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.


October 22, 2009 4:44 PM

Anna- thanks for the article on Allison. Fascinating! That also finally cleared up my puzzlement over the two Ls. In Britain, Alison was a popular name for my age group, but always with one L. I was very surprised on arriving in the US to find that two Ls were the norm. Peyton Place is obviously to blame!

Megan W.,
I'm interested that you see Francis/Frances as being androgynous. I don't at all, any more than Francesco and Francesca. They're just the male and female equivalents of the same name. In Britain, it's always clear that the -is is male and the -es in female. Is it different in the States?

Anne with an e-
I would guess another biblical name like Jeremiah, Jacob or Joshua.

October 22, 2009 4:56 PM

Anne with an E- I'm going to go NT for this one, just to even out the names. (I wouldn't want James to be all alone.) I'm going to hope that she's beginning to get a bit more adventurous as time goes by and say: Jude, but my fall back is: Jason. (I’m really hoping that she doesn’t go w/ Jacob since it’s more or less the same thing as James.)

By Alabama Grandma (not verified)
October 22, 2009 4:58 PM

I have to admit having co-opted a male name in 1981. My daughter's name is Kristian and she happens to love her name. She gets positive remarks often. Lara Jane, Kristian's sister's name is Lia (which I consider a feminine name) and neither one of my girls has a complex.

October 22, 2009 5:13 PM

@Guest52 Yes I think that Vivian, Whitney and Hilary are probably on the girl side only now too. I'd forgotton about those! Here in Australia I know quite a few male Ashley's including some little ones, but it is probably more female. I note that people say it would be hard to get away with in the US though.

This is quite an interesting topic, I do tend to favour more grandma girl names and slightly softer boy names. But, I think they are the names I just 'like'. I agree with others that if you love the name Jordan or Rowan and want to name your daughter that then you should, but don't do it because of any perceived advantage it will give her, or impression it will give others.

I had another thought, does anyone's surname effect the type of first name you would give? My married surname is quite short and somewhat gruff and masculine sounding. That would definitely put me off using a more androgynous name for a girl (unless I really loved the name). I have a friend who has the opposite problem. Her surname is Rose. She has 3 boys, she always laments that she 'couldn't' use any softer first names like Julian as they would get beaten up. While I'm not sure this is true. It is an interesting perspective.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 22, 2009 5:40 PM

Chimu, that's such an interesting dilema you and your friend have. I'd have agree with her naming philosphy, especially considering Rose is such a popular middle name for girls nowadays. I'd certainly have a different mental image of a Hayden Rose vs a Victor Rose.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 22, 2009 5:47 PM

Also, it surprises me when people pick Julian as a softer male name. Julian/Julius conjure strong images of masculinity in my mind, but I suppose it's all in the ear of the beholder.

October 22, 2009 5:51 PM

@everyone who played the name guessing game for the little brother to J0nathan, James, and J0siah. I was also guessing a Bible name...something along the lines of Joshua or Joseph or Jeremiah.

And the winner is...


Yup, totally threw me for a loop!

October 22, 2009 6:13 PM

anne with an e,
jax0n? totally unexpected! that is crazy...

i'm with you. while i see that julian/julius have softer sounds than say something like victor (l and n vs. k and r), to me they both conjure up strong masculinity. but of course perception of names varies greatly.

that is interesting about the rose surname. while i see the problem, i'm not sure i quite agree. i know a boy whose last name is rose and while his first name is a clear boys name (mich@el), it never even occurred to me that...i don't know, i don't think of it as a feminine last name i guess. to me, last names are last names: they are always neutral to me. actually, if anything, i thought his last name made him sound somewhat sophisticated. but i do see the point. i certainly wouldn't go with ashley for a boy if my last name was rose. but i don't think an oliver rose (or whatever a "softer" boys' name is to you) would get beat up. just my opinion though--i have never been a young boy!

October 22, 2009 6:13 PM

Anne with an E, I wouldn't have guess Jax0n either!

AmyElizabeth, I probably see Julian as a little bit softer but not Julius. Not sure why. Interestingly she didn't pick overtly masculine names for her 3 boys anyway (at least in my opinion), their names are B3njamin, Lachl@n, and J0shua. All definitely male but not overtly masculine. I guess peoples names of what is soft/strong varies.

