IVORY TOWERS

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The Independent Online
What's in a name? More than even Shakespeare might have thought, according to research published in the latest issue of the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills. In his paper "Relation of Frequency to Perception of Gender-Appropriateness in Personal Names", Charles E Joubert reports that the perceived feminity of girls' names and masculinity of boys' names is strongly related to how common the name is.

So the research finds, for example, that Jessica, Anna, Christina and Julie are considered considerably more feminine than Hortense, Elke, Rowena and Sophronia, while John, David, Robert, Paul and Eric gain higher ratings on masculinity than Waldo, Ignatius, Mortimer and Millard.

Earlier research has shown that people with unusual names were more likely to be lonely, fail exams, and suffer from neurosis or psychosis.

For the purposes of the present study, a questionnaire was devised comprising 60 boys' or girls' names: 15 from a list of the most common American names, 15 less common, 15 "dated", and 15 so rare as to have been uncommon even in the 1940s. College students were then asked to rank each name on seven- point scales of masculinity and femininity.

The common men's names scored an average of 5.45 on masculinity with John and David perceived as particularly butch, while the dated and rare names scored only 3.82 and 3.44 respectively.

Girls' names followed a similar pattern, with common names leading the way on feminity at 5.82, and dated and rare down to 5.01 and 3.78. The results also showed that names ending in an "ee" or "a" sound are much more likely to be perceived as feminine.

These findings are tentatively explained by the suggestion that people are more strongly conditioned to associate gender-stereotyping with names that are frequently encountered. So if you meet a lot of girls named Jane, you learn to perceive it as more feminine than the relatively few Sophronias you have bumped into.

On the other hand, parents may tend to prefer giving girls feminine names, and boys masculine ones.

Another aspect of sexual selectiveness is discussed in "Investigation of potential mate choice in a monogamous spider" (by Susan E Riechert and Frederick D Singer, Animal Behaviour, 1995, 715-723). Previous studies of the desert funnel-web, Agelenopsis aperta, had shown that they rarely mate with more than one partner, and that females, given the choice, tend to prefer heavier males.

The present study found that males are largely indifferent to the weight of their mates. The do, however, "differentially court older virgin females over newly matured females and already mated females."

Whether any lady spiders named Hortense mated with any males named Eric was not recorded.

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