There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a baby name. My parents, for instance, did enjoy the work of Carly Simon before choosing mine, and I have a relatively normal name. It could be a fandom thing, such as with the babies named Anakin or the children named after Game of Thrones characters.
But it could be also simply be the way it sounds. According to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and reported on by Scientific American, people tend to assign certain names to boys and others to girls based on the first phoneme (or distinct unit of sound).
The researchers analyzed 270 million recorded baby names in the US from 1937 and 2013 and found that names typically assigned to boys were voiced and began with a “hard” phoneme, or one that vibrated the vocal cords, while girls had “softer” names. People surveyed online in the US and India also perceived voiced names, whether real or invented, as more masculine.
Additionally, researchers found that this association was strongest among people who endorsed typical male and female stereotypes.
To judge the difference for yourself, say your name and see if the first sound is made purely with your tongue and lips (so a “soft” name) or if you use your throat. The “A” in Adam or the “B” in Bob are made through the vocal cords while the “C” in Carli (for instance) is made with just the tongue.
Of course, this study isn’t the end of all conversations about names and gender, especially considering how gender can’t be simplified between just two ends of a spectrum. It’s also not a definite identifier of gender, as there are many names that are typically assigned to girls that start with that hard phoneme, such as Jessica, Yvonne, and Ariel.
The study provides more insight into how we perceive sounds and the relationships between those sounds and meaning. Why do we find certain words repulsive? Why do others sound more approachable? These are questions that can crack open a language and a culture.