I'm just interested in if other people think that their surname affects their decisions on androgynous names at all? I'm starting to wonder if that is why I like some of the names I do with the surname I am 'stuck/blessed' with.

For who it was before who was commenting on Linden as a girls name, I have never seen that before mentioned as a girls name. I've only ever known male Linden/Lyndons. I can see the similarity to Linda I guess. I certainly wouldn't read female when I see it though. As for a female Gideon. That one really surprises me, it might catch on, who knows? I hope not.

October 22, 2009 6:15 PM


I guess I see Francis/es as androgynous b/c to me the are pronounced the same. But I'm always learning new ways to say things on this blog!

We do honor the -is for boys and -es for girls here in the US. (One of my favorite name tips to remember is: HIS and HERS have the correct vowels assigned to the correct genders for Franc*s)

October 22, 2009 6:22 PM

@emilyrae, yes I never thought that an andrognyous fn_rose would necessarily get beaten up, I always thought that was a little harsh. I think kids get picked on for things other than their names, but I could see that the surname thing bothered her. Obviously, her version of overtly masculine names (what I think they were going for), is different to mine though!

I seem to also have a collection of friends who have male first names as surnames, for example, Andrew, no /s/ on the end; Stanley; Rob. They all worried about what to call daughters so they wouldn't see too 'boyish'. Most of them have mainly had son's thus far, and no androgynous names for the girls: Emma, Maya etc.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
October 22, 2009 6:48 PM

@emilyrae – I don’t feel attacked, but thanks for being polite! :). I do want to clarify my point a little it though. Because I agree that the idea that girls have to be like boys in order to be perceived as strong is not a good message or one that I support. However, I don’t think that parents are thinking “To make sure my daughter is perceived as strong I should give her a boy’s name.” I think people are thinking “Here’s a strong/spunky/historical/confident/etc. name, which are traits that I’d like for my daughter.” I see it as thinking outside the gender box entirely. Saying that the name itself holds the stylistic and descriptive words you’d like to have for your children. To me, it’s similar to the issue of boys wearing pink or decorating a baby girl’s nursery in fire engines. In this week’s issue of Time there’s an article titled “The State of the American Woman.” It’s comparing statistics and situations of women from 1972 and today. At that time there were absolutely NO female Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, Avon executives, governors, FBI agents or Ivy League Presidents. Because they weren’t things that women were allowed to do. We’ve come so far in defining a person by more than their genitalia and I’d like to think it’s only going to get better and better. I like the idea that we’re thinking outside the lines of “this is for boys, this is for girls.”

I find it interesting that people really only seem to have a problem with the modern crossover names. No on is arguing that Whitney, Hilary, Ashley, Sandy, et all should be put back in the male column or that they’re lacking in femininity. So perhaps the issue isn’t androgyny so much as change and people’s dislike of it.

October 22, 2009 8:24 PM


For me, you've nailed it; as much as I think I like change - I don't really. I like old comfortable names like an old comfy pair of shoes.

But honestly, a nice person named something I didn't formerly like can make me like a name. (Likewise, crummy students have ruined forever a couple of names for me.)

But it is also why I have to remind myself that Ladasha is simply not my style, but it could be a refreshing new name to someone else.

October 22, 2009 8:50 PM

Anne with an E-Darn it all, I had Jayden on my list and took it off. I would've been so close.

Chimu-I don't know that my LN steered my away from gender neutral names, but it did steer me in other directions. My LN has a very distinct long A beginning sound. Therefore I couldn't use any A names nor any names beginning with A because we didn't care for the alliteration. I also chose not to use names with strong beginning A sounds. So Alexander/Kaylee and others like them were all out. My dh liked names that were traditional bordering (in my mind) on old fashioned like Elizabeth. I liked 70's and a bit more flowery Jennifer/Jessica/Noelle and such. For boys we didn't have a lot of choices so we were able to pick more easily.

Qwen-You said above "At that time there were absolutely NO female Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, Avon executives, governors, FBI agents or Ivy League Presidents. Because they weren’t things that women were allowed to do. We’ve come so far in defining a person by more than their genitalia and I’d like to think it’s only going to get better and better. I like the idea that we’re thinking outside the lines of “this is for boys, this is for girls.”" Do you think that this is why we are using more flowery girls names these days? Are we less worried that they will not be able to be Supreme Court judges for example and therefore less concerned that their name give them a leg up. If you look at the top 10 girl's names things like Isabella, Sophia, Ava, and such cannot be construed to be masculine. Do you think the trend will be away from androgyny or towards it?

