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.


By EVie
October 25, 2009 2:41 PM

hyz - maybe Althea is one of those names that has multiple accepted pronunciations? I've never actually heard it pronounced, but Namipedia says it's al-THEE-a. I would probably put it on my list if I thought I could get away with AL-thee-a... has anyone ever else ever heard it pronounced that way?

By sarah smile (not verified)
October 25, 2009 2:51 PM

I knew a boy named Orion growing up. I always rather liked it; it had a neat unusual/nature-y feel, and yet fit in quite well with the Ryans and Brians. I'm a bit surprised we haven't seen more of them.

By Jillc (not verified)
October 25, 2009 3:06 PM

Megan W., I agree with you about the interesting wedding announcements that are sure to be forthcoming. As of 2008, when you combine spellings, there are 4 names that are in the top 100 for both boys and girls:
Riley (#21 for girls, #99 for boys)
Jordan (#60, #47)
Jayden (#77, #2)
Camren/Camron/Camryn/etc. (#97, #38)

And another few that are close to the top 100 for both:
Peyton (#36, #102)
Jaylen (#115, #107)
Hayden (#142, #80)
Angel (#169, #46)

Also, because I can't help myself, I had to look at which names were the most androgynous (based on rank; using pure numbers would give you a different list). Names who rank fewer than 50 spots apart:

Jaylen (#115, #107)
Casey (#265, 256)
Jordan (#60, #47)
Dakota (#247, #220)
Francis (#573, #544)
Rory (#671, #632)
Skyler (#148, #198)

By hyz
October 25, 2009 4:13 PM

Love the constellation and star names--awesome! I definitely couldn't get past castor oil for a person, but for a dog, to go with pollux, I'd do it.

I was aware of the Grateful Dead song Althea--in that I think they say AL-THEE-ah, with both syllables stressed, so I guess that never put me off thinking of it as having the emphasis on the first syllable. Hmm. And actually, I don't even say AL-thee-ah, I say ALL-thee-ah, which is maybe even more "out there". This might be another dealbreaker for me, like Rosalind--which I love as rose-ah-lind, but don't much care for as roz-ah-lind. Sigh.

Oh, and I ran Zora by DH yesterday--it was a no go.

October 25, 2009 4:19 PM

oh, hyz, i didn't know rosalind was roz-ah-lind. i definitely thought rose-ah-lind. wow...i wonder how many names i am pronouncing wrong?

that is too bad about zora though. : /
still, you do have lots of great choices!

By Jillc (not verified)
October 25, 2009 4:28 PM

I love Andromeda! It was on our long list for DS many years ago (before we knew he was a boy -- although I guess it could work with the nickname Andy).

Just the other day, I was thinking about picking one name for this baby, and using it regardless of gender. The name that came to mind was Jupiter. To me, it's androgynous -- not sure what others think...

(Of course, we could never just pick one name. What fun would that be?)

October 25, 2009 5:02 PM

cool! it's so neat to hear of someone actually considering names like that. honestly, if i came across a little girl named andromeda, i'd probably think her parents were pretty hip. :]

jupiter is a boys' name to me (because of jupiter hammon, and also because jupiter is the roman name for zeus), but i can see how it would sound androgynous to you. it sounds a bit similar to other girls' names (juniper comes to mind). i'm a big fan of jupiter though (and juniper, actually). spunky and fun. :]

By Riot Delilah (not verified)
October 25, 2009 5:07 PM

Back to the Leslie/Lesley split, and on the US and UK being divided by the same language. I had someone once explain to me that here in Britain, when names are androgynous the gender is indicated in the spelling. So boys get Leslie/Robin/Vivian/Gene and girls Lesley/Robyn/Vivien/Jean. There were more examples but those are the ones I remember. In my experience this is usually pretty respected, as for the most part non-standard name spellings are mocked. For example, my nephew is named Reese (the American spelling in my honor) instead of Rhys (Welsh spelling) or Reece (the English one) and his teachers, doctors, etc just cannot handle this outre choice without some prodding from him and his parents.

In the US the -yn ending is usually used to make a name more girly, such as Jordyn or Camryn, but in the UK it's used to make a boys' name more posh, such as Martyn or Justyn.

