The Morphological Gender Assignment for English Personal Names

The word formation process for English has been the center of much study. However, one area has received less attention than the rest, specifically the word formation process of English personal names. This paper seeks to investigate whether the English feminine personal names ending with "a" i.e. Amanda, Bertha, Hilda etc., are morphologically derived or not. There is evidence that suggests gender assignment for these names is not arbitrary nor a mere convention. Rather, gender assignment follows a predictable pattern in these cases. As one argument for this, in order to change a personal name like "Robert" from a masculine into a feminine, we would simply add "a" as suffix as in "Roberta". This shift in the gender association seems to be the result of derivational morphology. By the same token, native speakers are expected to apply the same morpheme when presented by nonsense names such as "Amin" to "Amina". Here, results from a survey study are presented which bear out this hypothesis with both native and foreign names, that latter of which are likely treated as nounce-names by subjects. Given these results, we can make the claim that -a is an English morpheme that assigns feminine gender. Further, some of the constraints on the application of -a are discussed. This study provides linguists with useful insights into some of the history behind the personal names in English, as well as shedding light on the phonological and morphological rules that govern them. Keywords: grammatical gender, masculine, feminine, morphological productivity