October 22, 2009 9:19 PM

sorry, have not had a chance to read through all the posts...

re: Hayden: Hayden Panettiere is more popular than Hayden Christiansen, right? This leads me to think the name will go girl... but it still strikes me as such a boy's name! Maybe this means I'm old and don't pay enough attention to celeb news to be affected?

I think that for some, androgynous names appeal because we want to downplay gender differences. Maybe we don't think gender should have a significant affect on how our kids are treated or something like that. I don't think this explains androgynous names as a trend though.

Anne with an E: I'm very curious about your "boyish," "masculine" surname. What makes it boyish/masculine? Is it used as a male given name?

By hazy (not verified)
October 22, 2009 10:23 PM

Obviously, parents choose names for a wide variety of reasons, but I do think both gender politics and parents' hopes for their children are significant factors often considered.

Many parents don't want their daughter to be constrained by traditional gender roles, and they see giving an androgynous (or masculine) name as the first step toward keeping her free of those constraints. Parents tend not to be as concerned about the gender constraints imposed on their boys because, historically, there hasn't been much of a downside to being male. Gender issues only come up in that parents also don't want their SONS to be subjected to any of the negative connotations associated with being female (hence the concern about names being too girly). Being a generally understated but secretly raging feminist, I definitely sympathize with wanting to keep your child free of gender constraints, and the corresponding desire for androgynous names for girls. I do think it's counter-productive to choose traditionally masculine names for girls, because it supports the idea that it's somehow better to be male. (Although this won't be a concern for those who just want "strong" names for their daughters and aren't concerned about the feminist implications) But, I won't be choosing androgynous names for my future daughters (even though I like the sound of many of them) because I don't really want my daughters to be gender-neutral. I want them to grow up to be strong, independent women, who aren't bound by any negative gender constraints, but who also enjoy and take pride in the fact that they are female. That's why I'll be giving them "strong" but unambiguously female names.

By Andre (not verified)
October 22, 2009 10:54 PM

Hey everyone, interesting topic.

Since people brought up Disney, I wonder if you all can remember the princess Ariel? A strong biblical male name, and then Disney named their princess Ariel and suddenly all the Ariel's were females.
Same thing with the name Jasmin, which is male, and Jasmine which is female. Yet both are seen as female names these days.

I wouldnt have a problem with androgynous names, if strong female names crossed over to boys. Where are all the boys name Elizabeth or Katherine? Plus what I hate the most about these names is that they become almost inappropriate to give them to boys anymore. When was the last time you've heard about a male Shannon, Tracy, Whitney, Madison, Alexis, Sasha, Meredith, Bailey, Lindsay, Robin, Courtney, Sydney, Ariel, Shelby, Pearl, Jade, Dakota, Shay, etc? That's my problem. If there were plenty of boys still around with the now androgynous names, things would be fine, but we all know once a name goes feminine its not usable for boys.

This just reminds me of the pink vs blue. Do people know that at the beginning of the century, pink was more appropriate for boys since it was scene as a strong colour similar to red, and blue was used more for girls because it was soft and quiet? Look how much that has changed, its the total opposite these days, with different connotations. Let's not forget that the name Pink was a common name for boys at the beginning of the century, which parents would name their boy Pink these days?

October 22, 2009 11:41 PM

@RobynT--yup, my last name is H0ward. My maiden name was a common color name, which meant that my parents were careful to avoid any noun names with us...although my youngest brother is named Benjamin, and they adamantly refuse to call him Ben, since in combo with the last name it kinda sounds like "I ben ____" , theoretically implying that he's a new color now. :)

So while I was happy to not have the noun problem, now I feel like androgynous girl names wouldn't work at all, since a name like, for example, "Peyton Howard" sounds like a double-whammy on the boy front to me. Not that I'd imagine that many boys are being named Peyton nowadays, but still, the combo is a bit much for me.

By Eo (not verified)
October 22, 2009 11:41 PM

Jenny L3igh-- The quote is from "The New American Dictionary of First Names", by Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling.