Ashley in the UK is still exclusively a boys' name, although they are fully aware of the American usage of it. You do get Aisling/Ashlin/Ashling as a fairly normal Irish import for girls.

October 25, 2009 6:32 PM

emilyrae--I went to hs with an O'Rion.

and I recently worked with a Kassi0peia. She went by Kassi. I think I've mentioned this here before, but she has a sister named Philadelphi@, who goes by Delh!. They have a brother named something pretty common, I think Ryan, or maybe Kyle? Anyway, he's the oldest, and after the parents realized how common his name was they purposefully picked "strange" names for the girls. :)

October 25, 2009 6:36 PM

oops, and I just realized that there was another page of comments and sarah smile beat me to Orion! :)

October 25, 2009 7:02 PM

COMPLETE list of names from my local listings: (usually i just pick the interesting ones but they're almost all interesting today. plus the list is on the shorter side.)

I find Dava'n interesting because I usually think of the punctuation (and other aspects of the name) as African American community, but from the middle and surname, I think this is another community of color.
Also, Lilia, Anuhea, and maybe Kaili (depends how they pronounce, could be alt spelling of Kylie) are Hawaiian names. (This list is from a Honolulu paper.)

By AnnaSue (not verified)
October 25, 2009 8:07 PM

My husband is currently in a doctoral program with a student named Ky1e A1exandra (she goes by Kyle). It's jarring to me every time he mentions her.

October 25, 2009 9:49 PM

As I was reading an article about math education in the elementary grades, I was struck by the names used in some of the example scenarios that were referenced. The article was written in 2006, and the students were all between 1st and 4th grade. Their names:


I thought it was odd that they used both Xena and Zenith, which sound so similar, and also Carol and Darrell, which rhyme. I think the only one that seems unlikely for a child that age is Carol. Still, I thought they were an interesting enough group to mention. (It's important to note that these are NOT the names of real children, they are fictionalized for the sake of the article.)

October 25, 2009 9:59 PM

Hm, this just reminded me of a sibset I used to know, now they would be 16 and 12 I believe, or 15 and 12, or something like that... Anyway one's a boy, one's a girl, Eliott (sp?) and Devon (sp?) guess which is which.

By knp (not verified)
October 25, 2009 10:18 PM

A Rose: My guess
Elliott- boy
Devon- Girl

(I can't really see the same set of parents picking Elliott for a girl with Devon for a boy)...

By Kelly(girl) (not verified)
October 25, 2009 10:33 PM

Anna, in some schools, there is an attempt to balance boys and girls in classrooms (so you don't have a class with 22 kids with 16 boys and 6 girls) so you would post your lists so the registrar could easily see how many boys or girls you had in your class when new kids registered after school started.

October 25, 2009 10:38 PM

Re. Rowan: I know a girl named Rowan, only Rowan I've ever met (I do know a male Rohan, but that's pron. like the place in Lord of the Rings, not like Rowan) and the only male Rowan I can think of off the top of my head is Rowan Atkinson, so to me, it's a 'girl's name' The Rowan I know though, is one of the tomboyest (not a word, but you get the idea) girls I know. Her older sister is named Katin (pron. KAY-tin) does anyone know anything about that name? I've never heard it other than her.

October 25, 2009 10:42 PM

@ knp: Right. The first Elliot (that's how she spelled it) I ever met was a girl, so to me Elliot (which I like spelled with either one t or one l, but not one of each or two of each, lol, I don't know why) was a girl's name, although I like it on boys now a lot more. Girl Devon always struck me as odd though because I always thought of that as male, and to this day she's the only female Devon I've ever met (like with Rowan, very tomboyish) although I've only met one male Devon, and that was his mn.

By sarah smile (not verified)
October 25, 2009 11:13 PM

Since we are playing the 'guess the gender' game, here is my favorite androgynous sibset:


By Anna (not verified)
October 25, 2009 11:43 PM

Kelly(girl) - thanks. As I see it, the problem with unisex names in the school context is the potential embarrassment of being mistaken for someone of the opposite gender. For example, a boy-Taylor on the list of girls (outside the classroom, for everybody to see.. uh-oh). It seems to be this part that everybody is worrying about, but it comes across to me as a problem that isn't going to happen more than a few times a year. (Unless US school change teachers monthly?!) Sure, a mixup is unfortunate, but three-times-per-year is not nearly as bad as three-times-per-day.

