Death by androgyny? The old name rules meet the new generation

Oct 21st 2009

It's one of the classic maxims of the baby name business: most parents who like "androgynous" names really like masculine-sounding names for both sexes. Parents of boys carefully avoid anything feminine. When a boy's name starts to show up on the girl's chart, the male version's days are usually numbered. Take a look at the NameVoyager graph of Leslie for a classic example.

In the past decades we've seen an explosion of new androgynous names. In addition to the 65 names that make both top 1000 lists, countless more names are surnames that could go either way (Jensen), new inventions you'd have to guess at (Braelyn), or spelling variations on androgynous names (Kamren and Camren make the top 1000 for boys only, Kamryn only for girls, Camryn both). It's not just individual names used for both sexes, it's a broad androgynous style that's defining a generation of names.

Does that mean an entire generation of names is destined to turn feminine? Will boys eventually find themselves stranded on a tiny name island with nothing but kingly classics and absurdly macho inventions to choose from? Don't panic yet, parents of boys. There are reasons to think that this crop may be different

Remember that the common wisdom on androgynous names comes from a history of long-time male names being adopted by females. Many of today's favorite emerged simultaneously as names for both sexes. What happens when a name starts out gender-neutral? Is one sex destined to "win" the name, or can it maintain a balanced sex ratio over time? And if there is a winner, who wins?

In many cases, these questions end up moot because the trendy names fade away before any resolution. Yet examples are mounting to suggest that the old rules may not apply, and all bets are off.

Take a look at the name Devin, in all its many spellings. 50 years ago it was essentially unknown, then it started climbing for boys and girls alike. The boys eventually took the lead, and in 2006 every spelling (Devin, Devon, Devyn) dropped off the girls' chart simultaneously, leaving the name suddenly, authoritatively masculine. The girls, meanwhile, are "winning" Addison. And still other names are showing staying power on both sides of the charts. As in the case of Kamren/Camren/Kamryn/Camryn, many of these splinter into multiple variants, each with its own sex ratio. For instance, Jalen is masculine, Jaelyn feminine, and Jaylin a tossup. What that means, in practice, is that you can't assume anything when you hear the name.

So it seems that unlike established names, new androgynous names don't inevitably tip toward the feminine. The trick is, they don't inevitably do anything. What crystal ball could have told you 15 years ago that Ashton would end up masculine and Addison feminine? In each case, the name's fluid gender identity made it easy for a celebrity example to shape public perception. (Check out this past post on Ashton to watch the forces of celebrity in action.) You can weigh risk factors, like whether the name contracts to a girlish or boyish sounding nickname. But in the end, if you choose a new androgynous name today you have to be prepared that 10 or 20 years down the line it may come across very differently.

Comments

1
October 21, 2009 4:03 PM

This post makes me wonder about Hayden.

Will we end up with a battle, Hayden Christensen on one side, Hayden Panettiere on the other, locked in nominative combat for mindshare, the fate of the name's gender in the balance?

2
By Birgitte (not verified)
October 21, 2009 4:10 PM

All I have to say is, what is wrong with being overtly female if you are a girl and overtly male if you are a boy? Is it just because I am Norwegian that I don't get the obsession with androgynous names?

3
October 21, 2009 4:15 PM

birgitte:
you're not alone. i personally dislike androgynous names. if i have children, i plan on giving my sons distinctly male names and my daughters distinctly female names. i don't necessarily mean that they have to be super-macho or super-frilly (rex and annabelle), but people will know what gender my children are when they hear their names.

(rex and annabelle may not be the best examples. i was just picking names off the top of my head.)

4
By meppie (not verified)
October 21, 2009 4:19 PM

-Birgitte, I agree. While it doesn't bother me, I also don't get the androgyny obsession. Particularly the trend to name a girl a masculine-sounding surname that can be shortened to a girly nn, i.e. Elliott.

Seriously, I'm totally not judging here. The trend doesn't bother me, I just don't get it. Anyone have any ideas why it's so popular right now?

5
By Birgitte (not verified)
October 21, 2009 4:20 PM

How about Rocky and Frilliana for examples instead? :-P

6
October 21, 2009 4:28 PM

I'd guess that part of the popularity involves the "newness" of the names involved. Many times, they are trendy. How much of the list is dominated with rhymes-with-Aidan names or respellings of the same sound (Jalen/Jaelyn above)? If the name is new, can one honestly say it is distinctly masculine or distinctly feminine?