In case anyone is interested, these two make for a fun read, and collaborated on a number of projects. They're a pair of Brits who, in this case, wrote for an American audience. Dunkling was a co-founder of the Names Society in Britain, and Gosling was an Oxford scholar and authority on 17th and 18th century names.

I like their exhaustive research, their easy reach across history, and the fact that this particular book is designed for "browsers, word buffs and writers" as well as parents-to-be.

Laura-- that is a great point about Australia and the Scottish connection-- that had never occurred to me but makes perfect sense...

Re androgynous names-- Saw the People mag. picture of little "Sparrow", son of Nicole Ritchie. He is such a little angel, but couldn't they have given him a "nature" name that didn't conjure up wistful, fragile little birds hopping about? I keep thinking of Edith Piaf. In their celeb circles, though, I suppose people will think nothing of it...

October 22, 2009 11:45 PM

thanks for posting. i understand and agree with what you are saying. i guess the bottom line is that i diverge from those parents in that to ME, most traditionally female names sound stronger to me than most of the androgynous names (much like the poster who said they thought virginia sounded stronger than madison). so it boils down to a matter of taste (as many things do). but i do totally understand the motives involved, and they are the exact same motives i would have when naming children--it's just that i don't perceive that set of names the way they do. but i can't argue with their choices, as they are obviously made with great love and care.

you just said everything i feel but am not nearly eloquent enough to say. thanks. :]

hmm, you bring up lots of interesting points. but i don't think it would be fair to say that disney killed male ariels. actually, looking at name voyager, i'm actually surprised that it's doing as well as it is. in the 90s it was ranked as 472 and in 2008 it was 570. and it looks like the numbers actually stayed pretty stable, though the rank fluctuated. honestly, i would have expected the disney princess to kill the name, but it looks like it's doing alright. but yes, it is quite sad to lose names to the girls' side. i feel your pain. however, someone recently pointed out that this is partly due to parents being scared off by girl usage. parents of boys should hold their ground. :]

By sarah smile (not verified)
October 22, 2009 11:49 PM

Andre, I'm not disputing your general point, but I'm not sure Ariel is the best example. It was unisex long before Disney got a hold of it, and probably already trending female in the general population. I think it was a biblical place name as well as a person's name, so it may have been unisex from the beginning. In Israel and among the Jewish community in the U.S., it is still a perfectly acceptable name for a boy and I know several of varying ages.

By Guest (not verified)
October 23, 2009 12:11 AM

Andre, there was a discussion earlier that once those names lose popularity for girls, they can become usable for boys again. Take a look at some of the examples given (I believe Sidney was mentioned), and I think they'd make nice choices for boys.

By DanielleM (not verified)
October 23, 2009 12:51 AM

Zoerhenne somewhat touched on it, but I wonder how the fear of unisex names on boys breaks down ethnically...

I was raised in a predominantly African American neighborhood. I grew up with guys named Tracy, Dana, Stacy, Alexis and even Whitney. Their fathers may have been named Francis, Jackie or Terry. It didn't seem like anyone ever thought anything about these names and their masculinity was never questioned.

As an adult, my AA friends haven't seemed at all concerned to name their sons Jordan, Cameron, Jaylon or Avery. And as one of Laura's earlier topics mentioned, Angel is a very popular name for Hispanic boys.

The more I think about it, the cultural factors in selecting or rejecting unisex names is very fascinating.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
October 23, 2009 1:00 AM

zoerhenne - I'm not any good at looking at trends with any level of certainty but my sincere HOPE is that people will pick names based on what they like; what styles, values, characteristics, etc they wish to bestow upon their child, rather then what chromosomal pairing they have. So if parents LIKE a girly/nature/soft/macho name... more power to Supreme Court Justice Isabella, Dr. Sparrow, Quarterback Kelly & Figure Skater Axel. And to the law school, hospital, team and coach who didn't judge based on whether or not the person's name made them sound strong or weak, masculine or feminine, capable or incompetent.

Ok... so I've just decided that this topic might be hitting a little close to home as a girl with an established stripper name... It's always bothered me that people have made assumptions about my sex (and personality) based on the cliches associated with my name.

By Liz & Louka (not verified)
October 23, 2009 1:04 AM

Last week there were two Declans in my daughter's class of 8 kids. I hadn't come across any real-life Declans before, though it seems on-trend. Then today I met another Declan, the 9-week-old brother to Spencer.

