Linguistics Linguistics and given names You can also analyse your class-list by the sound of the names. Count the number of syllables in everyone’s given name. Assign according to gender. What % are monosyllabic, as opposed to bisyllabic? (More information) Does any pattern emerge? Are first names, gender-related? i.e. a higher proportion of boys bear mono-syllabic names? You should be able to differentiate between boys’ and girls’ names more subtly as regards their phonetic structure, though these may only be tendencies. English girls’ names have a tendency to end in a “soft a” sound. For example Anna, Hannah, Sarah, Jessica, Lisa. Slavic and Hebrew feminine names show a similar tendency, though not Celtic and Japanese feminine names (where ‘o’ or ‘ko’ ends most Japanese ladies’ names). In Hindi, female names end rather in ‘i’, and male names in ‘a’. In the 1990 US census, 41% of female names end in ‘a’ versus 1% of male names. This converts to 31% of the female population, and 0.6 % of the male population. Women’s names tend to have more syllables than men’s. They are far more likely to begin with an unstressed syllable Stress on the second syllable is common in girl’s names e.g. Roberta vs Robert. Masculine names are shorter, and the stress is rarely on the second syllable. With disyllabic given names, masculine names strongly show a trochaic pattern (the stress is on the first syllable. Conversely, English feminine names have a marked iambic pattern (the stress is placed on the last syllable). Yes, one can find iambic male names like Bernard, but statistically this type of stress pattern is rare in such names. Feminine names tend to have more liquid or sonorant consonants. They are more likely to contain the vowel [i]. A “long ee” sound is more common in English girls’ names than boys e.g. Amy, Stephanie, Cherie, Kelly, Lindsay, Tina. Though some boys’ names share this sound e.g. Timothy, Jeremy, Jeffrey, Anthony, especially male diminutives – Bobby, Jimmy, Teddy. Boys’ names tend to end in a stop consonant sound e.g. Robert, Kirk, David. Girls’s names markedly less so. However, there is one exception – girls’ names ending in ‘n’. There seem to be equal numbers of both e.g. Susan, Christine, Catherine, Megan and John, Stephen, Gordon, Brian. Recent research by Professor Barry and Aylene Harper- ‘Three Last Letters Identify Most Female First Names.’ (Psychological Reports, 2000). They contend these last three letters are a, e, and i. The derivation of a name must be taken into account. Roman feminine forms were created by adding ‘a’ e.g. Julian/Juliana and this Latinate construction has influenced the creation of later feminine forms e.g. George/Georgina. Many feminine names are derivative, and so will consequently be longer. These factors must not be ignored (Source : Carole Hough). The order of double-barrelled forenames may be affected by phonological rules. The element which comes last probably will end with a vowel or have a long last vowel (as in Jones). The element which is placed first is likely to have an initial consonant cluster and be monosyllabic. Research publicised in August 2004 suggests that the vowel sounds in your name just might influence how strangers rate the attractiveness of your face. For men, pictures matched with names composed of vowels formed at the front of the mouth (like i or ee, as in Lisa or Michael) were perceived by men to be more attractive than names formed with ‘back’ vowels (e.g. the u sound as in Paul or Ursula). But exactly the opposite was found for girls who took the test, when presented with 24 unknown photos of men and women. They rated Laura more highly in the pictyre rating test than say Amy 4. Sources Cutler, A., McQueen, J.M. & Robinson,K. (1990), “Elizabeth and John: Sound patterns of men’s and women’s names”, Journal of Linguistics 26, 471-482. Cassidy, K, Kelly, M & Sharoni, L. (1999), “Inferring gender from name phonology”, J. Exp Psych: General 128, 1-20. Linguist mailing list (2003). Nature News, Section 9 Aug 2004.