7
October 21, 2009 4:30 PM

haha, those are excellent examples, brigitte. also, i hope i didn't imply that i dislike uber masculine or feminine names. i have nothing against rocky or frilliana (or rex or annabelle); i just meant that i don't feel the name to use *extremely* masculine or feminine names (but still distinctly masculine and feminine).

meppie,
you're very polite and objective. i might have been judging a little. : / it's just hard for me to imagine why someone would name their daughter elliott when there are so many ella/ellie names for girls already. it doesn't help that i love elliott for a boy.

8
October 21, 2009 4:31 PM

"All I have to say is, what is wrong with being overtly female if you are a girl and overtly male if you are a boy?"

Not a thing. People choose androgynous names for various reasons, often simply style. If a parent likes creative contemporary names, those often happen to be unisex.

Sometimes the androgyny is unintentional, too. When our friend The Name Lady wrote about androgynous names she got a flood of parents bitterly complaining that "girls are ruining my son's name!" -- when they chose names that were androgynous to begin with:
http://www.parentdish.com/2009/08/17/gender-bending-names-readers-weigh-in/

9
By daisy_kay (not verified)
October 21, 2009 4:34 PM

I think a big reason why there's more interest in androgynous names these days is because females of today's society are taking on more of a traditional male role. Less women are staying home with their children, and more are opting to work outside the home. Women today are choosing professions that were male dominated only a few decades ago. Women want to shed the labels of femininity put on them for so long, and names tie into this. Instead of opting for frillier names such like Rosabella, they're going for names that work well for both sexes, like Jordan. It's about power and equality. At least that's my two cents. :)

On a different note, has anyone noticed how many androgynous names were given to women on the popular TV show Scrubs?
Elliott
Dani
Alex
Jamie
Jordan
*Even Carla's name was derived from the male name Carl.

Maybe this is another factor contributing to the androgynous names boom.

10
By Eo (not verified)
October 21, 2009 4:40 PM

Interesting that we were just talking about this in the previous thread. I generally prefer male names to stay male, and female to stay female.

The exception is when family surnames are used as first names. Then I do think each sex should have a crack at them. After all, children of both sexes down through history have been given their mother's maiden name as a first name, mainly to preserve the name, and as a sentimental name "heirloom", if you will.

I always use the example of my Uncle Trennum, given his mother's surname as a first. It could have worked equally well on a girl, in my view.

So I don't really get upset when Montgomery or Hayward goes over to the girl's side. But I don't like it when traditional boys' names like Michael or Christopher are used for girls...

11
By Liz & Louka (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:12 PM

I find the Leslie example very odd, because there's already a traditional female name (Lesley) pronounced exactly the same way. Why the need to use the male spelling for girls?

12
By Tamara (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:28 PM

lol, here *most* contemporary names are solidly androgynous.

What appears to be the defining naming trend of my generation of Israelis - names made of simple nature-related words - is all but completely androgynous, and seems to have consistently stayed that way over at least the 1985-2000 period (I don't really know enough kids younger to judge that, but theres no reason to believe its changed.)

If anything, names that I associated more strongly with one gender (but not to the point of being inaproppriate for the other.) seem to have drifted *more* to the middle as I get to know younger kids.

off the top of my head, names that I have no idea, at all, what gender to expect with...Gal, Tal, Ma'ayan, Shachar, Shaked, Noam, Amit, Adi, Shai, Aviv, Stav, Yuval, Or, Lior...They're all popular, common names, not particularly unusual or "kr8tive" sounding.

13
By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:29 PM

A good friend of mine has a theory that when boy's names swing to the girls, they will become cool boy's names again after they fall out of fashion for girls (does that make sense?). For example, Kelly, Sidney and Morgan. While I don't think this holds true in every instance, I could see definitely see certain unisex names becoming stylish again for boys.

Another note, I sometimes wonder if pioneer parents in the male-female name selection ever have any concerns that their daughters will not pull off a male name. Sure a glamorous supermodel can have a name like David with no problems in life, but what about the rest of us?

14
By DRDS
October 21, 2009 5:29 PM

I think we are each attracted to a certain style of names, but what I find interesting is a deeper examination of why that style appeals to each us individually.

