Broad Shoulders and Broad Name
July 3, 2013
Some of my readers will remember the comic strip character, Alley Oop, created in 1932 by American cartoonist, Vincent T. Hamlin. Oop was a caveman in a Flintstones-like suburbia of prehistoric times. Oop's romantic interest, Ooola, was drawn to resemble Hamlin's wife, Dorothy.
Cartoon cavemen coexisted with dinosaurs, and Oop rode one of these like a horse. He carried a stone hammer, and he was dressed in a fur loin cloth. Before Dick Tracy got involved with the Moon Maid, Alley Oop was transported by a time machine to the present time to generate more interesting plotlines.
The name, Alley Oop, was apparently an intended corruption of the French, "allez, hop," meaning "let's jump on our feet and go," as used by tumblers and gymnasts. It was likely chosen since it has an air of masculinity. Why would a name sound masculine, or feminine; and, is it just my false perception that male names have become somewhat more feminine sounding since the time of Alley Opp, werewolf and vampire role models notwithstanding? (See Table I)
Table I. Baby names in the United States at the time that the cartoon, Alley Oop, was created, 1932, and the latest year for which data are available, 2012. (US Social Security Administration data).
A team of psychologists from Queen Mary University of London (London, UK) wondered about the same thing; namely, what makes a name sound masculine. They've published their analysis as a free, open access paper on PLOS ONE.[3-5] Their conclusion is that "larger" sounding names, such as "Oop," are evocative of the deeper vocalizations of larger individuals, so they are preferred by parents for their boys. Names with higher frequency sounds are preferred for girls.
They cite the following names as examples of this concept (note the "oop" in "Cooper").
|Rank||1932 Male||1932 Female|| ||2012 Male||2012 Female|
There's a correlation in Western societies between stature and reproductive success. Taller men and shorter, slimmer women are considered more attractive. Says study co-author, Benjamin Pitcher, of Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences
"In general, western societies tend to think of relatively taller men as more masculine and more successful with the opposite sex whereas shorter, slimmer women are perceived as having attractive feminine qualities. It seems that over time the English language has developed a preference for names that reflect our society's attitudes of what we deem to be attractive qualities in the different sexes."
To study this effect, the research team divided speech phonemes into size categories depending on their frequency content; for example, /a/ and /o/ are "large" sounds, whereas /i/ and /e/ are "small" sounds. Large vowels are produced by pulling the tongue back in the mouth, which produces a larger resonant space and lower frequencies. Small vowels are produced with the tongue thrust forward, creating higher frequencies.
The dataset for this study was the most popular names from England, Australia and the United States in the last decade, about fifteen million names. They used established linguistic techniques to determine which of these contained small and large vowels sounds. Parents were found to be 1-1/2 times more likely to assign a large vowel name to a son than a daughter.[3,5]
Although I think it's a reach, the authors say that this is an example of biological evolution influencing human culture. As summarized by study co-author Alan McElligott, also from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences,
An evolutionary perspective might be that parents are choosing names that help to boost their son or daughter's success in life by increasing the chance of passing on their genes. In the future, we are interested in determining whether this gender bias in vowel sounds of first names is also seen in languages other than English."
In short, if your son doesn't have a soccer star physique, perhaps a soccer star name will help.
- Ross Ramsey, "Poll: 30% of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs lived together," Houston Chronicle, February 18, 2010.
- Top 10 Baby Names, US Social Security Administration Web Site.
- Benjamin J. Pitcher, Alex Mesoudi and Alan G. McElligott, "Sex-Biased Sound Symbolism in English-Language First Names," PLos One, vol. 8, no. 6 (June 5, 2013), Document No. e64825, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064825.
- What's in a name?, Queen Mary University of London Press Release, June 5, 2013.
- Nicky Phillips, "Size matters in the naming game," The Age, June 10, 2013 .
- Donald Simanek, "Scientific Urban Legends," Lock Haven University Web Site.
