Although it is known that certain names gain popularity within a culture because of historical events, it is unknown how names become associated with different social categories in the first place. We propose that vocal cord vibration during the pronunciation of an initial phoneme plays a critical role in explaining which names are assigned to males versus females. This produces a voiced gendered name effect, whereby voiced phonemes (vibration of the vocal cords) are more associated with male names, and unvoiced phonemes (no vibration of the vocal cords) are more associated with female names. Eleven studies test this association between voiced names and gender (a) using 270 million names (more than 80,000 unique names) given to children over 75 years, (b) names across 2 cultures (the U.S. and India), and (c) hundreds of novel names. The voiced gendered name effect was mediated through how hard or soft names sounded, and moderated by gender stereotype endorsement. Although extensive work has demonstrated morphological and physical cues to gender (e.g., facial, bodily, vocal), this work provides a systematic account of name-based cues to gender. Overall, the current research extends work on sound symbolism to names; the way in which a name sounds can be symbolically related to stereotypes associated with its social category.

Journal Article
Publication Date
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Full Citation

. “The voiced pronunciation of initial phonemes predicts the gender of names.”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, (April 01, 2016):