When Does a Name Become Androgynous?

Jun 17th 2010

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.


By jolanda (not verified)
June 17, 2010 10:44 AM

I would definitely ad Ezra. Esra/Ezra is a pretty common Turkish female name, at least in Germany.

By Allison (not verified)
June 17, 2010 10:50 AM

Especially when it comes to Biblical names - keep them for the boys.

I've been a photographer for years and a while back had a mom call and made an appointment for her and her young son. The names she gave me? Micah and Jamie. I automatically assumed Micah was the son, Jamie the mom. I was shocked to see that "Mycha" was the mom and "Jamey" was the son.

I realize that some names like Riley are crossing over, and other names like Avery and Jayden really are a toss-up... but when a name has been established as a male-only name since the time of Moses, let's not mess with success. I don't see how anyone could think Ezra and Levi are in any way feminine sounding.

June 17, 2010 10:54 AM

Ezra could be girl. It has that snappy Ez beginning like Esme (Ezmay) but just different enough not to be associated with Twilight.

Luca + Luka are two spellings of the same name. One could argue that if one is in they should both be in. I guess Luca could conceivably be a nn for Lucille, Lucinda, or any of those Luc-- names.

Levi, now there's a trickier one. I have no doubt that with the Le beginning it appeals to some. However, with that V stuck in the middle it becomes odd to be short for anything. Vi seems to be a nn for Violet. Maybe its a smushup? So I say no. However, playing the advocate here, if you pronounce it the other way I've heard described on these boards as something close to Leh-vee then all the above ananlysis goes out the window and it makes more sense to be girl.

In short, Ezra=yes Levi=no and Luca/Luka=maybe.

By Elaine (not verified)
June 17, 2010 11:27 AM

When I see Luka with a K I immediately think of the Suzanne Vega song that was so popular when I was in high school. The narrator in the song was definitely a girl and definitely a Luka, and I'd bet pretty much everyone in a certain age bracket remembers her.

By hyz
June 17, 2010 11:43 AM

I'd say absolutely no to all of them, unless jolanda is right that Ezra/Esra is a Turkish female name, and then I'd give it a girl page noting the different etymology/origin.

Otherwise, these are all traditional male names, and I don't think any of them are being given to enough girls to call them anywhere near androgynous. AND, if you give them a girl page, that will confuse some parents looking for names into thinking that those 4 names are traditionally and/or currently given on at least a semi-regular basis to girls, which is just not true. If parents are looking for androgynous names, they should keep looking, because these names don't qualify. And if they are looking to give these particular names to girls, that's their prerogative, but they shouldn't do so under the misimpression that these names are already really androgynous.

To me, these numbers clearly don't make the cutoff. As to where the cutoff should be--I don't know. The top 1000 seems like a good place to start--a good, round number that's plenty inclusive. Before the extra data was released this year, we wouldn't even have known if a name was ranked 1001 or 6001 for girls, etc.

By Guest (not verified)
June 17, 2010 11:48 AM

I don't have informed opinions on this matter, I just wanted to add a thanks for such strong thoughtful editing of your name lists. People when choosing a name deserve to have a place to find out about all the potential associations of a name (be it gender confusion (Riley), religious ire (Cohen), or a pop culture link that hadn't occurred to them (jack's dog Lola).
While it seems slightly judgmental to say, we don't acknowledge this as a girl's name, it also seems disingenuous to list them as equals. Maybe a comment in the boys' name's entry will show that this is not because the list is fusty and out of date but a considered and curated list.

By Joni
June 17, 2010 11:50 AM

Hmm, I personally prefer the term 'ambisexual' for names used for both boys and girls. But I guess androgyny works too, as having the characteristic of both male and female names.

Ezra - I'd hate to see the girls take over this name as I love it on boys, but beyond my personal opinion, Ezra has sounds that are pleasant to the ear. It reminds me a whole bunch of Esme and I can see this being appealing to some parents of girls, which cautions in place.

As for Luka, I also think of that Suzanne Vega song and video. I assumed for YEARS that Luka/Luca was a GIRL's name. Then a family I know had a son and named him Luca and I couldn't figure out for the life of me why they gave him a girls name. It was after that that I was informed that Luca was a boy's name. I absolutely think the song led to my personal misunderstanding of this Italian name.

Levi for girls? No way.

June 17, 2010 12:03 PM

Am I wrong in saying that in the music video for Suzanne Vega's song "Luka", the child playing Luka was a boy? That is what I remember.

As for the question at hand...Ezra, Luca/Luka and Levi should all remain listed as boy names on Namepedia. Unless, as a previous poster stated, Ezra/Esra is a Turkish name give to females.

June 17, 2010 12:09 PM

I would say no to Luka and Levi.

If Ezra is a (common) Turkish girl's name it seems fair.

And if Luca is said Loo-sa or Loo-sha it's close enough to Lucy and co. to be a girl's name in my mind. But if it's a k sound, no.

