A new study by Surrey University researchers has pointed out that the age-old practice of putting male names before female names in writing could be indicative of sexist thinking.
According to researchers, letters beginning with "Dear Sir/Madam" and references to "Mr and Mrs" is sexist hangover from past centuries when men were considered superior to women.
They point out that the practice of referring to a couple as "David and Sarah" instead of "Sarah and David" and phrases like "his and hers" date back to 16th century sexism.
Scientists discovered that the habit of using such phrases was in-built, and was even followed by same-sex couples where the name thought to be more masculine was used first.
Researchers say the tradition began in the 16th century when men were thought to be "worthier" than women. While most people today do not identify with this line of thought, they still continue in a pre-programmed fashion to name the male partner first.
Dr Peter Hegarty and his team carried out a series of tests for the British Journal of Social Psychology. First they made up 20 heterogeneous couples using the most popular male and female names. Thereafter, they searched the Internet for both combinations, such as "David and Sarah" and "Sarah and David".
Of all the mentions they found, 79 percent were for combinations where the boy was named first and 21 per cent where the girl's name appeared first.
In a further test, 121 volunteers were given information about two fictitious couples, one created to be traditional and conformist, the other more radical and offbeat, and asked to give them names. The majority of the "traditional" couples were given the male name first, whereas there was an even split with the "non-traditional" couple.
In a third test, 86 participants were asked to think of names for same-sex couples and then to describe the persona of each partner, such as sporty or fashionable, muscular or feminine. When the names were matched with the personality traits, the researchers saw a clear majority had written the more masculine of the pair first.
"In the 16th century, naming men before women became the acceptable word order to use because of the thinking that men were the worthier sex. While the original sexist ideas behind this grammar are no longer accepted, gender stereotypes still affect the written language," the Scotsman quoted Dr Hegarty, as saying.
He added: "The results of our studies suggest that people tend to put men, or male qualities, before women. As this is a remnant of the sexist grammar of the 16th century, it would seem that psychologically, we are still sexist in writing."
However, one exception was seen where a female was a long time friend of a man; people may then refer to the pair as "Caroline and Simon" if they know her better.
"I don't think people would consciously think to put a man's name first. I think you could actively correct it," Dr Cynthia McVeigh, head of psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, said.
McVeigh added: "It might be because one partner seems more dominant or you know one better than the other. Or it might just be easier to say in one direction than the other." (ANI)