A Ray of Hope for Courtney and Leslie?

Jan 19th 2005

"Meet my sons, Courtney and Leslie." Nobody would have batted an eye back in the 1920s, when both names were reliably masculine. But the minute they became trendy for girls, parents of boys ran in the other direction.

It's the dirty little secret of androgynous names: they sound like a move toward equality, but in real life they're a move toward masculinity. Parents of girls swarm toward boys' names. Parents of boys recoil from anything girlish. And once a boy's name turns toward the female side, it never turns back.

Except one.

One boy's name has survived 50 years of sustained popularity on the girl's side and emerged surprisingly strong: Lee. It's a surname transfer, descended from an Old English word for meadow (preserved as the modern word "lea.") Lee became a popular given name in the American South in homage to Robert E. Lee, and spread across the country to settle in as a standard for boys.

Meanwhile, female Lees began trickling in from many directions. Thousands of "Lee Anns," "Leannas" and "Leahs" were called Lee. The romantic spelling Leigh was a big hit starting in the '60s. And just plain Lee was sustained by a string of glamorous actresses like Lee Remick. Yet by 1996, both Lee and Leigh had disappeared from the list of common girls' names...and male Lee was still chugging quietly along.

The most likely explanation for this rare staying power is the simplicity of the name. Lee's just too slim and swift to acquire much baggage. After all, plenty of nicknames have survived androgyny, from Billie and Bobbie in the '30s to Toni and Kris in the '60s. Which lets us make some predictions about current names that are veering into androgyny. By the Lee standard, Drew and Quinn look like good bets to weather the storm--while Avery and Addison may be facing rough seas ahead.


By Anonymous (not verified)
February 11, 2005 6:26 PM

Thanks for posting this. My thoughts exactly. Parents choosing boys' names for their girls' aren't "cutting-edge" or gender-equalizing - they are annoyingly pecking away at names that are acceptable for boys. With all the beautiful girls' names available, why name your little girl Carson or Peyton? Why, why, why???

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 11, 2005 9:13 PM

don't forget about taylor. poor taylor.

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 12, 2005 2:06 AM

I plead guilty. I named my daughter Hollis in 2003.

By haydesigner in SD (not verified)
February 12, 2005 12:03 PM

Both Pat and Chris are very common names for both sexes...

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 14, 2005 6:36 AM

I named my son Francis and have been pleasantly surprised by how rare sexist comments about this have been. Yeah there are a few, but the positive feedback has been amazing. I hope this means that sexism is on the wane and it will be safe for androgynously named boys in the future??? That would be REAL gender equalizing.

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 14, 2005 11:21 PM

McKennen/Kendal, Jordan, Alex, Riley, Morgan, Page, Kennedy, Reagan Man you could go on forever with boys names that were stolen.

By kate (not verified)
February 15, 2005 8:45 PM

I found these changes between the sexes useful. Our only family tradition is the middle name courtney for a boy going back six or more generations. I had two girls but was able to continue the tradition.

By Mark (not verified)
February 16, 2005 5:11 PM

And I can't even think about Gone with the Wind without having a chuckle over a boy named Ashley ...I once heard that when Florence Nightingale was a nurse, not only were almost all nurses male, but so were almost all Florences ...Didn't Clair and Shirley and Vivian used to be men's names as well?

By Anonymous (not verified)
February 19, 2005 2:51 AM

Another name that is edging back toward the boys is Dana. Dana is kind of passe as a girl's name, but I know a couple of boys born within the last couple of years named Dana.

By Casey (not verified)
February 23, 2005 3:14 AM

I'm a female named Casey, and sometimes I get comments that it should have been spelt 'Casie' or 'Kasie', or summat like that to be more feminine. So not all gender neutral names girls have stay feminine.

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 1, 2005 4:07 PM

I find it funny that people get bent out of shape when someone else names their daughter a boys name when many names have started out as another gender. It is personal to name your baby and a right you have earned. My daughter has a boy name that is a tradition in our family. All I can say is there are beautiful sounding boy names too and when people say ugly things, it is mostly the child that gets hurt. In my experience, I had more issues with people saying things about my name (which is not a boy name but was very popular) than my daughter's.

