While estimates differ and are not available for all camps, victim counts range well over 10 thousand for the Jadovno (Gospić) or the Slana (Pag) camp as well.

  22. 22.

    See Section 2 for definition of the “siege settlements.” The major Ustaše-operated concentration camp locations in Croatia (Jasenovac, Stara Gradiška, Jadovno near Gospić, Slana on Pag, Metajna, Sisak, Koprivnica, Jastrebarsko, Osijek, Ðakovo) are taken from Kraus(1996, p. 90).

  23. 23.

    Also, both shares are statistically significantly above the Croatia-wide shares of the late 1990s.

  24. 24.

    Ultimately, the question of long-term effects of attrocities can be settled only with a location-specific research design along the lines of Charnysh and Finkel (2017).

  25. 25.

    The average share of Antes on boys born during the pre-war period is 1.4% and the average share is lower, at 0.5%, in the concentration camp locations and similar to the national average, at 1.2%, in the high-KIA locations. There is little difference across the groups of locations in terms of the pre-war shares of all nationalist names.

  26. 26.

    We are not primarily interested in comparing the Ante-Ante rate with other same-name transmission rates, which could be driven by cultural factors; rather, we study geographic differences in the nationalist-nationalist and non-nationalist-nationalist transmission rates.

  27. 27.

    We include Ante in the “Nationalist name” indicator to lower the number of transition types.

  28. 28.

    See Iwanowsky and Madestam (2017) for a similar finding based on the Khmer Rouge political violence.

  29. 29.

    With information on first names of fathers and sons alone we cannot link birth certificates by father identity and so we do not know whether Ante fathers are more likely to use the name Ante for their first-born sons or not. The share of boys born to fathers named Ante is similar during the pre-war five-year period and the 1991–1995 war period.

  30. 30.

    These results are robust to including names that are not on the (Croatian) Catholic calendar. We also interacted the two location types with the pre-war municipality shares of nationalist names, but none of the interactions reached conventional levels of statistical significance in any of the specifications.

  31. 31.

    An important potential issue with our intergenerational analysis is that we do not control for socioeconomic characteristics of families. However, the estimated intergenerational transmission coefficients are not materially affected by controlling for municipality characteristics or by conditioning on a set of 21 district fixed effects, suggesting that the results are not primarily reflecting urban-rural or war exposure patterns.

  32. 32.

    See Kovač (2017) for more details on this data.

  33. 33.

    These results are presented in the Appendix Table 6. The regressions, which are again based on the subset of veterans with Croatian first names (as in Section 4), control for a step function in fathers’ years of age and for the standard set of characteristics of fathers’ places of birth.

  34. 34.

    These effects are also consistent with those of Iwanowsky and Madestam (2017) who study the effects of Khmer Rouge political violence on political values of survivors.

  35. 35.

    As Yugoslavia did not run free multi-party elections, we are not able to study the effects of WWII events on post-WWII voting behavior in Croatia.

  36. 36.

    In the absence of an authoritative study on the right-wing spectrum of Croatian politics, we rely on the Wikipedia entry for the 2015 Croatian elections, which classifies the following parties as right-wing or far-right: the Democratic Union of National Renewal, the Croatian Conservative Party, the Family Party, the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, In the Name of the Family – Project Homeland, Croatian Dawn – Party of the People.

  37. 37.

    We report results based on the share of nationalist names among boys born during 1970–2000, which allows us to maximize municipality coverage, but we obtain nearly identical estimates when relying on the corresponding shares from 1995–2000 from municipalities with births in that period.

  38. 38.

    Unlike the siege indicator used in our main analysis, which is based on settlements defined as of 1991, this indicator, which is taken from Glaurdić and Vuković (2016), is coded at the level of municipalities defined as of 2000. See Section 2 for definitions of Croatian geographic units.

  39. 39.

    This difference is statistically significant for other (non-Ante) nationalist names.

  40. 40.

    These results are not sensitive to conditioning on electoral-district fixed effects, party fixed effects, or the right-wing party indicator, consistent with our focus on within-slate differences.

  41. 41.

    For instance, if one finds that the use of names corresponding to leaders of Nazi Germany is over-represented among supporters of right-wing parties in post-WWII Germany, one could use accessible name statistics to map the evolution of such values over populations not covered by survey data directly eliciting such values. One could explore the behavioral content and the prevalence of first name choices corresponding to prominent generals of the US civil war or to differentiate Ukrainian and Russian versions of several first names in Ukraine during its conflict with Russia.


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Jurajda is Research Fellow at IZA, Bonn. We would like to thank Orley Ashenfelter, Michal Bauer, Jernej Čopič, Janet Currie, Randall Filer, Patrick Gaulé, Emir Kamenica, Jan Kmenta, Kateřina Králová, Alexandre Mas, Nikolas Mittag, Vinko Muštra, Christopher Neilson, Gerard Roland, Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, František Šístek, Jacob Shapiro, Vuk Vuković, Jan Zápal, Krešimir žigić, the Editor of the journal, and three referees for their valuable comments. All mistakes and interpretations are our own; however. Kovač would also like to thank the Croatian Ministry of Veterans and Ministry of Public Administration for access to the veteran database and birth certificate database, respectively.

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Correspondence to Štěpán Jurajda.

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Name classification

Ethnic names

There are 374 distinct first male names on the Catholic (Croatian) calendar and 275 distinct first male names on the Orthodox (Serbian) name calendar. The same Christian saints correspond to different versions of the same name on the two calendars, as in Ivan (Croat version) vs. Jovan (Serbian version) or Stjepan vs. Stefan/Stepan. Thirty-five names appear on both calendars and we do not code these as distinctly national. With one exception (Marko), all of the top-10 (most frequent) Croatian male names according to the 2001 census (a set which includes Ante) appear on the Catholic calendar.