Personally, I like female names that are tailored, non-frilly, but still have (what I perceive to be) a crisp, beautiful sound. Maren/Marin, Linnea, Adele, Delayne, Iris . . .
Interestingly, from the time I was a little girl, I have refused to wear anything with pink, lace, I still don't really feel comfortable in dresses, but have never been a complete tom-boy. I think these are personal, style choices that reflect how I perceive myself, but are also values that influence what I see my future daughter looking/acting like (so Annabella and Frilliana are just so not going to work for me on multiple levels).

Now, for boys, the traditional (Matthew, Michael, John) and the uber-masculine (Rocky, Rex) just are not appealing to me. But why? I think some of it is a reaction to not wanting my future little boy to be uber-masculine (and if I'm being honest, some of it is a push-back against my church upbringing.) I value sensitivity, intelligence, independence, and I find myself drawn to boys' names that do have some androgynous cross-over potential. Milo, Arlo, Julian, Rowan, Linden, Elliott . . .

I want to be careful to say that it's not that I don't think a John can be intelligent and sensitive -- quite the opposite -- but just that my personal perception of a style of a name signifies certain values to me. If I name my son John, I'd still expect him to be the same as if I had named him Linden, but if I conjure up an imaginary "Rex" in my mind, he looks different than a "Linden."

But for all of my feminist tendencies, I do admit that I fall into the camp that worries about certain of my favorite boy names "going to the girl side." I often post on here my queries - what about Marlow? Arden? Linden? too feminine? Will everyone assume this is a female name in 20 years?
I recognize the troubling feminist contradictions this raises, but I'm still not to the point of being able to shake the worry (and this admittedly bothers me).

So I'm curious about your style preferences and if you think they accord with the values and traits you'd like your children to have (and if this makes it easier or harder to understand why some people are drawn to particular styles of names). Or is it all about the sound of the name? Or pop culture references?

15
October 21, 2009 5:36 PM

"I find the Leslie example very odd, because there's already a traditional female name (Lesley) pronounced exactly the same way."

That's interesting -- I've never seen it suggested that there's any significant distinction between Lesley and Lesley. They're both Scottish surnames, and a century ago both were primarily male. Is there a different female history behind Lesley?

16
By knp (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:46 PM

I don't mind cross over names, or androgynous names. I kinda like Elliot, Alex, Devon on a girl. without thinking too much about them: they just sound edgy. I also love Leslie (g) and Jamie and have heard them so much as girls names, I didn't even know they were boys names for a LONG TIME.

In fact, as I grew up, I chose the androgynous nn, Kris (for Kristin). Now I use Kristin a bit more. Of course, in my little town, the only Cris/Kris's were girls, so I thought it was a girls name anyway. Coming across a boy with the name Kris/Chris never jarred me.

reading this post made me want to go against the trend: choose a less masculine/possible crossover name for my boy and a girly girl name for my daughter. :)

17
By daisy_kay (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:51 PM

DRDS, to answer the questions in your last paragraph, I don't see myself as a feminist. I see myself as a traditionalist. I stay home with my son and do all the Susie Homemaker stuff, and I have a kind of "Let boys be boys and girls be girls" point of view :D And I, likewise, think I have more of a traditional take on names. I'm traditional in that I like distinctly feminine names for girls - Adele, Louisa, Cordelia, Gwendolen, Camille, Marianne, etc. For boys, I like distinctly male names, but I do lean for softer sounds, like Solomon (my son's name), Edmund, Reuben, Oscar, and Bennett. I wouldn't dream of giving my daughter a name that I think could become androgynous, and I wouldn't even consider a name for a boy that had or was moving towards the girls' side. I'm not saying I have a problem with others do like androgynous names. It's just personally not for me.

18
By sarah smile (not verified)
October 21, 2009 5:53 PM

I wonder if it is less that we have moved toward androgyny in recent years, than that we have changed how we go about it. When I was a kid, feminine names with androgynous nicknames were common. These days it's androgynous names with feminine nicknames. So Christine (Chris), Alexandra (Alex) and Danielle (Dani) have been replaced by Addison (Addy), Elliot (Ellie), and Cameron (Cami).

19
By Anna (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:01 PM

Leslie/Lesley - I've heard/read/seen somewhere that the male/female distinction is used in Britain. Maybe. Possibly.

20
By Anna (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:10 PM

Linnaeus - I thought of Hayden too. And Taylor.

I wonder if these names have the potential to be(come) truly unisex - meaning they can exist at the same time, and continue to exist, in reasonable numbers, as both a male and a female name?