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 5, 2005 1:50 PM

My parents named me Lindsay. The way they spelled it is the traditional way from the surname (from an English placename), although I am a girl (from Scotland).I hate the new variants like Linzi and Linzee, but I was gratified to see on the vampire TV show Angel, a boy named Lindsay (spelt the same way as me). I think it is a remarkably unsex name in it's traditional spelling of Lindsay, but also extremely girlish when they spelt it Linzi, Lynsey, Linzee etc.I recently had a daughter and called her Lilith (ah, Adam's rebellious first wife) Josette (French dominutive of Josephine. We call her Josie. Not a unisex name in sight, :)

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 12, 2005 3:42 PM

I'm a Sterling born in 1958. I've met four other Sterlings in my life. All around my age, all male. Imagine my shock to hear recently of a couple of young girls named Sterling. It was like encountering an alien - I had never imagined it as a girl's name, and it was profoundly disorienting. Not angering, just head-scratchingly, dizzy-makingly disorienting. Then I picked up a historical novel, set about a century ago, with an 80 year old matriarch named Sterling. The anachronism blew me away. Had the author not done any homework?This leads me to wonder if there is any historical evidence for Sterling as a name for girls. Have I been laboring under a misapprehension? Or is it truly a novelty to use Sterling as a girl's name?

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 13, 2005 2:24 PM

I was so glad to read here that Lee is still a very acceptical boys name. I named my son Lee nearly 35 years ago..over the years he has sometimes wished he had a different name..but in recent years has come to accept and even enjoy his name.

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 16, 2005 6:55 PM

We named our first daughter Shirley and our second Carol. Our granddaughters are Kelly, Lesley and Whitney. I am Frances. It didn't dawn on any of us for years that these are all unisex names!

By Laney (not verified)
March 23, 2005 3:52 PM

I have three children...a son named Zachary (spelled correctly, I might add), and two daughters...Teddy and Avery. I noticed on the babywizard charts that Avery has taken a HUGE leap as a girl's name, but I've been telling people for years it's really an old guy's name. As for people being bent out of shape because they don't like my kids' names?? Go name your OWN kid!!

By Misty and Chad (not verified)
March 23, 2005 4:33 PM

If my boyfriend and I ever have a daughter, then we're going to name her Harlie Danee. We find it only right to each get to pick out a name since it will be something we have both created through our love. So, he chose Harlie because he loves motorcycles and racing four wheelers. As for myself, I chose Danee because it's a mixture of the middle names of my two sisters. We'll most likely call her Harlie, but there's always the chance of Dani slipping out. This is only one of many names we have picked out for our future children. But, that will be our first daughters name. And, as for our son? Ryce Edward. Ryce to carry on my last name since my dad has no sons and then Edward after my boyfriend because he's named after his dad.

By Anonymous (not verified)
April 11, 2005 1:35 AM

My aunt was named Alida but was usually called Lee. This was an obvious nickname and I assumed that Lee was a female name for years, having quite a time with General Lee until I heard that the first name was Robert and Lee was his family name. It took still longer to figure out that Lee was used as a male first name. As a side issue I have noticed that family names start as a first name for men and don't get used as a first name for women until much later. I don't know if that really holds true. It is just the way it looks from what I've seen. Beth

By kate (not verified)
April 15, 2005 12:06 AM

I don't understand all the fuss about girls "stealing" boy names. The so-called "boy names" are almost nearly always SURNAMES that parents "stole" ;) for use as given names. Do boys really have some inherent claim on surnames over the girls?? I wish people would stop making poopy-headed judgments and accusations and just allow parents to love and enjoy the names they choose for their children. (sad sigh)

By Anonymous (not verified)
May 6, 2005 3:06 PM

We gave our son the middle name Leslie after his aunt who was named after her grandfather!

By Anonymous (not verified)
May 22, 2005 1:32 PM

I work in the membership department in a children's musuem, the names are such a delight (or a mystery) to read sometimes. It makes my day more interesting to see those with creative, common and even unusual names. The boy/girl names are the worst, if the family hasn't selected the gender of their children, I have the Liberty (hey, that is an up and coming name) of deciding if its a boy or girl. I usually choose girl.

By Anonymous (not verified)
May 24, 2005 2:57 AM

For most of my life, I thought I was the only female Daryl on the planet, until I started hearing of Daryl Hannah. Her career made it a little easier for people to "get it" when I would introduce myself as Daryl, but then along came the Newhart Show and "Lary, Darryl, and my other brother Darryl..." Fortunately not too many folks remember that show anymore.I found out that Daryl Hannah is about two weeks older than I am, and our mothers were from the same area, so something was going on in the fall of 1960 that made Daryl a cool choice. I have never met a female Daryl younger than I, but have come across a few my age or older.

By Brandy Rae (not verified)
May 26, 2005 12:07 PM

I've hated my middle name for most of my life because I was the only female I knew with the name 'Rae'. Needless to say, I was downright shocked when I did an internet search and discovered over 100 other Rae's scattered around the US.I was very careful to keep my middle name secret after the horrible teasing I recieved, but now that I'm an adult, it doesn't bother me as much. I still do not like for anyone to know both my names, just one or the other, because I feel that Brandy Rae is, well, very redneck.As for the name Avery, I'd never heard of it as a girl's name till my husband mentioned he'd gone to school with a girl by that name. Meanwhile, my grandgather's name was Avery and we intend for it to be our son's middle name.