By Anna (not verified)
October 23, 2009 4:04 AM

Qwen - I love this expression "We’ve come so far in defining a person by more than their genitalia"!

Thanks, everybody, for telling me how to not write a CV! It's amazing how different these little things can be, isn't it?! I'll be the first to admit that I probably just doesn't *get* the significance of traditional gender roles in the US. Scandinavian women have been working for 50 years, society is arranged around women working, and I'm most likely just oblivious to the fact it can be any different anywhere else.

I tried to look at the womens' name statistics for the 1950-1960s but I don't see any dramatic difference. Obviously you couldn't put boys' names on girls because of the name law, but it still doesn't seem like there was a move towards "manly" sounds (hard consonants like K, T,...). In fact I'd almost say the womens' names from the 1940s sound tougher!?.

Pink vs blue: Sweden actually has a law against picturing children in traditional gender roles, e.g. an advertisement with a pink girl in her princessy pink room doing girly stuff would warrant a hefty fine. (I think it would be OK if the pink girl was jumping around on the furniture playing soccer). Denmark is worse: Clothes for boys come in three colours, dark blue, dark brown and dark dark. So I march straight to the girls' section and buy the colourful stuff. I don't dress my son (2) in pink from top to toe, but he has red shirts, turquoise jeans and so on. Mission accomplished!

Androgynous names for boys: Somewhere between the lines I see homophobia. Or homophobia-related concerns. (I don't mean *here*, but elsewhere). It's when people ask if it's "safe" to use X for a boy and comments like "growing up in a small midwestern town, where ... a guy would be beat up for having a "softer" name" (Demetria #30). Am I the only one getting these associations?

By odżywki (not verified)
October 23, 2009 4:23 AM

Thanks for your post.Nice webdesign.

October 23, 2009 8:23 AM

I agree with emilyrae and others. Wanting your girls to be strong like boys definitly sends the message to me that you think girls are not strong as girls. Although I know this is not always the case for choosing the boys/androgynous name, and I do think that in many cases it's just a thought that's not been articulated too precisely.

Qwen - I do feel that names like Whitney and Ashley should go back in the boys column. As a plus, and as others have said, it seems as though once the name falls out of fashion for girls, the boys can dust it off again. I have no problem with turn-taking. I actually dislike the idea of names and gendres melting into one androgynous blob. Equality, yes. Homogeny? no.

Plain Jane - Love your comment that the employer will notice she's not male in the interview!

October 23, 2009 9:07 AM

hazy-Well said. I still wish though that people would choose names for the names sound, look, etc. rather than for whether it is strong or not.

Andre-That info is interesting. You learn something new every day on this board.

Anne with an E-That is slighty problematic. If I were a teacher seeing Peyton Howard on my list I would certainly need a bit more info to avoid the gender confusion.

DanielleM-Yes, I think AA naming takes different factors into account. It would be so interesting to see the SSA numbers/names broken down ethnically but I know that would be impossible.

Qwen-This topic seems to be a bit tough. Not quite as divisive as the Ledasha thread but still it brings stereotypes and associations into the forefront. I guess we all do that a bit everyday here. We had earlier mentioned Gwendolyn as possibly being princessy and Solomon as a "softer" boys name. Many are concerned about Elliott "going girl". I think in conclusion there is no way to avoid associations and stereotypes of whether a name is girl or boy. If we stopped making these statements Laura would be out of a job :o( Maybe this blog can let us ponder the possibiities of Solomon on a girl and Wendy on a boy though and broaden our naming horizons a bit.

By hyz
October 23, 2009 9:57 AM

Anna, that's fascinating! A law against showing kids in stereotypical gender roles!? I don't think that could ever fly here due to freedom of speech issues, but I think I like it. And the US is probably very different than anything you're used to in terms of integrating women/families into the work force--I personally find the attitudes and policies pretty shameful here, but that's a whole 'nother rant.

And I agree with the comment by Plain Jane--I've always thought it was a little misguided to give your daughter a masculine name so that she won't be discriminated against or so she'll get ahead more easily. I mean, really? In what circumstance would that actually work? In applying to colleges, they know if you're male or female. In applying to most jobs that would qualify as "getting ahead", there's an interview in which your sex will become known. And given that unisex names are so common, what is the chance that a potential employer *won't* think that "Peyton Smith" or "Quinn Johnson" might be female? Wouldn't it actually just lead to some possible confusion or discomfort on the employer's part, not knowing whether to address correspondence to Mr. or Ms.??

