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Sex-biased sound symbolism in French first names

Abstract : Given that first names can have a lifelong impact on the bearer, parents should choose a name based on the impressions they want their offspring to evoke in other people. This name-to-mental-image association can be mediated through sound symbolism: a natural link between the sounds and meaning of a word. From an evolutionary perspective, parents should pick names which sounds convey traits advantageous in human sexual selection: largeness and masculinity for males through lower-frequency sounds as opposed to small-ness and femininity for females through higher-frequency sounds. Using a database of French first names from 1900 to 2009, we observed a sex-biased sound symbolism pattern in the last syllable, which is the perceptually prominent one in French. Male names were more likely to include lower-frequency vowels (e.g. /o/ , /ã/) and female names higher-frequency vowels (e.g. /i/, /e/). Unexpected patterns in consonants were observed in masculine names with higher-frequency sounds (e.g. /s/, /ʃ/) in the last syllable and lower-frequency sounds (e.g. /b/, /g/) in the first syllable. However, little variance was explained and the modest size effect suggests that cultural traits influence these sex differences. Lastly, exploratory analyses revealed a phonetic masculinization in women's first names that has increased since the 1960s.
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Submitted on : Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 9:50:23 AM
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Alexandre Suire, Alba Bossoms Mesa, Michel Raymond, Melissa Barkat-Defradas. Sex-biased sound symbolism in French first names. Evolutionary Human Sciences, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 1, ⟨10.1017/ehs.2019.7⟩. ⟨hal-02352914⟩

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