By Anonymous (not verified)
June 12, 2005 2:07 PM

I would love it if parents started using once-male names that have been taken over by the girls again for their sons! I am a male named Kelly, and I love my name! In my opinion, names like Courtney, Leslie, and Kelly need to be used on boys more often.

By Justine Case (not verified)
June 29, 2005 7:21 PM

Another androgynous name that actually works well on a boy is Jamie. I always thought that Jamie would be a great name for a cute boy, in the tune of Justin, Kevin, or Devin. In fact, male Jamies seem more hip and contemporary nowdays, while female Jamies are pretty much glued to the 70's and 80's.

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 20, 2005 1:05 AM

Would the same these same parents, or any parent, name their son with a girl's name? Probably not.Seems its just another example of how we value the masculine over the feminine. I say if you want to give your daughter strength and confidence, let her know from birth that she should celebrate her womenhood, and Moms, that you celebrate yours. Give her a feminine name!

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 16, 2005 5:48 PM

We chose our daughter's name years ago because it sounded so beautiful, lovely, and feminine. ....This was the leading factor in choosing the name for our baby girl....I would never want to "gender-equalize" or "steal from boys' names" for girls. That's just it....We weren't thinking strong for a name; We were thinking soft, sweet, precious, graceful,100% feminine. We were also thinking of something that sounded elegant and beautiful for an adult woman. It is important to note we had never heard of this name as a male name...We felt it was an aristocratic name but only knew it as a female name. The baby-name research we did pointed out what a feminine name it was, even though it had male origins as so many beautiful girls' names do. We since have learned that it is a family name for many...and I'm sure holds special meaning for those who give this name to their sons. That's what makes it so special for them, and in their case, holds no feminine connatation. It's special for the reasons for which they were given their names. Although our daughter goes by a double-name, her first name is Courtney, and she is the perfect display of all these beautiful feminine qualities for which we chose the name.

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 17, 2005 4:14 AM

My parents named me "Lynsey" after a male friend of my father's named "Lindsay." I am a male, and was named after a male. But for some reason my parents chose to use the more feminine "Lynsey" rather than the traditional masculine spelling of "Lindsay."So according to my parents Lindsay hadn't really caught on as a common male or female name when they moved from the US to Australia in 1970. They moved back to the states in 1980 and I was born and named Lynsey. I guess in the 10 years they were gone "Lynsey," "Lindsay," "Lindsey," etc, had become a popular girls name in the United States.

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 15, 2005 2:48 AM

My new darling granddaughters name is Elliott. I much prefer that to some of the made-up names that you can't read on paper or remember them if you can read.

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 27, 2005 2:38 PM

The idea of naming girls with traditionally or historically boy's names is actually part of a wider trend that began somewhat before the women's movement: that it has become acceptable for females to take on the roles, behaviors, and accoutrements of males. Look at so-called unisex fashions, hair styles, etc. They're really just male stuff or male stuff altered a bit to make them feminine. This does not mean that women and girls want to be like men and boys; rather, it reflects the idea that is socially acceptable for females to engage in or take on masculine attributes. Ironically, the reverse is not true: males are still forbidden to have anything to do with femininity or feminine attributes. Even more ironic is that many parents, while happy to see their daughters take gain "equality" with boy's names, recoil at the thought of their son's doing anything feminine. And this pressure is brought on not only by traditionalists, but by feminists as well. So much for equality for males, only for females.

By Anonymous (not verified)
September 27, 2005 2:41 PM

I think the issue is not just how we value the masculine over the feminine. It is how we find find femininity in males an anathema; it is okay for females to be masculine and feminine, but not okay for males to be both. Males are far more restricted than females yet our society still emphasizes the limitations of women; men also have limitations but nobody sees them.

By Antoinette (not verified)
November 22, 2005 3:34 PM

I know boys named Loren, Taylor, Leslie and Francis who have never had any problems with their names.I do think it's stupid how names keep becoming feminine. I mean, there are way more girls names than boys names already.

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 3, 2005 8:06 PM

I'm a male with the name Courtney and I feel proud that is my name. That was my grandfathers name too.

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 5, 2005 3:50 AM

Well..I'll just really send you all off the deep end.I have a son named Riley and a daughter named Taylor.Do we care if we "stole" Taylor's name from the boys?? No!! Just like I would never think a girl named Riley stole my son's name!!!!