21
October 21, 2009 6:16 PM

I have to admit that I kind of like the sound of androgynous girls names...a lot of which end in 'n', I think partly because they sound more crisp to me than frillier girls names. My own name (Jessica) isn't too frilly, but it's not what I would call "crisp" either.

However, since I have a 'boyish' last name, I will be using well-established girl names for any daughters I may have. I think an androgynous first name with a masculine last name is too much.

That being said, I like sarah smile's point that a generation ago a lot of women with girlier names had more boyish nicknames. I myself have 2 Aunt Kris's , one Kristina and one Kristen, and I remember being surprised in kindergarten to meet a boy named Chris!

22
By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:16 PM

So I'm curious about your style preferences and if you think they accord with the values and traits you'd like your children to have (and if this makes it easier or harder to understand why some people are drawn to particular styles of names).
**************************

DRDS, this is certainly the case with us. DH was not as picky about DD's name - I think he favored some of the prettier names - but like you, I was never a girly-girl. And as a woman in a male dominated industry, I wanted our daughter to have a name with the same crisp, yet beautiful sound you mentioned.

When it comes to boys, both DH and I prefer names with more masculine sounds - names that give an image of confidence, strength yet poise. I'm positive this has to do with our backgrounds and some of the traits we'd hope for a potential son.

23
October 21, 2009 6:22 PM

DRDS-That's an interesting post and question. This topic is great Laura! I think of myself as traditional/contemporary as if it were a style of decorating. Definitly not country, nor eclectic. So names I have used like Eric and Natalie fall into that. I like names like Michael, Richard, and Elliott also but they provided some personal naming challenges. For girls I like Shannon, Claire, and Alexandra but not things like Isabella, Riley, or a number of others. Middle of the road is where I like to live on many different issues.

24
By Liz & Louka (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:33 PM

Maybe the Lesley/Leslie distinction was adopted in Britain after America was settled. We do (or did) make the distinction in Australia, and I'm pretty sure it's done in Britain too, but looking at the charts I can see it's not in the USA.

25
By Anna (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:46 PM

DRDS - If you name your son Linden today and Linden takes 20 years to cross over to the girls, your son will be an adult before this has taken effect. And he'll be able to respond to any "I thought you were a girl" with a polite "Sorry to disappoint you" and shrug it of.

I would suppose an average child would relate names and genders from other children of the same age, basically those they interact with. So if Linden is a boys' name in your son's age group that would be the primary reference for his classmates etc.

Also, even if Linden crosses over to the girls, it doesn't rewrite its entire history as a male name. Anybody who has gone to school with a few male Lindens will remember Linden as a male name, even if the name fashion for new-borns begs to differ.

26
By Trista (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:50 PM

Great post Laura.
I seem to be on the other side like daisy-kay and prefer softer sounding boys names (lyle, florian) and although I like strong names for a girl definitely not adrogynous ones (Ingrid, sabine, etc).

As a teacher it can get quite difficult when presented with a list of names and not have a clue which list to put kids on, particularly if middle names are androgynous as well i.e. Taylor Riley for a girl or Jaylen Lee for a boy.

I also think that parents just think it will be "So cute" to name their little girl Riley or Jordan or Jayden but forget to imagine an older woman with that name.

Personally, when growing up I would sometimes get a mysterious 'n' wacked on the end of my name and end up with the boys (very embarrassing as a youngster). Perhaps today's kids will just get used to it and maybe a breakdown in the boy/girl segregation will be a good thing.

27
By the15th (not verified)
October 21, 2009 6:54 PM

I adore very feminine traditional names (Agatha, Clara, Cordelia) but if I ever have a daughter, I would have to consider seriously the possibility of an androgynous name. It's a sad reality that resumes and writings with a female name attached are severely undervalued (there are plenty of studies on this.) So I wonder if it's really worth it to give a daughter one of the names that I love when it may put her at a disadvantage (or rather, sexism will.)

28
By Jimbob (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:05 PM

No name is totally safe. I have a son named Gideon, and now there is a movie coming out called "Gideon’s Gift" starring Elle Fanning as an 8-year-old girl named Gideon. I hope it is not a hit.

On another note, I wonder if Noah will make the switch to feminine. It has risen to popularity in recent years and it has a soft sound with all those vowels at the end.