I understand the part about balancing the classrooms, groups and so on, but my point is there has to be another way of organising this. I mean, what's the alternative - a ban on unisex names or guaranteed humiliation? I don't mean to "attack" your school specifically, I just don't like a system that is so rigid you can't show the students a little bit of consideration, e.g. by not displaying possibly gender-confused lists publicly.

October 26, 2009 12:21 AM

Another androgynous name we've not mentioned yet that I heard today, Blair. It was in a tv show and used for a boy. I also remember a few decades back though that Blair was used for one of the girls in Facts of Life. SSA shows it in use for boys since 1880's and girls since 1980's though very low on charts for both. I'm not sure why the show chose this name except that maybe the producer equated this name with a snobby prep school girl image which was what he/she was trying to portray. To this day I also have this associaiton with the name though.

By Eo (not verified)
October 26, 2009 1:32 AM

Before this androgyny thread ends, I wanted to suggest an alternative for those who love "Finley" for a boy, but who suspect that the "-ey" ending will ultimately consign it to the girl's side:

"Finlo", or "Finloe" or "Finlow"

They are variants of Finley listed in one of the Manx Gaelic name websites.

They all derive from the ancient, storied Irish and Manx name "Lugh", and mean something like "fair Lugh".

To me Finlo has a lilting sound, and reads as somehow more masculine than Finley...

When I was there I also noticed the Manx variant of "Kenneth"-- it's "Kennagh". To me that freshens the name and I like the long, open sound of the "ahhhhhh" at the end. (That's only an approximation of the way I think it sounds)!

Kind of like Kenneth Branagh's last name-- am I wrong in thinking the end of Kennagh would be pronounced like the end of Branagh?

By Bianca (nli) (not verified)
October 26, 2009 2:08 AM

I imagine the Blair on Gossip Girl will do a lot for perception of the name as feminine. Actually, I don't find the names particularly trendy, and it seems as though out of all shows, this would be the one where I would expect it.

Oh, an acquaintance named her baby Bl@yre. I thought it gave some verb action to the name, like a horn blaring.

Eo - Good thinking with Finlo, it also has the cool 'o' ending.

October 26, 2009 2:36 AM

I'll cop to not having read the entire comments list, but a few things I'll note from previous conversations:

I know only male Elliotts as of this point (this is the one boy-to-girl that really doesn't make sense to me; if you're going to call your daughter Ella, then why not just Ella then? Or Ellie? Or Elizabeth?)

I have known both male and female:
Madisons (really)
Montanas (again, really)

Until I was in my twenties, I believed Lacey to be strictly a male name. I knew three growing up that were near my age (I'm in my late 20s).

I think my roundabout point to all this is that even though I knew several female Kellys, I knew at least two male Kellys. I knew a male Courtney before I knew a female Courtney. I just don't think it matters that much. There will always be a segment of the population that will get snippy about it, but frankly -- who cares? If you love Courtney for your boy, use it. =D

AND NOW: The big news -- I can't spill anywhere else on the Internet -- I'm gonna be an auntie!! Sooo excited. I come from a solid family of NE's, so my sister is already making lists and my mom is stressing over her "grandmother name."

At 8 wks 1 day, my sister's front-runners are
Stephen Bradley (both family names)
and Christina Grace
Her tastes run more toward classic, but not trendy classic, names.

This will probably change so much and so fast it won't be funny. She'll know in a few weeks whether boy or girl. I look for her to use Bradley no matter what if it's a boy, but based on this androgyny convo, maybe I'll whisper it for a girl as well? ;)

By laura617 (not verified)
October 26, 2009 6:37 AM

I think sometimes NameNerds over estimate what names are actually androgynous. Many are so caught up with what others on the boards have to say, and the numbers on the SS list, they ignore what average people are naming their babies, especially boys.

My best friend was obsessed with the gender bender androgynous names, so she named her daughters Hunter, Logan, and Connor. For a while, Hunter and Logan were on the the SS list for girls, but the usage was has always been 20 to 1 in favor of boys. She kept insisting her girls names were unisex, even though most people think of them as boys' names.

