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 27, 2009 8:12 PM

Ash - Good point about titles/closeness. It's like how most people have a non-blood aunt or uncle. Our parents introduced them to us with family titles because that's the relationship they wanted us to have.

Fish - I'm curious, do you know if Amadeus has a nickname? You could take it in so many directions. I think Helena goes great, but not really feeling it with Donovan or Jackson. I don't think you need another fully majestic name or 'us' ending, but something with a bit of weight maybe. A lot of European names match for me as well.

Nikolai or Nicholai (sp?)
Frederick or Friedrich
Sylvain or Silvio
Francis or Franklin

I also like the suggestions of Jude, Ivan, Felix, Christos, and Carsten.

October 27, 2009 10:04 PM

Sorry in advance for the slight incoherence of this post, although it's not that late, I don't think I've slept more than 6 hours per night in the past two weeks, including weekends.

Re. parents names: I always called my parents Mommy and Daddy, and when referring to my dad to my mom, he's Daddy and vice versa (which happens a lot, because they're divorced, so I'll be "Hey Mom, am I going to be at Daddy's house this weekend?" I won't say 'Dad's house' because that would sound like my mom or her brother, because they call Grandma and Peepop Mom and Dad. My dad calls his parents (as do his siblings) Mom and Dad. They do this around us kids too, unlike my mom's family who call them Grandma and Peepop (or just G and P) around me and only Mom or Dad when talking to them. I call my mom: Mom, Mommy, Momma, Ma, Marmie, Mother Dearest, Mumsie, Mommle, and Mother (but only when I'm annoyed at her and want to act all teenagey and obnoxious because in our family that's WAYYYY too formal, but not knocking it) and I call my dad: Dad, Daddy, Pa, Poppy, Popsicle, Daddums, Daddy-poo, and Dadzles. My dad's parents also refer to each other as Mom and Dad (ie: "Do you know where Dad went?" or "Mom's upstairs." etc. which I always thought was odd, but I guess they used it when their kids were growing up and it stuck, they do it when not directly talking to their kids or grandkids too though.) Mostly I use Dad and Mom or Daddy and Mommy/Momma but the others when I feel like it, I'm a pretty nicknamey person, my friends and I all have crazy nn's for each other.

By Fish (not verified)
October 27, 2009 10:46 PM

Thanks for all your help guys! Still no name yet for Amadeus's baby brother. The little guy is doing well for a 32-weeker, though, and breathing on his own without too many problems.

His middle name will most likely be Gordon after our grandfather, but no clear front-runners have emerged for the FN. She seems to gravitate towards names ending in -n (she liked Emerson and Preston as well). The other latinate-style names don't seem to be clicking. I think we might be dealing with a situation where the mom and the dad have very different styles! At this point, however, the name conversations are stressing her out - it sounds like she needs some quiet time with her husband to put their heads together and figure it out. So... I've decided to lay off the suggestions for a while (hard as it may be).

Bianca: Parents very firmly call Amadeus by his whole name. They accept that my mother calls him Ammo (?!), but they don't encourage it!

October 27, 2009 11:06 PM

I always get jealous when people post their school name lists and then I realized that I have a name list too. It's from my midwives, so these are by and large homebirths. I thought it was interesting that several names people are worried about going to the girls are on the boy list- Rowan and Riley are both there.




Asher x2
Brixton (that's mine)
Liam x2

By hyz
October 27, 2009 11:08 PM

Fish--do you have any clue why they picked Amadeus? It sounds like it wasn't for a love of Latin. Are they religious? Musical? History buffs? Likers of fancy sounding names? lol. Emerson works for me with Amadeus, Preston not so much, although it's still better than Jackson. Oh, and I'd add Solomon to the list!

Glad to hear the little bub is doing well! Hope mom and dad can get some quiet time to recover and bond, and not stress too much about this.

By hyz
October 27, 2009 11:11 PM

PJ--love the list, thanks! It's an interesting assortment for sure, as you'd probably expect from a midwife's list. Lots of goodies. Love to see Rowan on the boy list, and Wylder is appealing, too. :)

October 27, 2009 11:27 PM

Fish-As a parent of a 34 weeker (who btw will be 10 in February) I sympathize with the rough time they must be having and the fear of the unknown even though you say he is doing fine. It is good of you to give them the time they need to rest and recover both physically and emotionally. I am thinking however that they might need a name to reflect their little miracle's trials and tribulations. Are they spiritual in general?

PJ-That was some list. If I remember correctly though, you are not in the US. Could you remind me where you reside again please?

October 28, 2009 12:25 AM

Fish - Ammo is sort of cute! How about Samson or Lennon? Bit of -en, bit of surname, bit of musician..

By Guest (not verified)
October 28, 2009 12:28 AM

Late to the topic but just saw in the Toronto Sun newspaper from last Friday, the death of the young *raped* actress in "To Kill a Mockingbird. Her name was Collin Wilcox Preston! Not a very long article so there was no explanation of her interesting name.

