U.S. Prefers “Right-Handed” Baby Names

Thanks to the ubiquity of QWERTY keyboards, we have developed a preference for words that contain more letters typed with the right hand.

Why? The theory is that, since we tend to prefer things associated with our dominant side, and most people are right-handed, the result is a slight society-wide preference for right-side keyboard letters. (An earlier theory, which I blogged about here, had to do with typing fluency.)

I’m bringing the QWERTY Effect up again because a new study has linked it to U.S. baby names specifically.

Researchers used SSA baby name data to see whether Right Side Advantage (RSA) levels in baby names — the RSA being the difference between the number of right-side letters and the number of left-side letters in a name — had changed significantly from the “pre-QWERTY era” (1960-1990) to the “QWERTY era” (1991-2012).

Qwerty effect graph for baby names
Mean RSA of preexisting baby names.
© Casasanto et al.
They did two analyses. The first looked at preexisting baby names that had been given to 100+ babies per year. The second looked at newly coined baby names (a.k.a. debut names).

In the first analysis, the researchers found that the mean RSA of preexisting baby names began increasing dramatically around the start of the QWERTY era. In other words, U.S. parents began favoring baby names typed with more right-side keys as QWERTY keyboards became more common.

In the second analysis, they found that names invented after 1990 had significantly higher RSAs (i.e., contained more right-side letters) than names that had been in use before 1990.

Interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Have your favorite baby names changed over time? If so, do your new favorites happen to have more right-side keyboard letters than your old favorites? :)

Sources: The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes word meanings and baby names (pdf], Study: Keyboards Are Influencing What You Name Your Baby

5 thoughts on “U.S. Prefers “Right-Handed” Baby Names

  1. “Avery” which is traditionally a boys name but has become a trendy girls name, is mostly a “left-handed”name.

  2. Interesting,yes, but I doubt that there is much of insight in this study.

    Just looking at my keyboard, I see that the all-so-popular “soft sounds” l, m, n, j, and y are all right handed. On the left side there are only r, w, and v. I think, sound quality is much more important than the position of letters on the keyboard.

  3. The left side has more awkward letters…Q, X, Z, V and sounds that are not fashionable right now, like F and D. As the previous poster suggested, the right side has sounds that are currently more popular–but I doubt it’s because they’re on the right side of the keyboard.

  4. Yeah this seems like something where correlation/causation is amiss. Perhaps the layout of the QWERTY keyboard was designed with this in mind. Most people are right-handed, so the weakest fingers are the 4th and 5th fingers on the left hand… which get the clunky QW ZX combo. That’s 15% of the alphabet which is rarely used given to the left hand. Even with today’s tendencies for trendier names, there are not enough Zs to make up for lots of Ls and such!

    Also, many people these days do all of their “typing” with their thumbs or other fingers on tiny touch screens (i often tap my messages out with my right thumb only)… somewhat blurring the right/left lines further.

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