Namnforum: Nathan Young, Stockholms universitet.

  • Datum: –16.00
  • Plats: Engelska parken 16-2041 (Stora seminarierummet)
  • Föreläsare: Nathan Young, Stockholms universitet.
  • Arrangör: Institutionen för nordiska språk
  • Kontaktperson: Johan Hedberg
  • Seminarium

A class-based propensity for sound symbolism in Nordic personal names?

A class-based propensity for sound symbolism in Nordic personal names?

Nathan Young (University of Oslo/Stockholm University)


Research on how gendered personal names correspond to the frequency code (Ohala, 1994) is surprisingly limited: i.e., names assigned to girls are overrepresented by front/high vowels and names assigned to boys by back/low vowels (Pitcher et al., 2013). As far as we know, this pattern’s interaction with social class has never been investigated, which is problematic because the gender divide in stylistic practice often varies by class (Eckert, 1989). In general, social practices of working-class men and women stratify into more extremes than those of their upper- and middle-class counterparts (Forsberg, 2018; Sandfort et al., 2021). But is this the case for given names? How does this look across the three Nordic countries? Do class differences in gendered naming reflect the varying degrees of social stratification in each city? Specifically, do naming practices stratify the most in Stockholm and the least in Copenhagen, matching the high social polarization in Stockholm and the low social polarization in Copenhagen (Haandrikman et al., 2021)? Similarly, do the practices in Oslo stratify "in-between" just as the social polarization in Oslo falls somewhere in between Stockholm and Copenhagen (Haandrikman et al., 2021)? These questions tie into bigger theoretical questions concerning structure and agency and fractal recursivity (Irvine & Gal, 2009) – namely, that agents reproduce macro-structures at a fractal level. The proposed study will analyze over 1 million first names for all residents born between 1980 and 2020 in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo – procured from the respective national Statistics Agencies (Se: SCB, No: SSB, Dk: DST). First names will be grapheme-to-phoneme converted for phonetic annotation. These will then be linked to parental social metadata like occupational level, neighborhood, educational level, and country of birth. Patterns will then be investigated by means of mixed-effects regression models. The proposal is currently also being written up by myself and a grant writer at University of Oslo. It will be submitted to the Norwegian RC and the ERC (2024–2028, €1.000.000). 




Eckert, P. (1989). The whole woman: Sex and gender differences in variation. Language variation and change, 1(3), 245-267.


Forsberg, H. (2018). School competition and social stratification in the deregulated upper secondary school market in Stockholm. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(6), 891-907.


Haandrikman, K., Costa, R., Malmberg, B., Rogne, A. F., & Sleutjes, B. (2021). Socio-economic segregation in European cities. A comparative study of Brussels, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo and Stockholm. Urban Geography, 1-36.



Irvine, J. T., Gal, S., & Kroskrity, P. V. (2009). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. Linguistic anthropology: A reader, 1, 402-434.




Ohala JJ. 1994 The frequency code underlies the sound-symbolic use of voice pitch. In Sound symbolism (eds L Hinton, J Nichols, JJ Ohala), pp. 325–347. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Pitcher, B. J., Mesoudi, A., & McElligott, A. G. (2013). Sex-biased sound symbolism in English-language first names. PLoS One, 8(6), e64825.




Sandfort, T. G., Bos, H. M., Fu, T. C., Herbenick, D., & Dodge, B. (2021). Gender expression and Its correlates in a Nationally representative sample of the US adult population: Findings from the National survey of sexual health and behavior. The journal of sex research, 58(1), 51-63.