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 19, 2006 4:33 PM

People run away from girlish sounding names for their boys because they are afraid of them being teased about being girly. Girly in our society is bad because it is equal to weak or gay. Thus, feminine is weak. "Stealing" names from boys is as silly as saying that little boys can't wear pink. Wearing pink and having a "girly" name will not determine whether a boy becomes weak or gay. Not that it should matter anyway. Boys and girls should be loved no matter their name or their colour preference. As far as I can tell all this fuss is made because parents care too much about what other people think! Societal pressure be darned!

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 23, 2006 3:22 AM

I don't see what the big fuss is about over "stealing" names from one gender to give to the other.... who cares. Usually, masculine names for females tends to invoke thoughts of strong-willed, proffessional and successful women.Personally I love to switch up names. A few favorite gender switches would be:For a Girl...Joel GabrielTyler KyleFerris RoriDylan DevonTommi BryceChase ElliotTanner WileyCody NoahFor a Boy...Whitney TatumCadence KimberAdelle LesleyMakenzie AllisBlair Hayley

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 23, 2006 3:24 AM

^enter spaces between those names^whoops!

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 23, 2006 3:25 AM

and add Page and Kendal to the boy list

By Nameless (not verified)
June 5, 2006 4:00 AM

It is very irritating for males to be given female names and vice-versa (i.e., "Dana" for males, "Brett" or "Tyler" for females, etc.). No wonder there are more transsexuals than ever before as a result.

By Misty (not verified)
June 23, 2006 10:11 PM

I think that as a general rule, whatever name a child gets should be a real name. I just can't stand to open up a newspaper and see some of the names that people give their children without ever thinking of how it may affect the child. I you have a little girl and want to name her something masculine, knock yourself out. If you have a little boy and want to name him something feminine, go for it. But, for the love of all that is holy don't just make something up and slap it on your kid's birth certificate. Of course, you have the right to name your kid whatever since it is your child. However, that doesn't mean that you have to use that right to name your kid something stupid. And another thing I can't stand is when people use a name and make up some other spelling for it. If it has an I in it, leave it. Don't replace it with a y. So many people are doing this type of thing. There are baby name books with thousands of names so if a name is not unique enough for you, choose another.Just my 2 cents!

By anonymous (not verified)
July 10, 2006 6:49 PM

I love the name Riley for a girl. It's very feminine and also a popular girl's name.

By Jessica (not verified)
July 14, 2006 5:42 PM

I've made sure that the names I've picked out are either definitely masculine or definitely feminine:
Annabelle, Bethany, Catherine, Elena, Sarah, Violet
Daniel, Ethan, Jeremiah, Luke, Spencer

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 23, 2006 3:54 AM

My brother's name is Avery and it is pretty insulting for him when he finds out that a number of girls are being named Avery... he now thinks our parents named him a girly name.

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 23, 2006 4:09 AM

There's Tracey, too. I met a boy named Tracey and at first I thought it was weird, but then I realized that it was originally a man's name. Also, Sydney. An increasing number of girls are being named Sydney.

By Tina (not verified)
July 28, 2006 1:25 AM

I consider Riley to be a masculine name along with the likes of Ryan and Ryland etc. I don't think it is a feminine name at all...and think that using male names for girls as generally seen as just trying too hard to be different. Like a girl named George or Peter.Hmmm?

By Leslie (not verified)
August 8, 2006 9:16 PM

My name is Leslie and i am female... it was a Scottish Family Surname spelled Lessley, Not until i travelled to several different countries that EVERYONE would immediately say "that is a man's name". I have two daughters Juliana and Genevieve and i am very old school about names... i wish i had a girl's name. in the u.s especially woman have forgotten where their power is... it's in being a woman. Not with a man's name... By the way Avery is a very strong male name and has always been my boy name... there are plenty of beautiful girl names to choose from.

By Nancy (not verified)
August 25, 2006 1:39 PM

I strongly disagree with Tina. Riley is a girls name just as Kelly, Tracy, Stacey. People may use them for a boy but they sound completely wrong. When you think of a boys name, you usually do not think of names that end in a "y". Maybe as a nickname but all others just sound wrong and girlish. So leave Riley as a girls name, just as it should be with the Kelly's, Hailey's, Tracey's, Stacey's etc..

By Lesley (not verified)
August 25, 2006 11:40 PM

I am a female named Lesley and a lot of people think the name sounds very smart and sexy.

By Scott Erb (not verified)
September 1, 2006 3:33 AM

We named our son Dana Christopher Erb. He was born December 27, 2005. I knew the name Dana as for both male and female (Dana Carvey, Dana Andrews, Dana Milbank), but from what I gather, it's shifted to mostly female use recently. I'm glad to read above that it may be shifting back to male. Is that really true? If so, I guess my eight month old is part of a trend!

By LexandriaJade (not verified)
December 1, 2006 2:40 AM

One of my best friends has the name Jake and until I moved and met other Jake that were boys I thought of the name Jake as a 'girls' name.