And do people ever consider the added discrimination their daughter might face if she turns out to be fairly masculine (not transgender or anything, just a little butch) AND have a male name? I've known a few girls like this, and the masculine/unisex name does NOT appear to help their self-esteem. When you're a girl in high school who happens to be athletic and lean-built, and teachers continually address you as "son" even though you wear jewelry and even skirts sometimes to correct the misimpression, I don't think you appreciate having a unisex name. This is probably the exception, I'm sure, but still. I'll second the point of the person up-thread who mentioned that, in their experience, parents who give unisex names (to girls) tend to go heavy on the pink/blue stuff for their kids, and do not seem to be seeking to create any kind of gender-neutral world for them, in general. Totally unscientific, but that's my impression, as well.

October 23, 2009 10:07 AM

I agree with hyz's last point...I know a family with girls named Addison and Peyton, and they lean heavily on princessy/girly themes. In fact, I was recently informed by Addison that she was a princess! :) So the fact that they gave their children fairly androgynous names does not mean that they're raising them in an androgynous style at all.

New baby alert: Madelyn, little sis to L!llian.

By AmyElizabeth (not verified)
October 23, 2009 10:19 AM

hyz, you touched on my exact worries of giving girls masculine names! Especially in those awkward teenage years, I'd think it'd be much harder to grow up as boyish girl named Elliott vs Elizabeth, but maybe I'm reading too much into things.

I do understand avoiding some of the frillier female names however. I work in a very male dominated client service based industry where image and perception are so very important. Many of our clients are headed by older, traditional men who seem shocked that women are capable of more than making their coffee.

By Amy3
October 23, 2009 11:26 AM

Re: surnames impacting your choice of fn, in my case our surname is a common noun so lots of names sound funny with it. It's not so much "girly" or "macho" names, but anything that's a color and even a name like Oliver comes out like All of Her X.

On topic: While having their daughter perceived as strong might be one of the reasons for choosing an androgynous or even solidly boy name for a girl, I'd guess most people simply like the style of those names. I think the vast majority of people, as we've discussed before, choose names without putting a fraction of the thought into it that NEs do. Not good or bad, just a totally different approach to naming.

As I mentioned earlier, I received the list of parents involved in the PA at my daughter's school. Here are the kids (sibs listed together--oldest to youngest):

Lucas, Sasha (g)
Jakey, Caleb, Dahlia
Nicholas, Alexander
Jesse (g)
Juliette, Natasha
Sam, Georgia (twins)
Tommy, Olivia, Melissa
Ian, Tess
Pablo, Luka
Liam, Declan
Emily, Sadie
Chris, Timotheos
Jenna, Jonah
Ben, Annie
Florence, Imogen
Catherine x2
Jakob, Marshall
Justin, Adriana, Jason
Presley (b)
Sydney, Morgan
Andre, Lucas
Stephanie, Julia

By Ash (not verified)
October 23, 2009 11:53 AM

Andre -- my church actually baptized a baby boy named Sh@nn0n Th0m@s a couple of months ago, so there is hope for some of the previously gone to the girls' names going back to the boys.

Whomever noted underlying tones of homophobia with regard to giving boys soft names hit the nail on the head, in my opinion. I have seen an underlying level of homophobia among many parents who are ok with other people being homosexual, but hope it is not their kids. I realize there are other potential underlying causes for this attitude (e.g. not wanting your kids to deal with that level of pain/discrimination). However, I don't think giving a boy a "feminine" name is going to influence him much more than giving a girl a "strong masculine" name is going to influence her. Children are who they are and there is very little that parents can do to force the issue.

I also think that the references to "getting beat up" and the like is often short hand for being seen as soft/getting picked on/given a hard time by the "macho" guys. Although, ultimately, it all depends on what the kid ends up being. A football-playing male Ashley is not going to have to work hard to change the perception, whereas an artsier male Ashley might have a rougher go of it during those always-rough adolescent years.

By Amy3
October 23, 2009 12:03 PM

I can't believe I forgot to comment on the homophobia comment. Yes, I agree too. I think this is the case for many people, particularly with boys obviously. Not that everyone means it this way, but it's hard to hear "I don't want him to be beat up for having the name XXX" without feeling like that might be factoring in on some, perhaps even unconscious, level.

