The Secret Science Behind Baby Names

Think it's all an art? Think again. 

Scientific baby DONOT6_STUDIO/Shutterstock
Have you ever wondered what really goes into naming a child? A recent study from Columbia Business School sheds some light on the scientific side of baby-naming. And a lot of it boils down to gender.

A release for the study asks the question: Is there a reason we associate certain names with genders? Why is Maria a "girl's name" and Mario a "boy's name?" Why is Daniel "for boys" while Danielle is "for girls"?

According to researchers Michael Slepian and Adam Galinsky, the sound of a name sparks an immeadiate connection to a certain gender, which in turn conveys a whole slew of ideas about the masculinity or femininity of the person who carries it.

Related: Cool and Unique Boy Names 

When it comes to gender, there are "hard" names, which are generally reserved for males, and "soft" names, which tend to be feminine. 

"We recently discovered that names can sound hard or soft," Slepian said. "Names that are pronounced without vibration of the vocal cords sound breathier, which people associate with softness, and people stereotypically associate femininity with being tender or soft in disposition. Names that are pronounced with the vibration of the vocal cords sound rougher or harder, and people stereotypically associate masculinity with being tough or hard in disposition."

Related: Sassy Baby Names for Your Sweet Baby Girl

To put it into perspective, Slepian broke down a few common "hard" names as well as a few that sound "softer." "Our findings provide consistent evidence that voiced names—those pronounced with vocal cord vibration which often sound 'harder'—such as 'Gregory,' 'James,' and 'William' are given more frequently to males, and unvoiced names—those pronounced without vocal cord vibration which often sound “softer” and breathier—such as 'Heather,' 'Sarah,' and 'Tiffany' are more frequently given to females. These name assignments fit stereotypical gender categories—men as hard and tough, and women as soft and tender."

In addition to uncovering gendered ideas about names, the researchers also drew conclusions about trends in naming—and they found that "trend factor" is huge in determining a parent's likelihood of choosing a certain name. "Parents are more likely to give their baby a name that has recently grown in popularity, according to our recent research," Slepian said.

Related: The Hottest Trends for Baby Names

Some other factors at play in how we name our babies? According to the research, female names go in and out of style faster than male names, and many moms and dads-to-be are seeking naming inspiration from social media and technology, celestial themes and royal birth announcements.