Here's a name puzzler: which of these is a unisex baby name?
It's a more complicated question than it may seem.
• Leslie was long considered unisex in the U.S. and masculine in Australia and Britain (Lesley was the feminine spelling), but it has fallen out of use for boys.
• Ashton is a surname that became a male given name, then turned unisex, and is now mostly male again.
• Monroe was a purely male name of a century ago that has recently resurfaced as a female name.
• Kosisochukwu is an Igbo name that is given equally to boys and girls in the U.S., but remains unfamiliar to most Americans.
• Salem is a place name that was seldom considered as a baby name until the past few years, but is now rising in popularity for boys and girls alike.
Whether you love unisex names or hope to avoid them, this fast-changing landscape can be confusing to navigate. Here's a basic roadmap. I've collected every baby name that's currently given to significant numbers of girls AND boys in the United States. (The cutoffs: at least 200 total babies born last year, and a sex ratio of no greater than 3:1.) Individually, they're options for parents who seek a name that's genuinely unisex in usage. Collectively, they show us what unisex style looks like…for now.
And to answer the opening question, of the five names I listed only Salem qualifies.
|THE UNISEX BABY NAMES MASTER LIST|
|Name||Total Babies Born||Percentage Girls|
Read More: Unisex Baby Names Don't Stay Unisex
Looking for a name that's traditional and familiar, but has an element of surprise? Outside the mainstream, but not unfashionable? It's the elusive dream of many baby namers, and today I'm offering up 64 candidates.
I've scanned historical baby name stats for old-time names that spent generations in "hibernation" and are still unusual, but have seen steady and significant growth over the past few years. The long quiet period makes them intriguing to modern ears. The modest current popularity helps them stand out. And the upward momentum suggests they have some style energy to them.
I've divided the names by popularity. The "Uncommon" names below are currently ranked #500-1,000 for boys or girls, meaning they're still rarely heard but likely to be well accepted. The "Scarce" names are ranked below #1,000, in some cases far below. That makes many of them bolder choices — potentially high-impact, but riskier. Not everybody is ready for names like Wolfgang or Opie…yet.
|UNCOMMON OLD-TIME GIRLS||UNCOMMON OLD-TIME BOYS|
|SCARCE OLD-TIME GIRLS||SCARCE OLD-TIME BOYS|
Finding names that strike the right balance between feminine and tailored can be harder than it seems - names in the former category tend to be long and luxurious, while names in the latter tend to be concise and no-nonsense. Popular names like Audrey and Lauren have managed to toe the line, but their widespread use can be off-putting.
Here’s a list of fourteen names that fit this elegant style without feeling overly trendy: both refreshing and refined, these names are bound to make an impression and stand the test of time.
Image via Pexels
Maren. Chic Maren is a worthy successor to previously popular Karen, but with a more sophisticated sound. It developed as a variant of both classic Mary and ancient Marinus, making it especially ideal as an honorific. Maren’s notable namesakes span from Germany to Norway to the US, lending it some cross-cultural appeal.
Drew. This sweet diminutive of Andrew was made available to girls via actress Drew Barrymore, but still ranks outside the female top 1000. Polished yet sassy, Drew has a substantial history in literature and television - from Nancy Drew to Rugrats - and has a sound that’s fresh and cool.
Tierney. This Irish surname fits in with popular Riley and Kennedy, but has a more feminine and fashionable vibe. Well-known Tierney’s are an especially creative bunch, from Old Hollywood actress Gene Tierney to jazz singer Tierney Sutton. While Tierney has been used regularly in the US since 1957, it’s never made the top 1000.
Bristol. This tailored choice was brought into the top 1000 via Bristol Palin, daughter of politician Sarah and now a prominent reality television figure. The name is brisk and bright, genial and geographic, with a bit of a Commonwealth tone. Bristol now sits at the sweet spot of the popularity charts, familiar yet far from common.
Hollis. Attractive and friendly, Hollis is a unisex pick that’s increasingly going to the girls. Whether the long form version or nickname Holly is used day to day, this name is a smart and appealing choice that works for all kinds of personalities.
Sutton. A traditional English surname meaning “southern town,” Sutton is both dignified and cute as a button. Broadway and television star Sutton Foster has brought the name increased notoriety, but it still sounds crisp and unusual.
Darby. Though this lovely name was relatively well-known in the late 1990’s, it’s never become particularly popular. Could its happy Irish sound and accessible vibe bring it back into play? Darby is also the name of a few cities in the United States, making it a novel contender in the current place-name trend.
Arden. This graceful name has extensive literary roots, used in both Shakespeare’s and Tennyson’s work. Arden sounds both passionate and pleasant, a feminine name that’s not frilly or faddish. Famous women with the surname Arden include actress Eve and businesswoman Elizabeth, but Arden as a first name is sure to grow over time thanks to its wonderful balance.
Neve. Derived from the Irish Niamh and pronounced “Nehv” or “Neev,” charming Neve originally came to prominence in the US via actress Campbell. Today, as more parents explore their genealogical roots, Neve works well as a heritage choice and as an amicable modern pick.
Romilly. If you’re looking for an alternative to Riley or Emily, bold Romilly may be right up your alley. It’s still rather uncommon in American playgrounds, but has a rich historical background as a variation of ancient Romulus and as the name of an English admiral.
Greer. Engaging and kind, Greer as a Scottish surname with quite a few prominent wearers, from actress Greer Garson to writer Germaine Greer. It’s originally a diminutive of Gregory, making it a cool yet unexpected honorific for a family member. While the Grier spelling is also in play, pretty Greer is an underused choice today.
Tamsin. Exceptional even in its native country, English Tamsin fits in well with modern name trends - two-syllables, “in”-sound ending - while maintaining a unique personality. It’s a feminine variant of Thomas, and feels like a winsome successor to Tammy or Teagan.
Adair. In the age of Ad-names - Addison, Adeline, Adriana - Adair is a refreshing alternative, both accessible and extraordinary. It’s been a beloved pop culture pick, appearing in television and literature, but it’s notoriety hasn’t yet translated to use. Might cultured Adair one day follow Claire or Avery into the top 100?
Ellery. A unique route to the nickname Ellie, Ellery is a delightful pick associated with mystery writer and character Ellery Queen (the pseudonym of two co-authors). Today, the name sounds more feminine - like Everly or Ellen - with a pleasantly euphonic melody.