I like Guest's suggestion of adding a note on the androgynous names to point out the name is used for girls and boys, without adding a brand new page.

By gusto (not verified)
June 17, 2010 12:14 PM

I think a name needs to be closer to the top 500 on the girls side before it can be declared unisex.

All of the names mentioned above have definitely been 100% boy names in other cultures for centuries. When you use one of these names for girls in the U.S., I think it implies a lack of understanding and respect for cultures beyond your own. I don't mean to be offensive, but that's the first thing I think of.

FYI, the Suzanne Vega song is actually about a boy that she knew. But since she's a woman, and singing "My name is..." it's easy to see why people assume it's a girl.

June 17, 2010 12:15 PM

i second everything hyz said.

to me, whether a name "sounds" feminine or "sounds" like it could be a girls' name is irrelevent. michael has a similar sound to rachel and shane has a similar sound to jane, but we haven't stopped thinking of those as solidly male names. (or at least i haven't.) having "girly" sounds isn't a reason to give them a page.

i agree that the numbers are not nearly high enough for these names to be considered unisex. and i do think giving them their own page would be misleading. a parent of a little boy might choose to not use one of these names, fearing that it's "going to the girls," and a parent of a little girl might be led to believe that these names are actually becoming accepted girls' names. in reality, neither of these things are true.

i do agree that if esra/ezra is a turkish name, that should be given a page, making sure to note the different origin.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
June 17, 2010 12:17 PM

Great question.

I know of girls named Sawyer, Blake, Bryce, Leighton, Reagan, and, of course, Avery, Quinn, Reese, Addison, and Riley/Rylee....

Oh, and last week I learned of a little girl called Maesen.

I'd like to be open-minded and objective here, but I just find the practice of raiding boys' lists annoying.
I pledge to refrain from further comment on the subject, but I'll be interested in all the comments.

By Daffy Castilian (not verified)
June 17, 2010 12:20 PM

There are about 500 students in the average American elementary school. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_096.asp

If a name is more popular with boys, but it is also given to more than 1 in every 300 girls, I'd say it definitely has cooties.

By hyz
June 17, 2010 12:52 PM

Ok, I want to add a bit to my earlier post.

I think a name should have a girl page if:
(a) it is traditionally a female name, regardless of its current popularity among either sex OR
(b) it is currently in the top ____ names for girls, or possibly if it was ever regularly in the top _____ names for girls, even if it has fallen out more recently.

So, borrowing from the last thread, Ingeborg has almost never made the top 1000 names for girls in the US, but it is a traditional female Scandinavian name, so it can/should have a girl page. As another example, Riley has been a top 500 girl name for 15 years, and has recently cracked the top 50. Whatever my personal opinion may be about the name Riley (for either sex), I think it should have a girl page. I left the actual ranking number blank above because I think this is where the real debate should lie. I said the top 1000 before, but I'd be happier with the top 500, or even a requirement that the name spend, say, at least 5 years in the top 500, or 1 year in the top 100, to earn a girl page. But a name that's ranked 2207, or 6421? No. Just, no.

And I totally agree with emilyrae that how much a name "sounds like it *could* be a girl's name" should play absolutely no role in the calculations.

ETA: Ok, I just looked at the stats and realized that, even using my strictest suggested criteria above (i.e. a name must spend 5 years in the top 500 to get a page), both Michael and John (and probably lots of other "strong male names") would easily earn a girl page. I'm not sure what to say about that, except maybe to include some kind of more complicated calculation that, for example, if a name was in the top 100 for males for at least 10 years, and the percentage of males given a name throughout our recorded stats vastly outweighs the percentage of females with that name (100 to 1, maybe?), that perhaps those names should not get a girl page even if they meet the other girl page criteria. Or something like that.....

By EVie
June 17, 2010 1:00 PM

I agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion - none of those names should be listed as female, except possibly Ezra/Esra if it really is a Turkish girls' name. I would suggest that it be listed under the Esra spelling, though, to reduce confusion.

I immediately thought of the Suzanne Vega song when I saw Luka too, and I'll admit that I had no idea it was about a little boy and not a young woman. Before I saw that, I was also going to make the case that the song legitimizes the female usage of that spelling, but I guess that is moot now :) Another Suzanne Vega song name that I wish would get used in real life: Calypso.

Also, from the last thread: those who are pronouncing Pascale with a "cal" at the end, don't worry - you're not that far off. The -a- vowel in French is one we don't really use in English, and it's somewhere in between "call" and "cal". It's the same vowel I was referring to when we were discussing Amelie awhile back. I think it was hyz who suggested that it is the same sound as in "a-ha!" The vowel in the "Pas" is the same as the "cale." Also, the male name Pascal is pronounced exactly the same way.

