Linguistics Explains Why Some Names Capture One's 'Essence'

Linguistics Explains Why Some Names Seize One’s ‘Essence’


After I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I made a decision to maintain her identify a secret till she was born. Why? As a result of each Tom, Dick, and Jane had an opinion concerning the names we have been contemplating. However we additionally struggled to provide you with one which each of us felt would serve her effectively. Sloane? Good however possibly too serious-sounding. Madison? Too more likely to turn out to be a nickname like Mads. Clarice? Nope, ruined by affiliation with Hannibal Lector. For some time, it seemed like she was going to stay anonymous till she was a teen.

Our problem developing with a child’s identify is way from distinctive. Many individuals have sturdy unfavourable or constructive associations with sure names. However why?

Sounds and symbols

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What do sounds imply to you?

Supply: Chris Hardy/Unsplash

Seems the query “What’s in a reputation?” has occupied thinkers for hundreds of years, along with each potential dad or mum. In reality, the sense that some names simply really feel proper, whereas others don’t fairly match, like calling a Nice Dane “Fifi,” will be traced all the way in which again to antiquity. In Plato’s Cratylus, for instance, Socrates debated provide you with the proper names for folks and objects and whether or not they mirrored the pure essence of the issues they outlined.

This hypothesizing that phrases, and particularly the sounds in phrases, in some way carry some intrinsic related that means was furthered by Charles Darwin as a part of his principle of evolution. He proposed that the origin of human speech was the imitation of sounds heard in nature and from associations that developed with people’ early emotional cries in what’s known as the musical protolanguage mannequin.

As an illustration, sounds of despair or ache Ah! Aowwww!) grew to become components of the phrases we use to precise such feelings (e.g., “Cease” comprises “ah” and “ouch” comprises “aw”). So, underneath this protolanguage speculation, such sound-meaning hyperlinks aren’t arbitrary however tied to early exclamations of happiness, pleasure, unhappiness, anger, or different feelings.

From sound to image

Whereas Darwin’s protolanguage principle fizzled out on the time, within the Nineteen Twenties, this subject, known as sound iconicity or sound symbolism, was picked up with renewed curiosity by linguists and psychologists alike. Analysis based mostly on such theories found a hyperlink between sure sounds and topics’ notion of attributes of objects, like their dimension or form (and, in one other line of analysis, emotional states).

This relationship between sound and dimension and form has been discovered each when it comes to descriptive phrases experimenters had folks make up and, to a point, within the current vocabulary of languages. This space of analysis has additionally explored whether or not there’s a fastened that means to particular person sounds.

However what’s in it for me, with an “ee”?

Past simply being an fascinating facet of our speech capabilities, sound iconicity may have some utilized profit. As an illustration, when sounds match facets of the objects they describe, similar to “oh” in names of bigger gadgets, folks appear to have higher recall of these gadgets than once they contain non-iconic sounds.

Additionally, in creating names for “big-sized” merchandise, folks are likely to favor names with extra again vowels like “ah” or “oh” (suppose Tonka vans). Likewise, smaller objects get named phrases containing “ee” sounds—one thing we see echoed in phrases like mini and bitty child. This not solely appears to make merchandise extra memorable but additionally appears to encourage folks to purchase extra of them when the sound “matches” with object dimension and form.

Wanting extra particularly at social facets of sound symbolism, latest work in sociolinguistics suggests these kind of size-sound correlations translate additional into associations similar to “sweetness” or “lightness” with entrance vowels and extra unfavourable associations with “bigger” sounding vowels. So, the vowels we use in phrases would possibly affect how they’re construed—explaining maybe the Australian tendency so as to add “ee” to issues which can be related to enjoyable, like “choccy” for chocolate and “barbie” for barbeque.

The underside line? Whether or not you’re naming a first-born child or a brand new product, there’s way more than meets the ear behind the query of what’s in a reputation. In case you are aiming to make them memorable, pay a bit extra consideration to which vowels seize their essence. Seems, to cite a well-known Johnny Money music, a boy named “Sue” may need had a preventing likelihood on the playground in any case, however calling him “Susie” may need invited a bit extra hassle.


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