Mother, Monster, Mrs, I: A Critical Evaluation of Gendered Naming Strategies in English Sentencing Remarks of Women Who Kill



In this article, we take a novel approach to analysing English sentencing remarks in cases of women who kill. We apply computational, quantitative, and qualitative methods from corpus linguistics to analyse recurrent patterns in a collection of English Crown Court sentencing remarks from 2012 to 2015, where a female defendant was convicted of a homicide offence. We detail the ways in which women who kill are referred to by judges in the sentencing remarks, providing frequency information on pronominal, nominative, and categorising naming strategies. In discussion of the various patterns of preference both across and within these categories (e.g. pronoun vs. nomination, title + surname vs. forename + surname), we remark upon the identities constructed through the references provided. In so doing, we: (1) quantify the extent to which members of the judiciary invoke patriarchal values and gender stereotypes within their sentencing remarks to construct female defendants, and (2) identify particular identities and narratives that emerge within sentencing remarks for women who kill. We find that judges refer to women who kill in a number of ways that systematically create dichotomous narratives of degraded victims or dehumanised monsters. We also identify marked absences in naming strategies, notably: physical identification normally associated with narrativization of women’s experiences; and the first person pronoun, reflecting omissions of women’s own voices and narratives of their lived experiences in the courtroom.


Corpus linguistics Forensic linguistics Language and law Feminist legal methodology Critical discourse analysis Women offenders Women who kill Interdisiplinary approaches Discourse analysis 



We would like to thank our colleagues at Cardiff University School of English, Communication and Philosophy, and Lancaster University Law School for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of English, Communication and Philosophy (ENCAP)Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.Law SchoolLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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