@Ash, I completely agree with your assessment that "children are who they are and there is very little that parents can do to force the issue," as well as your comment about someone's difficulty with a name having more to do with how that person develops over time rather than the name itself.

October 23, 2009 12:30 PM

ash and amy 3,
i third that. i met a guy who pulls off shannon, no problem. honestly, it's mostly about confidence (in my opinion). i agree that difficulty with one's name is going to stem more from who the person is, rather than the name itself.
and your other point (about "children are who they are...") makes me think of the person earlier (sorry to forget your name!) who talked about their friend who was going to name her daughter blake and not let her take ballet lessons, etc. that's just crazy talk, in my opinion. giving your daughter a boy's name and trying to restrict her activities won't make her exactly the way you want her. if she likes pink, then you won't be able to stop it. by the same token, i don't think naming your son whitney will make him feminine (or gay). (actually, as a side note, i secretly like whitney better for a boy than a girl. not sure why. don't tell my friend, girl whitney!) anyway, of course it's easy for me to say all this, but it won't stop me from choosing names that (in my opinion) portray qualities i want for my children.

October 23, 2009 12:39 PM

Just as an aside, I knew a married couple, Josephine and Eugene, and thought it was really funny as a kid that we had an Aunt Jo and Uncle Gene.

By hyz
October 23, 2009 12:44 PM

Re: the homophobia issue--yes, I'm sure that's the case for some parents, but I wouldn't assume that's the general feeling underlying the refusal to give boys "soft" names. For me, anyway, it really is a fear of accentuating any tendencies a son of mine might have to be mousy/bookish/shy/unathletic/geeky/whatever, rather than anything having to do with being gay. I really don't equate the two (bookish/gay)--I've known plenty of gay guys that weren't the least bit bookish, and vice versa, of course. I don't think one has much to do with the other. And whereas I assume that a son of mine would have about as much chance of being gay as anyone else's son, and I don't see what his name would have to do with it, I think I have a higher than average chance of having a bookish son, and so I'm concerned about accentuating that or somehow pigeonholing him by giving him a bookish name to begin with. And all this is coming from a person who actually prefers "softer" names for boys--Rowan, Oliver, Linden, Julian, Merrill, etc. all appear high on my list. I'm on the fence about these, and I guess I'll see which way I fall if we ever do have a boy. But I definitely do try to avoid names that seem overtly pasty to me, which include things like Nigel, Edmund, Cecil, Eugene, etc. (apologies to enthusiasts of those names, just my personal association).

By Alr (not verified)
October 23, 2009 12:48 PM


Just wanted to let you NEs know that I appreciate your naming assistance. We did not have to face the Leo vs Cortland decision after all as Tuesday AM I gave birth to a healthy, happy baby girl. (Two and a half weeks early!)

And so I proudly announce to dear daughter, Mabel Parker! :)

Thanks again for the help with her name, all.

By hyz
October 23, 2009 12:50 PM

Alr, congratulations!!!! I'm sure little miss Mabel Parker is every bit as sweet and lovely as her name! Hope you and she are doing well!

October 23, 2009 12:53 PM

ah, a baby! yay! congratulations--mabel parker is a great name! :d

October 23, 2009 1:01 PM

for what it is worth, i do not think the names on your list would make it harder for a bookish boy, except maaaybe merrill. but that's because i don't really perceive those names as "soft." i think they have softer *sounds* than some names (victor, mark, robert), but they don't conjure up lesser images of masculinity to me. oliver is actually a bit rakish/daring to me. and julian is kind of a chameleon name to me--i can easily see it on a bookworm or a football quarterback. not that i'm saying i don't think it is masculine to be bookish (i definitely don't think that). sigh-this is such a tricky topic.

By Amy3
October 23, 2009 1:08 PM

@Alr, congratulations! I love the name Mabel Parker--wonderful choice!

@hyz, I agree with emilyrae's comments ^^ about your name choices. I understand the point you're making and how it is distinctly different than being concerned that a name choice somehow "makes" someone gay. However, I don't think your names are "softer" per se, maybe because I like so many of them myself!

