Do Ultra-Feminine Names Keep Girls Out of Science?

According to a recent Daily Mail article, University of Florida economics professor David Figlio has determined that girls with very feminine names are less likely to study science.

Those christened ‘Isabella’ or ‘Anna’ are not likely to study science because their ‘more feminine’ first names mean they are not encouraged to do so.

Here’s a sampling of names, ranked by Figlio according to femininity:

Isabella 1.21
Anna 1.04
Elizabeth 1.02
Emma 0.97
Jessica 0.93
Samantha 0.83
Sarah 0.78
Olivia 0.74
Hannah 0.70
Emily 0.68
Lauren 0.66
Ashley 0.63
Grace 0.50
Abigail 0.48
Alex 0.28

In the article, Figlio noted that “girls with feminine names [are] often typecast,” implying that there is a causal relationship between feminine names and science-avoidance.

Personally, I think that is a dangerous assumption to make.

To me, it seems just as likely that parents who bestow ultra-feminine names have different views on gender than those who prefer masculine-sounding girl names. Therefore, couldn’t underlying parental bias be the root cause of both the names and the attitudes toward science?

Prof. Figlio’s findings will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Human Resources.

UPDATE: Feminine Names and Science, Revisited


3 thoughts on “Do Ultra-Feminine Names Keep Girls Out of Science?

  1. Absolutely agree with your comment about the possible causes. Have you read the book, Freakonomics, and the chapter on naming?

    Just stumbled on your site on a quest to name our second son, who is now a week old. Have you ever heard of the boy’s name Keefe? We like it but think it is just too rare, and he will forever be correcting people who think he has a lisp or will assume it is “Keith”. I’d be interested in your thoughts…

  2. Hi John!

    Congratulations on the birth of your son! I’m writing a post for you in response to that question about Keefe — I’ll publish it in just a few minutes…

    I’ve read bits and pieces of Freakonomics, and I visit the Freakonomics blog regularly, but I haven’t yet had a chance to read that chapter on naming. (I mean to soon, though!)

    -Nancy

  3. “To me, it seems just as likely that parents who bestow ultra-feminine names have different views on gender.”

    This is indeed true. My wife and I fall into that group. We believe that girls and boys are different. We have two grils named Amber and Jemma. We encourage them to be feminine. We only permit them to wear dresses and skirts and we do not let them engage in rough play. We encourage them to read books about being beautiful wives.

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