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Is there a term for using gender pronouns for inanimate objects?

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    Personification, anthromorphism, and zoomorphism all seem to possibly apply. Jun 19, 2018 at 19:51
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    e.g. referring to a ship as "she"?
    – wrymug
    Jun 19, 2018 at 20:20
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    It's called "covert gender". Like cat and dog in English, where the default personal pronouns are she and he, respectively, as Whorf pointed out. Jun 19, 2018 at 20:21
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    @CJDennis Yes, that's JL's point, English speakers will tend to use 'he' for dogs and 'she' for cats until corrected. With respect to citation, there's the appeal to numbers, namely, everyone knows this. If that's not convincing, just listen to what people do.
    – Mitch
    Jun 20, 2018 at 2:04
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    At least in linguistics, everybody's read this; it's 75 years old. "Grammatical Categories", Benjamin Lee Whorf, 1945. Language 21: 1, pp. 1-11. BTW, as an owner at one time or another of a female dog and a male cat, I can vouch for the default values. Jun 20, 2018 at 3:48

2 Answers 2

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I would call it gendering:

The assigning or attributing of a gender to someone or something; division, classification, or differentiation according to gender.
Oxford Dictionaries

Here are some examples:

I know gendering of vehicles (cars, boats, trains, plains, etc) is actually fairly common in fiction (I haven't seen/heard about it much in real life), but it's usually male characters that are naming them and calling them by gender pronouns.
Fifty Shades of Why

These sorts of feminine motherhood associations led to the gendering.
Quora: Why are almost all ships considered 'female'?

  • If I demonstrate instances of humans gendering boats as masculine and feminine just like they do with people in a way that's totally separate from sex will you admit you're wrong and I'm right? [...] — /u/halfback910
  • You can provide me with instances of humans gendering humans. I disagree with that as equally as i disagree with gendering boats or rubbish bins. [...] — /u/Belrick_NZ
  • The fact remains that we DO gender things. And as long as we ARE gendering things, we should apply our conventions uniformly, right? [...] — /u/halfback910

Reddit: If You Guys Like the Way "It's Okay to be White" f***s with the Left, You Should try "There Are Only Two Sexes"

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  • I don't think the dictionary means to refer to inanimate objects. "Something" likely means an animal.
    – Kris
    Jun 20, 2018 at 8:40
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    @Kris Animals don’t get assigned genders/sexes- they come that way. The process of finding out the sex is called sexing. (Thankfully a search for “chick sexing”, as risky as it sounds, doesn’t bring up any dirty results 😅.)
    – Laurel
    Jun 20, 2018 at 16:31
  • Funny, what we are talking about here is not about sexing an animal. Try to get the drift, Laurel.
    – Kris
    Jun 21, 2018 at 5:15
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Depending on why you want to add a gender, it is an example of anthropomorphization:

to attribute human form or personality to things not human

Most of the time, the gender assigned is female. However, some inanimate objects are given a male gender.

From an article called "Metaphorical Gender in English: Feminine Boats, Masculine Tools and Neuter Animals" (emphasis in the example sentences is mine):

This phenomenon of imposing masculinity or femininity on sexless objects and abstract concepts is used for poetic effect in order to personify objects or show strong emotional involvement with them, especially when calling an object it seems too cold. Since English lacks grammatical gender, English speakers are given creative licence to personify objects as whichever gender they choose. The following are some examples of metaphorical gender in English usage:

On her maiden voyage, the Bismarck collided with another ship but she sustained no damage.

"My car, she’s a beauty."

I’ll tell you what I found—one of our old hay knives. I got him out and cleaned him up and put a new handle on him.

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