When the girls went to school, they had a very, very hard time with their names. The boys name Hunter and Connor were not happy to learn that they had an androgynous name. It makes life very difficult for girls to have to break the gender rules in kindergarten, when most kids are very clear on what's for boys and what's for girls.

I think it's easier for names like Aubrey and Addison to go to the girls, because they're already deemed too soft for most parent to use for boys. Hunter might have been used for girls a bit in the late 90s early 00's, but it's gone back to the boys ever since.

October 26, 2009 8:44 AM

Rhanda-Congrats! Stephen Bradley sounds wonderful to me. I like Christina Grace too although I'm not a personal fan of Christina. I think Bradley could work in the middle spot for a girl as well.

Laura617-That is tough. I can see maybe Logan used by girls and I have heard of some female Hunters though I don't personally know of any. Connor throws me a bit though. Aubrey seems way too girly and Addison can be for both though I prefer to find it on girls. I knew a family with a Riley (or something like that) and an Addison. It threw me every time I ran into them because Riley was the girl and Addison the boy.

Do we all favor the freedom with naming the US enjoys or do we think that it would be simpler if all countries had naming laws?

October 26, 2009 9:45 AM

yikes. i can't say i'm a fan of your friend's choices, but i suppose they are her choices not mine. i do think they're a very nice set though--hunter, logan, and connor are great together. and in time, the girls might grow into their names and end up liking them.

rhanda, yay! that's really exciting. :]

hmm....good question. honestly, my names would all probably fit within the criteria if we did have laws. i can't see a name restriction law flying here though. people might go crazy.

October 26, 2009 9:56 AM

I love the naming freedom. Especially in a place as multiethnic as the United States, I think it is necessary not to restrict naming.

I do think it is important to recognize what the social effects of certain names are, but I do not think it appropriate that some authority that might not understand my culture, heritage, or family would have a say in the naming of my child. I definitely prefer education--and sites like this.

As for Aubrey, I know a Gen X female Aubrey, and although I don't consider it particularly girly (a man named Aubrey wouldn't seem wrong), men can still use the admittedly rare Auberon/Oberon or Alberic, so the name "going to the girls" doesn't concern me that much.

By Anna (not verified)
October 26, 2009 11:59 AM

I'm pro law. I see naming laws as a measure to protect children from ridiculous names. Tallulah Does The Hula From Hawaii comes to mind. So does Adolf Hitler. And Shithead, if there ever was one. Should parents be able to name their children whatever they want? No, I don't think so. Parents, aka adults, should be allowed to (re)name themselves whatever they want, but that's a different story.

I've mentioned before that I don't see the Danish/Swedish name laws as much of a restriction. Both countries are small (5 and 8 million) and culturally homogeneous, both countries have their own unique language; ultimately the name pools just aren't that big. The lists of approved names in Denmark include 9000 boys' names, 11500 girls' names and the lists are updated continually. For example, for boys, Jaden, Jaiden and Jaden are all approved and there are at least 50 different spellings of Mohammed. I also think the procedure for having a name approved is fair and simple.

The name laws are rather strict about gender-specific first names, although you are allowed to chose the second first name from the list of approved names for the opposite gender. I understand this is perceived as outrageously strict by Americans but you should factor in that it really would be the bizarrest thing in the world for a girl to be named Sören. Obviously this is a hen-egg situation because of the law, but I don't see this changing any time soon.

I do realise the situation is rather different in a multicultural society like the US and it would probably be a cumbersome procedure to implement a name law. And how exactly do you define a 'ridiculous' name? But still, in the US you shouldn't name your daughter Bitch even if it's in honour of your favourite Uzbek or Uruguayan uncle. And the poor 5 year old Adolf Hiltler?! I would draw the line in freedom of naming at that.

October 26, 2009 12:13 PM

i actually don't find those laws outrageously strict, and i don't think i would be terribly upset if those laws existed here. but linnaeus makes a good point: there are a lot of ethnicities here, and it might be complicated... but i agree with you, at least in theory. i don't always think a parent should be able to name a child whatever they want (your examples are good ones). i'm quite sure that i could easily find names i liked for my children within a list of 20 thousand names. however, i have a feeling it would not be well received here by the general public.