29
October 21, 2009 7:06 PM

Wow, I've definitely learned something with this Leslie/Lesley issue! After poking through more records, it seems to break down like this. A century ago...

-In Australia, Leslie was clearly masculine and Lesley clearly feminine.

-In England, both were androgynous (at least 30% each sex) but Leslie leaned more masculine.

-In the United States, both were clearly masculine.

I wonder where the distinctions came from? Especially since a century before that, neither form was much known as a first name at all.

30
By Demetria (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:12 PM

I'm pretty neutral when it comes to boys names, but DH prefers more "masculine" names (although nothing like Rex). I think it has to do with growing up in a small midwestern town, where he claims a guy would be beat up for having a "softer" name. DH is what I'd consider cultured, well traveled and open minded and we now live in a large, diverse city -- but I suppose childhood experiences really stay with you through adulthood.

31
By Anna (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:18 PM

I always thought the Leslie/Lesley distinction was rooted in the spellings /-lie/ vs /-ley/ generally being considered male and female, respectively?

32
By sarah smile (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:21 PM

Jimbob, Noa (without the H) is an established Hebrew girls name. I've known a few of them over the years, of varying ages.

33
By moll (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:27 PM

I think the new crop of androgynous names (Jayden and co., Braesyn and friends, etc) are roughly analogous to the androgynous names that cropped up in the early 60s or so. I am talking about Casey, Jodie, and such - I'm sure there is a list online somewhere. Most of these weren't formerly common boys names that "went girl", like Shirley, Leslie, or Beverly (in the U.S.). I would say that a lot of these names stayed neutral, although they've fallen out of style. I know male and female 20-something Caseys and Jodies.

An aside: when my family genealogy was mapped in the early 90s, my cousin Shannon's name was followed by "girl" in parenthesis. All of the parents thought this made perfect sense - but to us babies of the 70s and 80s, it was apparent that Shannon would be a girl, without clarifying it. It will be interesting to hear what perceptions today's babies come away with re: the current androgynous names, when they get a bit older.

I also wonder if since names like Jalon and Braylon are trendy and cropped up quickly, they might fade before they become settled on one sex. In 20 years, we may not be able to say that Jaylon is male or female, but we will almost certainly be able to say that s/he was born in the 2000s or '10s.

34
October 21, 2009 7:43 PM

"I always thought the Leslie/Lesley distinction was rooted in the spellings /-lie/ vs /-ley/ generally being considered male and female, respectively?"

In the U.S. at least, it's generally been the opposite. E.g. in the '30s there were lots of girls with names like Bennie, Freddie and Billie, but Benny, Freddy and Billy stayed male. And it's a lot easier to find boys-only -ey names (Stanley, Wesley, Jeffrey, Bradley) than -ie names.

Hmm, future blog subject, anyone? :-)

35
By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:49 PM

I’ll admit that I have a very eclectic style when it comes to names but I'm not at all bothered by androgynous names on either boys or girls. We had Avery on our boys list for quite a while – even though it seems to be veering more and more pink and have every intention of shortening Marcail to Marc from time to time should our little one be a girl.

I actually see the trend as a good thing. I don’t like the idea that only boys should be perceived as strong or confident and only girls should show traits of softness and beauty. I actually hope that Anna’s right in that some names can truly become unisex AND that it will be ok for people.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that modern parents aren’t considering how their cute “Riley” or “Jordan” will stack up as a woman. After all, sarah smile makes a good point when she noted that we’ve been using androgynous names on girls for ages. I went by Crys (Chris) for a lot of years as a kid and my parents still call me that from time to time. Meanwhile, my mom is a Dana (and while it’s been firmly taken over by the female side if you look, it managed to stay pretty evenly matched for male and female for quite some time) and my Grandmother is a Lee. And I don’t think anyone has ever questioned the femininity of either one or whether or not they can wear their androgynous names as adults.

36
By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:49 PM

I’ll admit that I have a very eclectic style when it comes to names but I'm not at all bothered by androgynous names on either boys or girls. We had Avery on our boys list for quite a while – even though it seems to be veering more and more pink and have every intention of shortening Marcail to Marc from time to time should our little one be a girl.