October 23, 2009 1:15 PM

I actually agree with a previous post, in that I think "strong" girls names are "regular", perhaps rather plain names like Margaret, Jane, Martha etc. To me, the androgynous names like Blake, Peyton, Jordan, Sydney etc. sound like really spoiled rich prep school girls. That's just my association, maybe from too much TV.

By hyz
October 23, 2009 1:24 PM

emilyrae and Amy3, thanks. :) I agree, except I would probably add Linden to Merrill for the "slightly more challenging" list. And I guess there's another thing that worries me about Rowan, also related to the "androgyny issue". In my mind, Rowan has forever been very similar to Oliver--both a little staid and British and musty (think Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury). But now I have a concern/impression not just that it is being used by parents of girls, but by a certain subset of parents that do not fit with my prior impression of Rowan--parents who are more trendy, maybe younger, maybe more mass media or maybe a bit nouveau hippy--and that in turn affects my association with the name, and makes me sad. When I think of Rowan, I want to think of an old guy with bushy eyebrows, lol, not a little blonde girl riding a big pink plastic tricycle. I want Rowan to be a boy with a brother named Oliver or Julian, not a girl with a brother named Logan or Bodie or Riley. Anyway, I know that's a huge generalization and over-simplification, but I'm just trying to shorthand the shift that the increased use of the name by girls has created in my head. It goes back to the impression I have (correct or not) that parents who choose male/unisex names for girls tend to be heavy (or at least very typical) on their acceptance of blue/pink gender roles.

October 23, 2009 1:35 PM

My daughters both have androgynous names: Phoenix and Indigo. That was not intentional, but my other requirements did lead in that direction. Like other posters, I did not want a frilly name, since I am not a frilly person and would personally be uncomfortable with such a name. Being Chinese and Japanese, I wanted my girls' names to pay tribute to their heritage by following the Asian tradition of nature names. So if you want a non-frilly nature name, you end up with a lot of androgyny. My understanding is that in Chinese, it is not always clear whether a name is male or female, even to a native speaker. Hence, it may be more of Western construct to communicate gender with a name.

As a side note, I also picked these names because they have both Eastern and Western connections. The Phoenix Bird has a rich history both in Chinese lore and Western (Greek) lore. The Indigo plant, used to make the dye, evokes the blue kimonos of Japan but also American blue jeans.

Regarding male names, I never had the opportunity to name a boy, but I still leaned towards nature names (which I guess are softer)such as Banyan, Caspian, West, Zephyr and Hawthorne. I do agree with Hyz that I personally avoided names that might be considered "nerdy" since there was a high chance that a son of mine would be so inclined.

By Demeteria (not verified)
October 23, 2009 1:49 PM

My DH grew up with in a town where soft names on boys can "get you beat up". I think HYZ's assumptions are probably more accurate than homophobia. In DH's hometown (and many other US towns) sports reign supreme. A boy will receive more accolades for what he can do on the playing field than what he can do in the classroom or with a paintbrush or an instrument. Everyone strives to be the popular homecoming king who leads the team to victory and I think thier naming choices reflect that.

By Anna (not verified)
October 23, 2009 1:50 PM

To clarify the comment I made about homophobia in disguise: I don't suspect homophobia to always be the motive behind a dislike of androgynous names on boys. Only sometimes.

Hyz, I understand your fear of bookish names ;-) Personally I fear geeky names since SO and I are both engineers. Unfortunately you can't predict what's going to happen to a name in the future. Two years from now the next smash hit of a television show may feature the world's most bookish geeky Ivy or Eric. Or Henry... poor librarians ;-)

By hyz
October 23, 2009 1:53 PM

Tirzah, I just wanted to say that there's a definite distinction--to me, anyway--between androgynous names that do not have long/clear histories as names (i.e. your kids' names), and names that were historically male that are now being used on girls (i.e. Charlie, Elliott, Riley, etc.). I guess I'm stereotyping again, but I would not expect the parents of those two sets of children to be very similar in many respects. I better not elaborate too much, for fear of putting my foot (further) in my mouth, but I'll just say that I'm really fond of nature names of all sorts, even if I'm not bold enough to use the less traditional ones myself. :)

By hyz
October 23, 2009 2:04 PM

Oh, and by the way, I think that Hawthorne and Caspian are particularly handsome, inspired choices. Too bad you didn't have a boy, too! lol.