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Gender stereotypes connected to name sounds, study says

Columbia professors studied the phonetics of names.

Columbia professors studied the phonetics of names. Credit: depositphotos / Katrina Elena Trninich

As soon as people say a name, it connects to a gender, which spurs a pattern of stereotypical judgments about the person’s masculinity or femininity, according to research from Columbia Business School.

Columbia professors Adam Galinsky and Michael Slepian conducted 11 studies focused on distinguishing the different sounds of spoken names, according to a news release. They believe names become established for males or females through their spoken sounds. Names with “hard” sounds such as Gregory, James and William are given more frequently to males, and “softer,” breathier names such as Heather, Sarah and Tiffany are more frequently given to females.

“Names give cues to social categories, which, in turn, activate stereotypes,” Slepian says in the news release. “We found that female and male names differ phonetically.”

One pattern in the study of baby names is a shift to gender-neutral names, the news release says.

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