I actually see the trend as a good thing. I don’t like the idea that only boys should be perceived as strong or confident and only girls should show traits of softness and beauty. I actually hope that Anna’s right in that some names can truly become unisex AND that it will be ok for people.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that modern parents aren’t considering how their cute “Riley” or “Jordan” will stack up as a woman. After all, sarah smile makes a good point when she noted that we’ve been using androgynous names on girls for ages. I went by Crys (Chris) for a lot of years as a kid and my parents still call me that from time to time. Meanwhile, my mom is a Dana (and while it’s been firmly taken over by the female side if you look, it managed to stay pretty evenly matched for male and female for quite some time) and my Grandmother is a Lee. And I don’t think anyone has ever questioned the femininity of either one or whether or not they can wear their androgynous names as adults.

37
By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
October 21, 2009 7:50 PM

Oops! My computer glitched out halfway through my post and then ended up posting twice. I'm sorry.

38
By Guest (not verified)
October 21, 2009 8:01 PM

I was surprised to find in my newspaper's recent list of births, both a male Jayden and a female Jayden - most of the the -ayden names I've encountered up to now have been male (though I know a 12 year old girl named Aiden.) There was also a Jaydence (female). And a female Payton, female Brayden, and male Brayson, Kason, Parker, Kamden, and Kameron. Lots of androgyny - that's out of 70 names, total!

Also male twins named Messiah and Major. It would be hard not to have an inferiority complex if your twin was named Messiah and you were "only" Major.

39
By Lara Jane (not verified)
October 21, 2009 8:07 PM

I, too, am a traditional, gender-specific name lover.

I have to say, though, that my beef lies not in androgynous names, but in using them with no respect to your children. I would advise against naming a daughter Jordan and a son Riley. Likewise, I wouldn't name one girl Jordan and another Jessica. I would imagine that your kids would get complexes. :)

40
By Lara Jane (not verified)
October 21, 2009 8:07 PM

And in regards to your sample name of Devin, I know three female Devins, all over age 30!

41
By GirlJordan (not verified)
October 21, 2009 8:13 PM

As a girl Jordan born in the late '80s, I have to disagree with Trista that parents don't think through the long-term consequences of naming their daughters names like "Jordan" or "Riley".

It was actually much harder on me as a little girl to have an androgynous name (or a "boys' name," as so many kids informed me then), then it is now, in my 20s. In fact, the vast majority of Jordans that my friends and I know now are girls and women, and their parents named them with an eye to giving them strong names for a future unconstrained by rules for "boys' things" and "girls' things." They also thought the name was beautiful.

Just the two cents of someone on the inside :)

42
October 22, 2009 12:24 AM

Laura, as a (girl) Leslie, I'd love a future blog post on the name and on the -ie/-ey endings! I love having the name Leslie (it's my middle name, after a family surname), but interestingly, I also tend to prefer gender-specific names in general over androgynous ones.

43
October 21, 2009 8:53 PM

Francis/es is a name that has remained largely androgynous. It looks like it peaked in the 1910s with the girls leading the pack, but today, they are both in the 700s/800s.

I do think it is interesting there is a spelling distinction, though in the heyday, a measurable number got the "wrong" gender spelling. There are also related names that are solidly M/F, like Frank/Francesca. Nicknames too are mostly distinct (Frank, Frannie).

44
October 21, 2009 9:01 PM

I'm especially interested to see this post on androgynous names. My husband and I frequently discuss this topic and try to guess which way the overall trend is going to go - will it be like in the past, where the boy's name gets abandoned and becomes only for girls once a certain tipping point has been reached? Or is it possible that there are simply so many androgynous names now that sharing names between boys and girls will turn into no big deal?

In checking out the baby announcements from my local hospitals I am increasingly surprised at the "stretch" many names are taking. It seems no male name is out of bounds anymore, to the point where it has reached (what I consider to be) epic proportions. Charlie, James, Hunter...all on girls? I begin to wonder if at some point society will just throw up all our collective hands and say, "who cares?" and then perhaps....perhaps parents of boys won't have to worry about a name taking a errant turn in the future.

I follow this trend with particular interest because my son is named Quinn - a name which sounded perfectly masculine to us when my husband and I chose it. We still love it and would hate to see it irrevocably "cross-over."

45
By Guest (not verified)
October 21, 2009 10:24 PM

My parents, living in England in 1979, strongly considered naming my brother Ashley. They had only heard of it as a boys' name. When they moved back to the US the following year they were relieved to have chosen a different name, as Ashley was suddenly popular and definitely feminine. They also considered Ashe. That always sounded even more feminine to me, growing up, but now with the advent of Ashton it seems like a plausible boys' name. These things really do shift.

