Vol. 69 No. 1 (2021)

On Sound Symbolism in Baseball Player Names

Stephanie S. Shih
Deniz Rudin
University of Southern California

Published 2021-02-15


  • sound symbolism,
  • iconitiy,
  • corpus linguistics,
  • cognitive science,
  • baseball,
  • anthroponymy,
  • nicknames
  • ...More


Recent work has argued that sound symbolism plays a much larger part in language than previously believed, given the assumption of the arbitrariness of the sign. A slate of recent papers on Pokémonastics, for example, has found sound symbolic associations to be rampant in Pokémon names cross-linguistically. In this paper, we explore a real-world dataset that parallels Pokémon, in which human players similarly have physical attributes of weight, height, and power: Major League Baseball. We investigated phonological correlations between baseball player statistics and their given first names, chosen baseball-official first names,
and baseball nicknames. We found numerous sound symbolic associations in player-chosen names and nicknames, where conscious design may play a role in choosing a name that communicates an attribute. These associations were often mediated by language-specific hypocoristic formation processes. We conclude that sound symbolism occurs in real-world naming practices, but only when names are chosen in cognizance of the relevant attributes.


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