Gender Stereotypes and Name Phonology

Posted May 10th, 2010 at 12:47 pm.

Laura Severence

Mentor: Professor Kim Cassidy

Gender schemata and stereotypes are a topic of extensive research within the field of psychology. It has been established that gender stereotypes affect many facets of life, but it remains to be seen exactly how such stereotypes form. My research focuses on the notion that gender stereotypes may be manifested in part through the phonology of English forenames. Masculine and feminine English forenames have distinct phonological properties. While people may not be able to explicitly state what these properties are, people are aware that phonological differences exist between masculine and feminine names. Cassidy et al. (1999) have demonstrated that people can infer the gender of an object simply by knowing its name. I plan to examine the implications of gender stereotypes in relation to name phonology through various studies.

Most recently, I have been working to replicate a computer model that was originally created for the Cassidy et al. (1999) study. Once completed, the model will generate a masculinity or femininity score for any given name. This score will tell us the degree to which a name corresponds with the phonological properties of male or female names. Currently, we are entering information for 300 male names and 300 female names across 67 phonological characteristics. In order to obtain our corpus of names, we first referenced the top 500 names for children born in 1987 from the Social Security Database. From this list, we deleted all alternate spellings of phonogically identical names (for example, we included “Katherine,” but deleted “Kathryn” and “Catherine,” etc). We also excluded all unisex names (names given to both males and females). Currently, we are conducting a sub-study to determine which nicknames to include in our corpus. Though the Social Security database provides adequate information about given names, it does not provide information about nicknames. As it is common for people to go by a nickname rather than their given name, we want to incorporate nicknames in our corpus in order to have a representative sample. The model is a crucial part of our research and will be used for several future studies regarding gender stereotypes and name phonology.

My research also focuses on name phonology in relation to products and product preferences. Last summer, I collected data regarding names of prescription drugs intended for men and women. Upon the completion of the model, I will be able to analyze the phonological properties of drug names and test for a correlation between drug name and gender of intended user. Through this study and others like it, I seek to examine the role of phonology and its implications for gender stereotypes.

Filed under: 2006,Cassidy, Dr. Kimberly,Severance, Laura by Ann Dixon

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