Eighty-one percent of Croatian army veterans have names that appear on the Catholic and/or Orthodox calendars. 33,259 of these veterans (7% of all veterans) have names that appear on both calendars and thus cannot be classified as having either Croatian or Serbian nationality. In sum, 74% (354,773) of Croatian army veterans have a name that appears only on the Catholic name calendar and only 0.4% have Orthodox calendar (Serbian) first names. For completeness, we have also inspected all of the distinct male first names appearing in the veterans register and identified a subset of 885 names as Muslim. (The most frequent Muslim names are Samir, Mirsad, Senad, Safet, Muhamed, Ervin, Ismet, Ibrahim, Omer, and Amir.) Under 2% of veterans have Muslim names. The remaining veterans, i.e., those we do not classify as Croat, Serb, or Muslim, typically have non-Yugoslav names (primarily Italian and English) or have names that appear on both calendars.

Nationalist names

The “Other nationalist name” indicator corresponds to the first names of the 22 politicians and generals who received the WWII Knighthood of the Independent State of Croatia: Salko Alikadić, Eduard Bunić, Jure Francetić, Franjo Šimić, Ladislav Aleman, Vilko Begić, Rafael Boban, Matija Čanić, Fedor Dragojlov, Milan Desović, Duro Grujić, Artur Gustović, Slavko Kvaternik, Vladimir Laxa, Vjekoslav Luburić, Franjo Lukać, Josip Metzger, Ivan Perčević, Krunoslav Perčić, Dragutin Rubčić, Adolf Sabljak, and Slavko Štancer. Further, we include in the indicator a set of 4 additional names of the Ustaše leaders who were chiefly responsible for the Holocaust in Croatia: The Jewish question ideologists Andrija Artuković and Mile Budak, and the following (non-knighted) notorious commanders of concentration camps: Miroslav Filipović and Dinko Šakić.

All of the nationalist names appear on the Catholic calendar; Ivan and Josip are also in the top-10 list of Croatian names based on the 2001 census. Josip Metzger, from the knighted list, was a general and chief organizer of a concentration camp. Ivan Perčević was one of the leaders of the movement; when Ante Pavelić visited Adolf Hitler, Perčević was among the small party of Ustaše leaders to accompany him. Both were executed after WWII. However, both Ivan and Josip have also strong anti-fascist connotations: The leader of the Partisan resistance movement and of post-WWII Yugoslavia was Josip Broz Tito. There are also well-known Partisan leaders called Ivan (e.g., Ivan Rukavina). It is difficult to define a separate Partisan name indicator since a large fraction of Partisan leaders were Serbs. Instead, we provide direct comparisons between the effects of Ante and both Josip and Ivan in Section 4. In Appendix Fig. 7, we also contrast the evolution of popularity of all male top-10 names according to the 2001 census. Only the 3 top-10 names we refer to as nationalist (Ante, Ivan, and Josip) peak both during WWII and during the 1991–1995 war.

Name-type comparisons

In Section 4, we compare the 1991–1995 war behavior of men with nationalist names with that of men with Croatian (Catholic calendar) names. The analysis, which covers a relatively short time period, is not sensitive to including all names and controlling for Muslim and Serbian name indicators.

In Section 5, we track name patterns for newborns across seven decades, which raises two issues. First, in “siege settlements,” most of which were under Serbian rule for much of the 1991–1995 war, the share of Serbian and Muslim names given to newborns is twice higher during the five years preceding the war and four times higher during the first five years after the war when compared with the share during the five years of the war. This clearly partly corresponds to the changing ethnic composition of these locations. Hence, for the purpose of comparing Croatian nationalist-name popularity across locations, we omit from the analysis in Section 5 all newborns with Serbian and Muslim names. Second, across Croatia and also within all three types of locations we consider in Section 5, the share of (non-Serbian non-Muslim) names that correspond to the Catholic (Croatian) calendar is declining after 1970. This is related to the increasing popularity of international (English, Italian) names that do not appear on the traditional Catholic calendar. We inspected this trend across the sets of locations and found it to be highly similar both in size and the time pattern. Since our primary goal is to compare time trends across locations differently affected by war experiences, and since choosing a name for a newborn boy outside of the Croatian calendar corresponds to not using a nationalist name, the analysis presented in Section 5 is based on using all name types (other than Serbian and Muslim) to calculate the shares of nationalist names on each cohort and birthplace type. After excluding the set of newborns with Muslim and Serbian first names, the main features of Fig. 3, which plots the Croatia-wide evolution of the share of nationalist names, are not materially affected.

Finally, in Section 6 we analyze the name choices for boys born during 1991–1995. The fathers of these boys can be expected to have been born before the rapid decline in the use of Catholic names in Croatia; hence, in Section 6 we constrain the set of fathers’ names (but not sons’ names) to those that appear on the Catholic calendar (mirroring the approach used in Section 4, where we studied men who were adults in 1991).

Tables and figures

Table 5 Predicting volunteering and KIA across subsets of places of birth
Table 6 Predicting child name choices by injured veterans of the War of Independence
Fig. 7

Cohort shares of top-10 Croatian names

Fig. 8

WWII concentration camp areas

Fig. 9

High-KIA areas

Fig. 10

Siege areas

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Jurajda, Š., Kovač, D. Names and behavior in a war. J Popul Econ 34, 1–33 (2021).

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  • Nationalism
  • Names
  • Intergenerational transmission

JEL Classification

  • D64
  • D74
  • Z1