Permanent Link to this article
Linked Keywords: Comic strip; Alley Oop; American; cartoonist; Vincent T. Hamlin; caveman; Flintstones; suburbia; prehistory; prehistoric times; wife; dinosaur; horse; stone tool; stone hammer; loin cloth; Dick Tracy; Moon Maid; time machine; plotline; Texas; Texan; skeleton; Tyrannosaurus; Wikimedia Commons; French language; acrobatics; tumbler; gymnastics; gymnast; masculinity; femininity; feminine; werewolf; vampire; role model; infant; baby; United States; Social Security Administration; psychologist; Queen Mary University of London (London, UK); open-access journal; free, open access paper; PLOS ONE; speech production; vocalization; parent; boy; frequency; girl; quotation; Benjamin Franklin; Michael Faraday; bureaucrat; science; scientific; correlation; Western society; reproductive success; Benjamin Pitcher; School of Biological and Chemical Sciences; English language; speech phoneme; vowel; tongue; mouth; resonance; resonant space; spectrogram; formant; sound energy; Creative Commons Attribution License; dataset; England; Australia; United States; decade; linguistic; biological evolution; human culture; Alan McElligott; gene; gender; bias; association football; soccer; celebrity; star; physical attractiveness; physique.
Latest Books by Dev Gualtieri
Thanks to Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing for his favorable review of Secret Codes!
Blog Article Directory on a Single Page
- J. Robert Oppenheimer and Black Holes - April 24, 2017
- Modeling Leaf Mass - April 20, 2017
- Easter, Chicks and Eggs - April 13, 2017
- You, Robot - April 10, 2017
- Collisions - April 6, 2017
- Eugene Garfield (1925-2017) - April 3, 2017
- Old Fossils - March 30, 2017
- Levitation - March 27, 2017
- Soybean Graphene - March 23, 2017
- Income Inequality and Geometrical Frustration - March 20, 2017
- Wireless Power - March 16, 2017
- Trilobite Sex - March 13, 2017
- Freezing, Outside-In - March 9, 2017
- Ammonia Synthesis - March 6, 2017
- High Altitude Radiation - March 2, 2017
- C.N. Yang - February 27, 2017
- VOC Detection with Nanocrystals - February 23, 2017
- Molecular Fountains - February 20, 2017
- Jet Lag - February 16, 2017
- Highly Flexible Conductors - February 13, 2017
- Graphene Friction - February 9, 2017
- Dynamic Range - February 6, 2017
- Robert Boyle's To-Do List for Science - February 2, 2017
- Nanowire Ink - January 30, 2017
- Random Triangles - January 26, 2017
- Torricelli's law - January 23, 2017
- Magnetic Memory - January 19, 2017
- Graphene Putty - January 16, 2017
- Seahorse Genome - January 12, 2017
- Infinite c - January 9, 2017
- 150 Years of Transatlantic Telegraphy - January 5, 2017
- Cold Work on the Nanoscale - January 2, 2017
- Holidays 2016 - December 22, 2016
- Ballistics - December 19, 2016
- Salted Frogs - December 15, 2016
- Negative Thermal Expansion - December 12, 2016
- Verbal Cues and Stereotypes - December 8, 2016
- Capacitance Sensing - December 5, 2016
- Gallium Nitride Tribology - December 1, 2016
- Lunar Origin - November 27, 2016
- Pumpkin Propagation - November 24, 2016
- Math Anxiety - November 21, 2016
- Borophene - November 17, 2016
- Forced Innovation - November 14, 2016
- Combating Glare - November 10, 2016
- Solar Tilt and Planet Nine - November 7, 2016
- The Proton Size Problem - November 3, 2016
- Coffee Acoustics and Espresso Foam - October 31, 2016
- SnIP - An Inorganic Double Helix - October 27, 2016
- Seymour Papert (1928-2016) - October 24, 2016
- Mapping the Milky Way - October 20, 2016
- Electromagnetic Shielding - October 17, 2016
- The Lunacy of the Cows - October 13, 2016
- Random Coprimes and Pi - October 10, 2016
- James Cronin (1931-2016) - October 6, 2016
- The Ubiquitous Helix - October 3, 2016
- The Five-Second Rule - September 29, 2016
- Resistor Networks - September 26, 2016
- Brown Dwarfs - September 22, 2016
- Intrusion Rheology - September 19, 2016
- Falsifiability - September 15, 2016
- Fifth Force - September 12, 2016
- Renal Crystal Growth - September 8, 2016
- The Normality of Pi - September 5, 2016
- Metering Electrical Power - September 1, 2016
Deep Archive 2006-2008