October 28, 2009 12:59 AM

zoerhenne, I am in the US, in a medium sized city on the West Coast.

By hyz
October 28, 2009 1:18 AM

Ooh,I like Samson for Amadeus' brother. Here are a few more--this is fun :)

By Tirzah, not logged in (not verified)
October 28, 2009 1:45 AM

PJ, what a great list! I see Marlowe on the girls' list. I was considering that name since my maiden name is tucked in there some place.

October 28, 2009 8:14 AM

Hyz-Great additions to the Amadeus list!

PJ-Thanks for some reason I thought you were one of the Australians.

By Adele'smommy (not verified)
October 28, 2009 10:29 AM

To Rhanda (post 244)

rearding grandmothers' nicknames -- my little girl calls my mom "Go-Go". My mom refused to pick her own nickname, stating that she would wait to see what the first granchild called her. When Go-Go came out of my daugter's mouth it just stuck.

By Lucky (not verified)
October 30, 2009 5:02 PM

Hi, I'm jumping in here because I am pregnant with my 3rd child and having a serious debate about a boy name for a girl. I don't know the gender of this child, but we have named our first two children after our siblings - sibling first name for either the child's first or middle name. Between the two of us, we have 3 siblings, so this will work out perfectly is we have a boy, but if we have a girl:

Is Timothy (nn Tim or Timmy) too out there for a girl?

I kind of like it. My BIL goes by Tim. I don't really like Timothea or other feminizations of the name. And Timmy or Tim rhyme with Kimmy or Kim. Am I stretching?

I know the child would have people assume she is a boy - this happens to my son in reverse as he is Finley which has recently become a popular girl name around here - and that doesn't bother me too much. I am a teacher and before the year starts, I make a seating chart that I believe is boy, girl, boy, girl. I always end up with a row of all boys or all girls (ex from this year: Aubree, Morgan, Devin, Teale -- all boys!)

Thanks for any input on the Timothy for a girl. I love reading everyone's thoughtful posts. I thought I was out of the name giving business, but apparently the universe had other plans.

By Lucky (not verified)
October 30, 2009 5:09 PM

PJ: I just read your list and am wondering if you live near me or if midwives have similar lists all over. Four of my friend's baby names who used our midwife are on there. You don't have to say, but are you in Northern California?

I'm not sure which would be stranger - the smallness of the world if you are or the sameness of "unique" homebirth names!

By handbags shop (not verified)
December 25, 2009 10:00 AM

I am Norwegian that I don't get the obsession with androgynous names?

By JustaKid (not verified)
March 4, 2010 5:13 AM

I think a name won't define a person and all of you sound like morons 8D

- a child weighing in.

Also is anyone here starting to recognize the books the Captcha is quoting? I have recognized 2 at least, I think xD.

By flv to dvd (not verified)
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By Beverly (not verified)
June 10, 2010 1:52 PM

This is exactly why my daughters are named Sean and Noe. Being devalued for one's femininity is a reality and an androgynous/masculine name helps mitigate that. It is also helpful (I have found) to have no one assume that your child is a girl when offering a pick up game of softball or offering dinosaurs instead of dolls. It opens more possibilities while they are internalizing their (personal) gender identification.

My boy is named Hezekiah and that is pretty masculine/traditional, but we call him Kiah and that is pretty feminine since I only know girls with Kiah as a name. Pretty sure he can handle it and make pink cupcakes if he wants to.

By Guest (not verified)
July 31, 2010 12:46 AM

My thoughts exactly!

By Guest (not verified)
July 31, 2010 12:47 AM

My thoughts exactly!

September 7, 2010 7:33 AM

i personally dislike androgynous names. if i have children, tiffany & coi 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

By Jessee (not verified)
December 16, 2010 12:22 AM

It really makes me ponder why the androgyny of a name really matters that much. It's all up to the parents though since babies are born with what's given to them, I'm a girl but I bet you would've guessed otherwise.
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By Tubes Fan (not verified)
January 24, 2011 10:16 AM

The name of a person doesn't make them androgynous. No, it doesn't. I do feel the two are related though, because if I do not feel androgyny is appealing, I also would not name my child a name that just written on a sheet of paper with no other information was in fact androgynous.

By eli d (not verified)
January 27, 2011 12:50 PM

Honestly, I just look at street names for my children... Soto, Olympic, La Cienega..

I think that's why so many girls have the name Madison or Willow.. and guys have the name Will or Kenny... Wilshire... abbot kenny.


I should name my daughter Fountain

By eavedrop44 (not verified)
February 12, 2011 1:11 AM

The name of a person doesn't make them androgynous. No, it doesn't. I do feel the two are related though, because if I do not feel androgyny is appealing, I also would not name my child a name that just written on a sheet of paper with no other information was in fact androgynous.
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By edarmer (not verified)
March 12, 2011 7:17 PM

Let's look back about 150 years. Marian/Marion - Frances/Francis. on an odd note about names that generally didn't last. I have found men named Pleasant in the 1800's and even a few named Ples born in the early to mid 1900's.

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