October 26, 2009 12:25 PM

Yes emilyrae, both Anna and Linnaeus make excellent well-stated points about the pros and cons of naming laws. I was just curious about how everyone else felt. I agree with both sides. While I certainly wouldn't ever name my child Adolf Hitler OR Tallulah in Hawaii I enjoy having the freedom to name them whatever else I choose. I do think though that if I were restricted in some form that I would still be able to choose something adequate from an approved list of 11000 names or so. Heck half of those baby names in the 100,000 books are ridiculous respellings or something with punctuation that for me would be unusable anyway.

By hyz
October 26, 2009 12:29 PM

I had neighbors growing up named Hunter and Taylor--sisters, born in the late 80s. I do remember it seemed kind of cool at the time to me, even though I also knew boys with both names. I also grew up with a (female) friend Casey, who had two sisters, Sh@ne and Ry@n. None of these seemed odd to me--I actually had a second female friend named Ryan, so it seemed unisex to me. I've mentioned before that the first Aidan I ever met was a girl (she would've been born in the late 70s, I met her in the mid 80s), and I thought it was the coolest name at the time. Same with Devon--I knew a girl named Devon growing up, and always loved it--it was actually on my girl list before I got pregnant, and only got nixed when when I realized how unisex it was (same for Avery and Morgan, actually).

I guess my perception of unisex naming has really changed--all of the kids I grew up with that had unisex names were upper middle class with parents who bought them enviable things that I might not have had, so it seemed somehow hip or desirable to me as a kid. Now I associate that type of unisex naming with younger parents who seem to be attempting to push the envelope in a way that seems sort of unnecessary, possibly misguided, and maybe tired? After all, it seemed fresh to me in the 80s--now it just irritates me. Of course people can and should name their kids whatever they want, within reason--I'm just talking about my own personal taste.

By hyz
October 26, 2009 12:43 PM

Oh, and re: naming laws--I am for them in theory, because I like the idea of maintaining some kind of standards which theoretically preserve the culture and traditions of a place. However, I don't think it would go well in the US, because we are too used to being able to name our kids whatever wacky things we can come up with, and I'm sure all the people already out there with girls named Joseph or Reiyeleigh or whatever would take great offense at being told that these were not acceptable choices. And if these names *were* allowed so as not to offend or restrict choice too much, then what would be the point of the list? Additionally, I do like innovation on some level, but then it might come down to a matter of taste as to what kind of innovation would be allowed, and that could get sticky for sure. But I'm glad Europe, at least, has the lists. :)

By Anna (not verified)
October 26, 2009 12:45 PM

Emilyrae - you're right, I imagine there would be a public uproar in response to a proposed naming law in the US. I guess this is part of a much bigger issue or maybe even a fundamental difference between Europe and the US. Here in pseudo-communistic Scandinavia we're just used to a lot of laws, I guess ;-)

October 26, 2009 12:48 PM

that is really interesting. i bet my perception of androgynous/unisex/boys' names on girls is biased by the fact that i'm not sure i really knew ANY girls with names like that until adulthood. i mean maybe i knew a couple or caseys or coreys, but nothing that i consider super-radical like hunter or shane or ryan or devon or elliott. i only ever encountered those names on boys my entire life (perhaps due to growing up in the midwest?), and i still haven't encountered most of them in real life. so to grow up without exposure to that and then to all of a sudden hear that people are naming their daughters shawn and emerson is a bit of a jolt.

also, i'm realizing that (i think) peyton is more of a boys' name to me than the average person, which i think is due to living in indianapolis. colts football is a big deal here, and peyton manning is a high profile name. in my mind, peyton=football quarterback, not little girl.

October 26, 2009 2:52 PM


I think you're right--there is a fundamental difference. Scandinavia has small, homogeneous communities that will value preservation of the indigenous culture. In such a system, a name list makes sense as an extra point to align everyone with the greater community. American culture, on the other hand, is large, ill-defined, and malleable. Any such name list would ideally have these characteristics, as well.

