Category: psychology of names

Science and the Sounds and Shapes of Names

sounds of names

By David Sidhu

Guest blogger David Sidhu shares some of his fascinating research on the personality traits people associate with certain names. And if you’d like to delve further into the subject, he’s provided some references at the end.

What’s in a name? Is there any scientific reason to expect that we might associate certain kinds of information with a name, based on the way it sounds or feels to pronounce? Yes! It seems that certain kinds of names are associated with not only particular shapes, but also personality traits!

But, before we get to names, we have to take a few steps back, to 1929, when Wolfgang Köhler first claimed that certain made up words (or “nonwords”) might go along better with certain shapes. He suggested that if people were presented with two shapes: a round one and a spiky one, and told that one was a “baluma” and one was a “takete,” everyone would naturally pair “baluma” with the round shape and “takete” with the sharp shape. His assertion has since been demonstrated experimentally a number of different times: people associate nonwords like “bouba”, “maluma” or “luna” with round shapes; and nonwords like “kiki”, “teetay” or “paka” with sharp shapes. This has come to be known as the “Bouba/Kiki Effect.”

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By Mark van Vugt, VU University Amsterdam

What do first names tell us about their owners? According to Shakespeare’s heroine Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet) not much: “What’s in a name” Juliet says “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

It would seem that choosing a first name for your baby girl or boy is an entirely personal matter for the parents and beyond any serious scientific scrutiny. Well it is not! First, some first names just happen to more popular than others in any given period. In the 2012 US boy names top 100 appear names such as Jacob, Mason, and Cameron which are way more popular than others (such as Kennan or Alexei). This is also true for girl’s names. Sophia, Lily, and Isabella are among the more popular current girl names in the US. This effectively means that parents are culturally influenced in naming their children.

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