gender ambigous asian names

When reading an asian name, is there a clue to the person’s gender?

When reading a European-origin name, is there a clue to the person’s gender? (If you didn’t already know it?)

I don’t think anyone who knows nothing about the culture in question can be given any kind of “code” to work it out. But there is a more general issue of gender exclusivity of names.

I believe that most Japanese names for example are gender specific, but Chinese names are not. I don’t know about other East Asian cultures.

Most (all?) South Asian names are gender indicating, but there’s no “code” to crack. Many feminine names end with “i” or “a,” (but not all) but plenty of masculine names end with “a” as well (pronounced differently).

thanks acsenary. I’m merely trying to fight my own ignorance.

Asian names have considerably more variation than European names, and the question needs to be asked language by language rather than as if all of Asia were the same. For example, there’s a Japanese rule that a given name ending in 子 (ko) must be female, but not all female Japanese given names end with that. Some Japanese given names can be male or female, e.g. ひかる (Hikaru). However, these rules are quite specific to Japanese.

There are a great many clues in languages such as Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. There are fewer clues in English, but there are some available especially if the name comes from Latin. I bet you could come up with some fairly decent heuristics just by defining some fuzzy logic based on gender rules in the romance languages.

In Spanish, most names which end in A are female and O are male.

My guess is that if you took as your population non-Asian, non-African names used in North America, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, your heuristics would be a big fat fail.

For English names, yeah. But your question was about European names in general, where your chances of success would be very good in the languages I mentioned.

I said “European-origin” names, not “European” names.

The difference being what, exactly?

I already defined it for you. I was assuming that etv was working from an Anglo-American perspective.

Thanks Giles! Most names i wondered about are Japanese.

When in doubt, a Google Image Search for a particular name can be very telling. Really, though, it will often come down to just becoming more familiar with the culture and its common names.

Japanese names ending in -suke, by the by, are male (at least IME–I can’t think of any female Japanese with a given name ending in -suke).

If you ever want to look up a particular Japanese name to see if it’s male, female, or can be used for either gender, WWWJDIC has a name-specific lookup feature. You’ll want to change the dictionary selection dropdown to “Japanese Names (ENAMDICT).” Be sure to check the Dictionary Codes page for the explanations of the shorthand used in the entries, specifically the section headed “Names Dictionary Codes”: e.g., f is a female given name, m is a male given name, and g is a given name not yet classified by gender.

Here’s a fun fact: most Sikh names are completely gender-neutral. That is, “Harjeet” or “Sukhwinder” can be male or female and I’ve seen it both ways. Fun for the whole family!

The age of females’ names ending in ko is ending, for now. It is very common for women in their 40s, less for those in their 30s, etc. Very few in the nursery our daughter goes to.

However, e has taken over its place, along with ka and others.

It’s much easier to tell if you read Japanese and can see the kanji.

Yes – that’s why I gave the Japanese character for “ko”, since there are men’s names that end in “ko”, but they don’t have the character 子, e.g., Haruhiko, Masahiko.

On the other hand both Nicola and Andrea (Italian) are men’s names.

In many European languages, many names have a meaning describing an attribute (or desired attribute) of the bearer of the name. Being words with a meaning, these names typically follow the rules of the grammar of the appropriate language.

Take Désiré(e) or Honoré(e) in French, for instance: The names simply mean “the desired one” or “the honoured one”, respectively, but since the French participe passé differs by gender, it has to have the additional -e at the end for the feminine gender, which is missing for men.

A similar reasoning lies behind the -a and -o distinction in Italian and Spanish that has already been mentioned. Anybody familiar with the grammar of the language can make a very good guess about the bearer’s sex on the basis of these observations.

I have no idea how this is in Asian languages, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there are similar effects there. They certainly exist in Arabic (a language I have a rather superficial familiarity with), where names are almost always adjectives with a meaning (and typically a flowery one, such as “the great one”, “the beautiful one” etc.), which also has different adjective forms for male and female.

This actually confirms what I said in my previous post, since Nicola and Andrea are not derived from adjectives (which wouldn’t normally end in an -a for men). Both names derive from other languages where they take an -s at the end, which was dropped for the sake of ease of pronunciation and to make a more pleasant (for speakers of Italian) sound. Somebody familiar with the Italian language could, even if he or she had never heard these names before, still make out that they are not Italian adjectives and that the -a/-o rule does therefore not apply to them.

Japanese words don’t have gender. (There are, however, differences in the words and constructions that men and women will use.) The same name will often be “spelled” many different ways using different kanji (characters), giving the name a different meaning. So names that are used for men or women will probably be written differently at least some of the time.

ETA: Side note, the proununciation thing goes the other way, too: one way of writing a name (i.e., a specific set of kanji) can often be pronounced as two or more different names.