The Science of Baby Naming

By Columbia Business School, Special for  USDR

New parents are usually asked two questions: “is it a boy or a girl?” and “what name did you choose?” Your name is usually the first thing someone hears about you. Now, new research from Columbia Business School reveals that your name says even more about you than you might have  believed.

The research from Columbia Business School professors Adam Galinsky and Michael Slepian shows that merely saying a name aloud sparks an instant connection to a specific gender, evoking a cascading pattern of stereotypical judgments about the masculinity or femininity of an individual, often in the first second of hearing a spoken  name.

“Names give cues to social categories, which in turn, activate stereotypes,” says Slepian. “By considering how names symbolically represent stereotypes, we link sounds to social perception. The most basic social category division is gender and the most distinction between phonemes (the sounds that make up words) is voiced versus unvoiced. We found that female and male names differ  phonetically.”

The Columbia Business School researchers believe that names become established as for males or females through their spoken sounds. They conducted eleven studies focused on distinguishing the different sounds of spoken names. The findings provide consistent evidence that voiced names (those pronounced with vocal cord vibration which often sound “harder”) such as “Gregory,” “James,” and “William” are given more frequently to males, and unvoiced names (those pronounced without vocal cord vibration which often sound “softer” and breathier) such as “Heather,” “Sarah,” and “Tiffany” are more frequently given to females. These name assignments fit stereotypical gender categories – men as “hard” and tough, and women as “soft” and  tender.

Emerging Trends in Baby  Names
One intriguing pattern in the study of baby names is a recent shift to gender neutral names. BabyCenter, the #1 pregnancy and parenting digital resource, has observed this change in their annual list of the top baby names and naming trends. They offer an online tool for finding your ideal  name.

According to BabyCenter’s Global Editor-in-Chief Linda Murray, “Baby names are reflecting a large cultural shift. Millennials are an open-minded and accepting group, and they don’t want their children to feel pressured to conform to stereotypes that might be restrictive.Just as companies have started making more neutral kids’ clothes and removing ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labels from toys, an increasing number of parents are choosing unisex  names.”

Trends in naming can grow quickly before they lose momentum. The research shows numerous trends in  baby-naming:

  • Parents are more likely to give their baby a name that has recently grown in  popularity.
  • Parents often give names that phonetically resemble their social  category.
  • Female names go in and out of style faster than male  names.
  • Current naming inspiration includes social media and technology, celestial themes, and royal birth  announcements.

Co-author Adam Galinsky says this research may initiate a new avenue for examining the cultural evolution of names, for instance, the ability to predict which names become popular across time, depending on whether they are voiced or unvoiced. “Some names might be more common in times when people support or contest traditional gender roles, or where there might be regional differences in support for gender roles,” he  says.

To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit

About Columbia Business  School
Columbia Business School is the only world-class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School’s transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real–world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School’s faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School’s efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School’s position at the very center of business, please visit

SOURCE Columbia Business  School

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