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Evolution May Explain Boy and Girl Names

Update Date: Jun 05, 2013 05:28 PM EDT

Could your name be a product of evolution? A new study analyzed the most popular baby names from the last decade to see if there is a link between the sounds in a name and the sex.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that names given to boys are significantly more likely to contain broad, larger sounding vowels that are emphasized when spoken, while names given to girls are smaller sounding in comparison.

Researchers said the effect results in names like Thomas or George being considered more masculine and more suitable for boy, whereas names such as Emily and Mary are considered feminine and given to girls.

"The origins of names may vary but this study suggests that there is an association between the size of the sounds in first names and the sex they are associated with," co-author Benjamin Pitcher from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said in a news release.

The findings suggest that larger sounding names are a popular choice for parents when it comes to naming their sons because they might associate the name size with masculine qualities.  Researchers explain that mammals, like humans, and deeper sounding vocalizations are typically associated with larger individuals and high frequencies with smaller ones.

"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," Pitcher said.

Experts said that the findings are interesting because it is an example of how biological evolution can influence human culture.

"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," co-researcher Dr. Alan McElligott said in a statement.

The study examined a 10-year dataset of the most popular names from England, Australia and the United States, which represents nearly a third of all births during that time period. 

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