When Does a Name Become Androgynous?
Countless names are borne by both boys and girls. You have your contemporary inventions (Daylin), your surnames (Kerry), your nickames (Alex). No problem, we can all play nicely together. But other names keep a "single sex" identity despite some opposite-sex usage. The existence of '70s tv actress Michael Learned, for instance, wasn't enough to keep Michael from sounding solidly masculine.
Recently, the androgyny floodgates have opened on male names ending in a vowel sound. There are now more female Rileys born than males, and the masculine biblical name Micah is a fixture on the girls' top 1000 list. As an impartial name observer, you have to call both of those names androgynous today. (Moms of male Rileys, please don't shoot the messenger.) But where do you draw the line and declare a name unisex in usage?
This isn't mere philosophical musing for me. I have practical decisions to make. In the past week, users have submitted the girls' names Ezra, Luca, Luka and Levi to Namipedia. I now have to decide which to let stay, if any.
You could say "Why not just let 'em all stay? What's the harm?" But Namipedia is selective for a reason. The goal is for every single page to be useful or informative for name searchers. Randomly tossing in boy names under the girl's heading or vice versa doesn't seem useful or informative. If anything, it's spreading disinformation: declaring a name that 99% of people consider single-sex to be unisex.
Here's some background on the four names in question. All four are masculine biblical classics. All four end in vowels. All four have been bestowed on dozens of American baby girls...but none come close to cracking the top 1000 girls' names.
The most common feminine choice of the four names, Ezra, ranks #2,207 on the girl's chart. That's in-between land, with some obscure variant names like Naomy and Jazzlynn and some familiar but out-of-fashion names like Michele and Jennie. The least common, Luka, ranks in the 6000s in a tie with hundreds of names like Serenitee, Zulay and Krislynn. (Keep in mind that the mere fact that some people somewhere bear a name isn't sufficient to earn a name a Namipedia page. If it were, the list of Madeline spellings alone would be endless.)
So how would you make the Namipedia decision? Percentages? Micah is only 9% female, but it has ranked among the top 1000 girls' names for 30 years straight. A raw number cutoff? One complicating factor is that a tiny fraction of babies always get checked off in the wrong sex column. That means that the more popular the boy's name is, the more mistakes will end up in the girl's column. (And an -a ending might make data entry mistakes more likely.)
So the criteria might have to be subtler than that. What would you do? I'm all ears.