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The game of the name

india Updated: May 01, 2007 22:50 IST

What’s in a name? Aplenty, if you go by what a University of Florida Professor of Economics by the name of David Figlio has to say. In his research into human nomenclature, Figlio has observed that the name you give your daughter could affect the way she becomes as an adult, possibly deciding the choices she will make in her life. Figlio’s ratings for the ‘femininity’ of names are based on 1,700 letters and sound combinations associated with maleness or femaleness.

According to the good name doctor, ‘Isabella’ and ‘Anna’ are unlikely to pursue science as their “more feminine” names could lead them to more artistic pursuits. Figlio analysed 55,000 children and also found that “low status” names did marginally worse in exams than others as teachers may have had less expectations consciously or subconsciously from them. Which, of course, either makes ‘Marie’ (Curie), not to mention ‘Margaret’ (Thatcher), ‘Phoolan’ (Devi) and ‘Indira’ (Gandhi), women who went against the grain, or Figlio’s research is poppycock.

The relationship between names and the characteristics of the bearers of the names is something that novelists have been familiar with much before the University of Florida sanctioned Figlio’s research. So Shakespeare and Tagore must have thought hard before naming their characters Portia and Charulata. The two ladies could have been very different if Figlio had his way. Which points to the real issue here: what is ‘femininity’?