Close friends of theirs had a son named Shannon (probably born mid-1970s). He later decided to go by his middle name.

46
By Birgitte (not verified)
October 21, 2009 11:11 PM

@ Laura:

We have to boys with -ie NN: Gillie (Gilbert) and Frankie (Francesco).

When we were deciding on Frankie's name my husband had Rocco on his short list... (Italian last name) but that was too over the top for me. I want my boys to have masculine names but the testosterone has to stop somewhere.

Growing up in a country with strict naming laws means that I am not at all used to all the creativity that goes on in the US, I think that is probably the main reason for my reaction to androgynous names and last names as first names. I am just not used to it.

47
By Beth the original (not verified)
October 21, 2009 11:19 PM

Megan W., I love the name Frances on a girl. Remember the badger named Frances in the children's books? She had a girly little sister named Gloria...

It's funny to contemplate date-stamped androgynous names. In the mid- to late 60s, names like Stacey, Tracy, and Kelly were common, and were considered daringly androgynous. Then when all those Stacey-Tracy-Kelly girls showed up in elementary school in the 70s wearing their mini-skirts, plastic bobble ponytail holders, and buckle shoes, the names seemed uber-feminine. Now on adults they still feel feminine, but on children they feel androgynous again (and I totally believe the poster's friend who theorized that outdated androgynous girls' names turn back into cool boys' names).

48
October 21, 2009 11:25 PM

This post is so funny as I was just thinking about this topic the other day. There aren't many names that were previously 'unisex or boy names' that I probably would now only use on girls. The only ones I could think of are below.

girls only:
Dana, Evelyn, Shirley, Beverley, Courtney

However, there are quite alot that have been used on girls in varying amounts that I still think are quite usable on boys (I know lots will disagree with many of these):

unisex:
Ashley, Lesley/Leslie, Lee, Jordan, Riley, Rowan, Hayden, Cameron, Shannon, Taylor, Avery, Jamie, Kelly, Morgan, Sidney, Elliott, Lindsay

I also think people should worry less about boys names going 'girl'. If you name your boy now and the name eventually does tip over to the girls then I agree with previous posters that the boy will still grow up with people who recognise it as a boys name, and besides people accept your name for what it is.

I don't mind androgynous names per se, but I like them on either boys or girls. In fact of the more androgynous names I do like, the majority of them I tend to prefer on boys than on girls. That probably makes me backwards to alot of people. I find it hypocritical that people are fine with calling their girl a 'strong' (boys) name but won't consider a softer potentially girls name in case someone thinks that their son is weak. Just makes me cranky. Anyway rant over. I find this topic so interesting.

49
By Melanie1 (not verified)
October 21, 2009 11:51 PM

The comments about some of the difficulties of androgynous names reminds me of when I had to write letters to job applicants that had not been accepted. Sometimes, especially when the name was foreign, I couldn't tell if it was a man or female. It would lead me to have to give up on a Mr. or Ms. and just address the letter to their full name with no titles added. It felt a little casual at times, but definitely better than guessing wrong.

50
By EVie
October 22, 2009 12:10 AM

I have to agree with Eo on this one - it's one thing to give a girl a surname with little history as a given name at all, and it's another thing to give a girl a well-established male name. It seems unfair for all the surname-names to automatically be boys' names, and for parents of girls who want to use them to then be accused of stealing them.

It does surprise me a bit that all this fuss is happening now. I'm in my mid-20s, and throughout middle school, high school and college, I've encountered girls my age named Jordan, Taylor, Bennett, Julian, Parker, Mackenzie, Cassidy, Frasier, Arden and Sloane (off the top of my head - I'm sure there are more). I would have thought that the expectant parents of my generation would be acclimated to the idea of androgyny.

In practice, I would prefer girly, perhaps even frilly, names for my own future daughters, but part of me kind of likes the androgynous surnames on other people's daughters.

Also - I just finished reading Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. There is a brief explanation in the novel that Shirley Keeldar's parents meant to give the family surname Shirley to their son, but when they had only a daughter they gave it to her. According to the notes in my text, Brontë's use of the name Shirley for Miss Keeldar is what catapulted the name over to the female side - ironically, because now the significance of the masculine name is lost on most modern readers (for a 19th century woman, Shirley is remarkably unconstrained by gender roles, being an heiress and financially independent - she gets involved in business, makes loans, and interacts with men as an equal).