Modeling language change in English first names

Savannah Jane Williams, Margaret Renwick


Some lexical classes are more susceptible to the effects of sound symbolism, a hypothesized relationship where speech sounds represent non-phonetic properties. Sound symbolic principles are manifested in male and female personal names in English. While previous research found distinct differences between female and male names in English, the current study fills a gap in existing research by adopting a diachronic perspective: male and female names are compared to each other as well as to themselves across time. Statistical analysis was conducted via a generalized additive model in R, using a data of 5600 names sourced from the United States Social Security Administration. The study finds that female names are longer, more likely to end in a vowel, and less likely to have initial primary stress, and that names for both sexes exhibit change over time, shifting towards a pattern previously associated with female names. 


sound symbolism; onomastics; language change

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