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In a number of major Western European languages, there are some fairly straighforward correlations between the pronunciation of given names and the biological gender these names are assigned to. E.g. given names that end with -a or (in German) -e tend to be female names, while names that end with -o tend to be male. I have noticed this kind of correlation is absent (or at least much less obvious) in some other languages I have tried to learn, e.g. Chinese or Mongolian.

I have also noticed that most major Western European languages have a grammatical gender and that the language that I know best has some fairly straightforward correlations between pronunciation and grammatical gender.

So are the above-mentioned correlations between pronunciation and biological gender for given names something that is typical for languages with a grammatical gender and much less typical for languages that have no grammatical gender?


P.S. I just found a similar question at Gender-based name endings: Are they common? . If we take that question as a base, my question might be rephrased as "Gender-based name endings: Are they common in languages with a grammatical gender, and uncommon in languages without?"


Disclaimer: Since this has been brought up in the comments: I am using "biological gender" here as a shorthand for the distinction between women and men, or between girls and boys. I know that "biological" is just an approximation and the distinction between male and female may sometimes be made on other grounds. I still would argue that this shorthand is justified by hypothesising that the correlation between social and biological gender is fairly strong in most speech communities.

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    I think just "gender" is the term you're looking for, not "biological gender". – Lily Kaur Dec 19 '18 at 21:09
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    Possibly. But I also want to avoid confusion between grammatical gender as in "der", "die", "das" and a person's gender as in "it's a girl" or "it's a boy". – Jan Dec 19 '18 at 21:14
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    @Jan There's a large body of work in linguistic anthropology which would suggest that the term "biological gender" is an oxymoron. "Social gender" might be a better way to describe what you're asking about. – Lily Kaur Dec 19 '18 at 21:19
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    @Lily Kaur, This is not really a topic I am an expert in and want to argue about. But I think the current wording is reasonably compatible with the view that social gender is only an approximation of biological realities. – Jan Dec 19 '18 at 21:27
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    @Lily Kaur: Gender-neutral names are in fact also reasonably common in Mongolian, as is the practice of giving non-neutral names, toys and clothes to children of the opposite sex (although probably more so for children who are biologically male). But that still does not invalidate that 1. For the purpose of this question, it is useful to qualify what "gender" is referred to (grammatical or some other one), and 2. in most societies (including Mongolian and probably Sikh) there is a strong correlation between social gender and biological sex. – Jan Dec 19 '18 at 22:05
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There are two main patterns where sex of the referent correlates with facts of pronunciation: overt grammatical gender marking on nouns, and "incidental" affixation (not reflecting grammatical gender in the language). Japanese does not have grammatical gender, but the diminutive clitic -ko is often found in female names. Luo also does not have grammatical gender, but personal names are sex-marked, for example ɔ-jwɔ̂k, o-môlo are male names and a-jwɔ̂k, ə-môlo are female names.

Also, if a language explicitly marks noun gender at least for masculine and feminine, then it will probably add that marker to male versus female names. For example, in Khoekhoe, nouns referring to males have the suffix -b and those referring to females have the suffix -s, and names follow suit (male names Moseb, Johaneb, Andreab, Simon Petrub; female names Marias, Ruts, Evas, Esters, Eunikes). Spanish male vs. female names similarly exhibit a sound-sex correlation that reflects masculine versus feminine marking on nouns.

English female names with final -ette, -etta etc. are analogous to Japanese female names with -ko, having a historical diminutive suffix. The high correlation between female name and final -a likewise reflects grammatical gender marking, both Indo-European feminine - or Semitic feminine -a(h~t).

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  • Are there some links with diminutive? – amegnunsen Dec 20 '18 at 20:01
  • What do you mean by "links with diminutives"? I.e. are you looking for online papers about diminutives in names? – user6726 Dec 20 '18 at 20:11
  • Not exactly, in Romance languages the ending -VttV is also related to diminutive/hypocorism. Moreover, in Berber, the feminine marker serves also as a diminutive. The suffix -ko in Japanese is a diminutive as well. It seems there is crosslinguistically a link/relation between the feminine gender and the diminutive. – amegnunsen Dec 20 '18 at 20:52

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