Children's Evaluative Stereotypes of Masculine, Feminine, and Androgynous First Names

By Erwin, Philip G. | The Psychological Record, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Children's Evaluative Stereotypes of Masculine, Feminine, and Androgynous First Names


Erwin, Philip G., The Psychological Record


Name stereotypes were once famously described as the neglected social variable (Albott & Bruning, 1970), though there is now a substantial literature on the stereotypes associated with given names (for reviews, see Erwin, 1995; Lawson, 1984). Common, more familiar names do generally appear to be more positively evaluated (Busse & Seraydarian, 1978; Colman, Hargreaves, & Sluckin, 1981), and people with unusual and less attractive names are more likely to change their name or use a nickname or some alternate form of address (Broom, Beem, & Harris, 1955; Joubert, 1985b). The attractiveness of popular names has been explained in terms of a 'mere exposure' effect (Zajonc, 1968), though variations in the popularity of first names may be due to a preference-feedback mechanism (Hargreaves, Colman, & Sluckin, 1983). The preference-feedback hypothesis argues that overexposure to a popular name may lead to a decline in its popularity and hence the popularity of first names may be cyclical. Consequently, the popularity of a first name within a culture does change over time (Wright, 1954) and people of different ages within a culture may evaluate the same names quite differently (Busse & Helfrich, 1975).

It has been argued that the stereotypes associated with given names are relatively stable, have different evaluative consequences for the individual, result in differential expectations and treatment of the individual, and are consequentially reflected in psychological and behavioral differences associated with the stereotypic evaluation (Erwin, 1995). As Erwin (1995) notes, the impact of given names on a number of aspects of social and cognitive functioning is well documented, though not always totally consistent or beyond methodological criticism.

Research has noted name stereotype effects on aspects of personality (e.g., Leirer, Hamilton, & Carpenter, 1982), personal adjustment and psychopathology (Hartman, Nicolay, & Hurley, 1968), perceptions of physical attractiveness (Hensley & Spencer, 1985), social success and popularity (McDavid & Harari, 1966), self-concept and self-esteem (Garwood, 1976; Strumpfer, 1978), IQ and academic achievement (Seraydarian & Busse, 1981), evaluations of academic work and performance (Erwin & Calev, 1984; Garwood, 1976; Joubert, 1983), and the tendency to drop out of college (Savage & Wells, 1948).

Despite the large amount of evidence attesting to the benefits of a popular, attractive given name, it is important to bear in mind that in some circumstances the holders of more unusual names may be benefited (Zweigenhaft, 1977, 1981). For example, the evaluation of a name may depend on class, race, or sex. Perhaps, for better or for worse, individuals with more distinctive names may be more noticeable and memorable. One interesting study found that unusual first names were associated with achievement in male psychologists (Sadowski, Wheeler, & Cash, 1983)!

Within the broad pattern of more popular names generally being more positively evaluated, there does appear to be a sex difference in name preferences: Male common names tend to be rated more positively than female common names while female uncommon names are more positively rated than uncommon male names (West & Shults, 1976). Perhaps reflecting this, men are more likely than women to be named after their same-sex-parent (Joubert, 1985b) and males prefer more common and dated names whereas females prefer relatively less frequent and more unusual names (Gladding & Farrar, 1982; Joubert, 1985a). The desirability of given names also correlates with their ratings of masculinity or femininity; more desirable names are generally more strongly gender stereotyped (Garwood, Baer, Levine, Carroll, & O'Neal, 1981).

A great deal of research has examined name stereotypes, in children (Erwin, 1995). However, there is little research examining the implications of androgynous names, despite their current popularity. …

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