But what about “Moon Unit”?

2007 Byte Bash - 41
WeatherGirl tipped me to an Observer article entitled “Names really do make a difference“, and I keep wavering between “Oh, surely not!” and “Well, duh, that was pretty obvious”. Apparently giving a girl a “girlie” name significantly reduces her likelihood of studying math and science:

Both subjects [math and physics], which are traditionally seen as predominantly male, are far more popular among girls with names such as Abigail, Lauren and Ashley, which have been judged as less feminine in a linguistic test. The effect is so strong that parents can set twin daughters off on completely different career paths simply by calling them Isabella and Alex, names at either end of the spectrum. A study of 1,000 pairs of sisters in the US found that Alex was twice as likely as her twin to take maths or science at a higher level.

The (highly speculative) causalities are the reasonably obvious ones: Seeing names like “Barbie” or “Breeze” on the class list or application form brings beaucoup baggage to the party. This is hardly a win, especially since the patriarchy already ensures that females already have plenty of baggage when it comes to science and math. It’s also telling, if not entirely shocking, that giving boys certain names can have similar effects. Seeing “Bubba” on the football roster might elicit a snicker, but likely no surprise; seeing “Bubba” at the math league finals, on the other hand…

So it would seem that some parents have a fair bit to answer for:

‘A name is part of an impression package,’ said Mehrabian. ‘Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish.’

In the case of the Zappa family, I’m voting for “arrogant”; Frank certainly wasn’t ignorant.

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3 Responses to But what about “Moon Unit”?

  1. CoryQ says:

    Working in admissions for a university I was always amazed at some of the names parents foisted on their children. Some of my favorites:
    – London Englund
    – Mistyblue
    – Aquanette
    – Cabin
    – Lake-Louise.

  2. Jen says:

    I would like to believe this article, but I just can’t get past one thing–Ashley is supposed to be a masculine name? Have they seen the TV show “Recess?”

    I would love to know how the linguistics test tells them some names are more masculine. When I think of masculine female names, I think of Drew or Pat, not Ashley and Lauren.

  3. Phi says:

    CoryQ: Amen, brother! You get a lot of Chris and Andy and Emily and Steph around here, but every now and then your class list throws you a real zinger. I think “London Englund” and “Lake-Louise”, however, border on the criminal!

    Jen: I had a similar reaction. Ashley definitely doesn’t fall in my notion of “masculine” names. The article has some vague comments about using “linguistic properties” or some such to determine the masculinity of the names, but I really don’t know the details of what that means.

    As a vaguely related aside, Douglas Hofstadter did some neat stuff using deliberately gender-vague names (like Pat and Chris) in some of his essay writing 20 years or so ago, and I still find myself thinking of his examples when I’m choosing names in some of my own writing.

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