Study: Does the name say it all? Investigating phoneme-personality sound symbolism in first names.

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This caught my interest as having a non-cultural name, it stands out. My racial background stands out. In naming Fleur, we wanted something that stood out but wasn’t so strange as to be offputting.

We use a variety of techniques to make sounds that are used to comprise noises. A sonorant has a continuous free-flow tone and is like a vowel or /m/ or /l/ -like sound.

Apparently, certain sounds are associated with certain kinds of things called “sound symbolism.” This is interesting because maybe certain things have certain names not because the name has been passed down through generations but because our brain gravitates to the sounds for the name.

This paper is a look at associations related to phonemes and first names and personality. This sounds kind of astrological to me. The good news they are using Big Five + Honesty-Humility not MBTI.

  1. Participants chose a name containing sonorant or voiceless stops for specific personality traits. Given the this or that, it reveals leanings of a forced binary choice, one of the failings of MBTI. There is no option for a neutral feeling, which might be the most likely choice. Names with sonorants were judged to belong to people who are higher on Emotionality, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.
  2. In the next experiment, they presented a single name at a time and used a Likert scale to measure the responses. The effect was still present.
  3. In the third experiment, they had people take the HEXACO personality test, then compared to the phonetic transcription of their name. They didn’t find much of a relationship.
  4. They moved sounds around to make up names. This eliminates the possible associations with real people as a possible confound. The effect persisted only now Honesty-Humility showed up as higher and Extraversion lower.
  5. In the final experiment, they were looking to remove likability as a confound.

Sidhu, D. M., Deschamps, K., Bourdage, J. S., & Pexman, P. M. (2019). Does the name say it all? Investigating phoneme-personality sound symbolism in first names. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 148(9), 1595-1614 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000662

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