I agree that there are names that don't go well in the US, even though they can go well elsewhere. However, a positive list of names that may be used would just be too unwieldy. Most people (99.99% of parents) aren't going to name their children something truly, unambiguously awful. Furthermore, one would have to be fully unconnected to general society, or specifically connected to a particular subculture not to have the peer pressure of the awful name. Given all this, a name list would be far too difficult to administer in a place like the US, even before American cultural feelings of personal freedom are taken into account. Just imagine all the people searching the database looking for novel spellings of Madison that haven't been added yet. Then imagine the business that would spring up around the list to register those novel spellings and dole them out to the highest bidder--just to guarantee that their child has a unique name. In the end, it's far cheaper and egalitarian for the US to use societal pressures to shape naming, free of an organized (and gameable) system.

Dang, suddenly I want to lobby for name lists. There's a fortune to be made here. Rent-seeking at its finest. Greed is good. ;-)

October 26, 2009 2:23 PM

More on the latest Hollywood gossip on androgynous names, over at Laura's other site

The latest celeb pairing is TayTay (Yes, Taylor + Taylor)

Would love your input in comments there!

By Plum (not verified)
October 26, 2009 2:35 PM

The thing that really bothers me about 'unisex' names isn't so much the confusion it might create, but rather the sexist premiss that it is acceptable and fashionable for girls to have very masculine names, but not the opposite. If parents decide to name their daughter after Taylor Swift, that's great; if they tried to name a son after Alice Cooper, it would be outrageous.

I'll be fine with little girls named Emery the second I start to se boys named Margaret.

October 26, 2009 2:37 PM

Eo- Thanks so much for Finlo/Finloe/Finlow. I love it! I'm going to suggest it to my sister,as they are looking for a Gaelic or Scottish name for their boy-to-be, and I'm not sure they've fastened on one yet.

By sarah smile (not verified)
October 26, 2009 2:48 PM

I have a cute gender-related naming story. A couple I know have a two year old son, who is finally old enough to start remembering and using the names of all of his parents friends. It has been fascinating from an NE perspective to see which names he caught onto first and which he seemed to find confusing.

I am one of two Sarahs in our group of friends, and he understood early on that we have the same name but are different people. He also seemed to figure out 'pairs' of names for couples pretty quickly; ie who went with who. Even the names that are harder to pronounce he picked up without a problem; if he couldn't reproduce the sounds exactly he just did the best he could.

The names he had the most trouble with, by far, belong to a couple where the man's name is unisex (I'll use Casey as a stand-in for his more unique name) and the woman's name is entirely female - I'll call her Annie. His parents think the problem is that there is a little Casey in his class at school who is female, and since he is at the age where he is noticing and focusing on gender, in his mind Casey must belong to a girl. Annie, on the other hand, is the only one he has ever met (despite being a much more common name), and so he has no problem imagining it as a boy's name.

For months you could see him sort of focusing every time someone called one of them by name, trying to get this problem sorted out in his head. When he needed to refer to either of them, he settled on 'CaseyAnnie' or 'AnnieCasey', with no apparent reasoning behind which name was first. He knew what both names were, and he knew which two people they belonged to, and he knew that they came as a pair. And it was clear that he knew that wasn't right, but just couldn't quite figure it all out. And then someone would ask him to take something to Casey, and he would sort of dart between them trying to figure out which one he was supposed to give it to. It was really very cute.

Anyway, he does seem to have finally figured out who is who these days, but it was a source of confusion for a long time. I am curious to see if the next time he meets an Annie it will help him solidify that as a girl's name. But I do have to say this is one complication of unisex names that had never occurred to me!

By Felicia (NLI) (not verified)
October 26, 2009 3:32 PM

Such an interesting discussion! Speaking as someone with one of those uber-frilly names, I don't think it has had any impact on my career path. I am an in-house contracts attorney for a large government contractor. I don't just work for the man; I AM the man.

But I have had people comment that they thought I would be another ethnicity based on my name. Many people associate Felicia as an African American name, and many others as Italian or Hispanic because of its Latinate roots. I'm just a Jewish girl from Baltimore, but my name means "happiness" and I wouldn't trade it!

October 26, 2009 3:44 PM

sarah smile-That is so amusing! Thanks for sharing.

By Eo (not verified)
October 26, 2009 4:02 PM

Darling story, sarah smile!

