This morning I happened to be searching for something unrelated and came up with an article that appeared last week in The Atlantic. I skimmed it, and it suddenly started looking very familiar, right at this point:
There are more variables at play than just pronunciation, though. In competitive fields that have classically been dominated by men, such as law and engineering, women with sexually ambiguous names tend to be more successful. This effect is known as the Portia Hypothesis (named for the heroine of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice who disguises herself as a lawyer’s apprentice and takes on the name Balthazar to save the titular merchant, Antonio). A study found that female lawyers with more masculine names—such as Barney, Dale, Leslie, Jan, and Rudell—tend to have better chances of winning judgeships than their more effeminately named female peers. All else being equal, changing a candidate’s name from Sue to Cameron tripled a candidate’s likelihood of becoming a judge; a change from Sue to Bruce quintupled it….
And sure enough, I followed the link and found that the study was one co-authored by my son-in-law, an economist who teaches at USC.
If I recall correctly, the idea for the study grew out of a conversation several years ago between him and my daughter, an attorney, regarding such female federal court judges in South Carolina as Bruce Hendricks and Cameron Currie. The subject was particularly, personally interesting to them both because it was about the time their twins were born. The twins are named for their great-grandmothers. Twin A is called by my wife’s mother’s unmistakably feminine first name. Twin B is known by my mother’s neutral maiden surname.
The twins are six-and-a-half now, so it’s a bit early to see whether Twin B will be a federal judge, while Twin A follows a different path. We’ll see. They’re just precious little girls right now…