Oh, good, Valerie. If Finloe etc. isn't their cup of tea, you can also advise them that if they google the site Manx Christian Names, they will find other appealing, lesser-known Gaelic and Celtic-derived names.

zoerhenne, love your provocative question. As much as I adore traditional names and abhor some of the wacky trends out there, the Big Brother aspect of some "approved" and restrictive government name list is simply unpalatable.

I may have a roughly equal love for the two countries of my dual citizenship, Canada and the U.S., but I have a more Yankee perspective on this one.

Canada is a much more paternalistic, nanny- state sort of society, where order and "consensus" are prized very highly, so I could almost see such a law passing muster there. But somehow I doubt that even some Ottawa bureaucrat has ever tried to impose anything like this. I comfort myself that it would certainly never fly in the Canadian West, at least!

And here in the U.S., I agree with Linnaeus, a government-imposed naming law goes against the deeply-held, almost inchoate beliefs about liberty, self-determination, and freedom from over-weening government.

These are so fundamental to the American identity, that such a law would almost seem a betrayal of national ideals, if not the Constitution!

Of course, the trade-off is that you occasionally will have parents willing to dub their child "Pol Pot", "Mao", or "Adolph Hitler", like those horrible parents in the news a while back. In those rare cases, there is often an underlying pathology that is far bigger than mere naming practices, and the sooner that child protective services can evaluate the family, the better. (Can't quite suppress the social worker in me...)

October 26, 2009 4:16 PM

Thanks for the 'grats. I'm pretty stoked. =D I'll try to post the various name journeys as they come up.

If anyone has "fresh" suggestions for grandma names, my mom would appreciate it. My to-be niece or nephews great-grandparents are all living, so that takes out quite a few traditional grandparent names.

Color me surprised -- I usually feel like I'm pretty up to date, but I didn't know Devon was solidly in the boys' camp. I've only known female Devons.

I also suspect that part of the reason I am not drawn to the androgynous names is that they are rising in popularity so quickly -- and it seems to be a young parent trend. I know we've talked before about time-stamped names, and this sort of trend is where I see that happening more so than kids named Emma or Jacob or what-have-you. Riley is going to feel more 2000s than Anthony will, I think. As always, no judgment -- it's just musing (and I really rather like Riley, it's just a random example).

By knp (not verified)
October 26, 2009 4:28 PM

Rhanda: My mother wants to go by Grammie, in fact I've heard a couple grandma's going by that nn (and we decided my dad is gonna go by Papa Bear-- he's a pretty big guy) I also love the simplicity of the German "Oma"

sarah smile: I'll give it a go since I guessed ARose's-- but yours is harder since we don't know ages and how many of each gender:
M@c - boy
C@sey - girl
R0ry - girl
B0 - boy

I went by "eee" sounds for the girls and short 1 syll. for the boys. But Mac could be short for Mackenzie...

October 26, 2009 4:42 PM

On topic...comedian Tracy Morgan commented on his name in this week's edition of People, saying it was "an Irish girl's" name and that he should be wearing green bikinis on St Patrick's Day. :)

October 26, 2009 4:44 PM

Oh, and @Rhanda, we're having the same dilemma. All of my grandparents are still living, and my parents, and my husband's parents. My husband's parents dibsed 'Gma and Gpa' but my parents and grandparents all want to go by Grandpa and Grandma, which I feel might be super confusing to a very small child. I tried to talk my mom into Mamaw, Abuela, Nana, anything, but no such luck.

October 26, 2009 4:52 PM

I always referred to my grandparents as "Grandma Lastname" and "Grandpa Lastname" without any trouble. Most of the time, it's just "Grandma and Grandpa" anyway.

October 26, 2009 4:58 PM

Eo- wow, some of those Manx names are very characterful. I like:

Malane. A name assumed in honour of S. Mary Magdalen, called Moirrey Malane in Mx.

Also, those names that begin with Caly...

I also noticed Margaid (another variant on Margaret and not too distant from Marcail).

By knp (not verified)
October 26, 2009 5:05 PM

Anne with an E: I did grow up with 2 sets of "Grandma & Grandpa". Not confusing at all, we just put on last names when we needed to clarify (and Great Grandma if it was one generation up). It is just like 2 people having the same first name (which kids get, as seen in the example above)