I've only known one Pascale, a French au pair who cared for my young cousins for a few years. She wore the name very well, and I've never thought it was pretentious - although maybe that was because she was actually French. I think if I heard of an American Pascale with a French last name, though, I would just assume her parents were French speakers and wouldn't think it was pretentious then, either.

June 17, 2010 1:11 PM

Let me give myself a name I found in a gypsy camp. It is only for boys.
DIAMANT - that in english is diamond.
I think it is interesting how gypsy name their children.
Posted by vanzari auto

June 17, 2010 1:13 PM

If Esra/Ezra is Turkish, I'm down with putting it in Namepedia with an explicit note that it is not the same name as the masculine one.

My understanding is that Luca is a girls' name in Hungarian and maybe some other E. European languages. Again if your research also shows this to be a case it can go in for girls with an explicit note stating that history and that it is not the same as the masculine name.

As for Levi, get real. I think there were less than 30 girl Levis last year. Let's not get as crazy as some of the parents out there are. Looking at the massive SSA list you can also see there were multiple girls last year named Henry, Benjamin, Christopher, and just about any other common masculine name you can think of. If there were 30 girl Benjamins would you really consider accepting a girl entry for that? Seems crazy!

My fervent hopes are:
1. Male names that are truly male can stay that way, because Americans can very rarely seem to handle unisex names on men.

2. That Americans can come around to understanding the concept of a unisex name and not be afraid to use them on boys. Look to France as an example here.

By guest (not verified)
June 17, 2010 1:13 PM

Levi is completely male. The others are too, but Levi is the strongest of the 4. Biblical male names should stay in the male category. Thanks for giving this serious contemplation. I like that you aren't putting names in certain categories, simply because a few have used them that way.

By Guest (not verified)
June 17, 2010 1:40 PM

I don't particularly have a thought on what to do about the 4 names you mentioned, but I did have an opinion about names in general. We have a 9 month old daughter we very deliberately gave a 'gender-neutral' name to. Her name is Maysen. We tweaked the spelling to make it a bit girlier - and have had nothing but positive responses to it. If we have people who don't know her (like doctors) call, they immediately refer to 'him' but we quickly and calmly correct them. It is totally a parents decision as to what to name your child, and regardless of where it is on a list, you choose a name because you like it, the sound, spelling, whatever - not because of its popularity. So where its placed or what the common use is, shouldn't matter... Just my opinion...

By hiluthi (not verified)
June 17, 2010 1:42 PM

Luka in Suzanne Vega's song is a boy. Though I confess at the time I thought he was a girl!

June 17, 2010 2:12 PM

I was looking around to see if I could find anything that suggested Levi was getting used for girls and found a few things on Yahoo Answers. Not the best site to get information on but a bit of an insight into some people's thinking.

EDIT: Further research shows that out of 708,711 births in UK in 2008 360 boys were given the name Levi and 11 girls.

Even though Gwenyth Paltrow named her baby girl Apple, is Apple a "boys" name or a "girls" name. Personally, I still believe it is a fruit! Maybe we should just have the pages reflect the information and not break down into boys vs. girls Such as:
"Traditionally given to boys, Levi is found in the bible... In recent years it has been given to girls in the UK." Then we stay neutral. The decision will always be in the parents hands.

By Eo (not verified)
June 17, 2010 1:49 PM

Allison-- I think you made the definitive statement on this when you said "Especially when it comes to Biblical names- keep them for the boys".

My sentiments exactly! I'm dreading the day when my beloved "Barnaby" and "Peregrine" get used for girls. Inroads have already been made on Elisha and Jeremy, because to some people the "sh" and "ee" sounds are soft and therefore feminine.

By and large, old, traditionally male names must be kept for boys. I don't mind the very occasional poacher, like Michael Learned, or Allyn Ann Mclerie. As long as it doesn't become a trend.

But surname-names truly are more androgynous, as they have traditionally been bestowed on both boys and girls-- often to honor the mother's surname. Therefore it's somewhat O.K. by me for either a boy or girl to be "Tyndale" or "Comstock".

But even here I am sympathetic to people wanting them to be reserved for boys, since so many boys' names have already gone to the girls...

June 17, 2010 2:03 PM

guest 19,
i think the idea is that, whether or not it *should* matter how popular a certain name is for boys or girls, it *does* in fact matter to many people. so this has to be taken into consideration. however, i agree with you in theory; of course people should choose what they love!

By val_jean (not verified)
June 17, 2010 2:28 PM

Perhaps this has been covered, but it seems there are a lot of women in their 40-50's with Boys' names and then a girl name as a double first name.
examples; Stanley Ann, Christopher Ann, Teddy Lou
perhaps using classic boy names for girls is just the most recent incarnation of this trend.

June 17, 2010 2:31 PM

Hey, just a question, is there anyone here who would negatively react to a child's name, in person, in front of the parents?
Just asking, because everyone always gets positive reactions on their name choice and uses it as an argument that they made the right choice, but I think this is a meaningless argument. I would always make some kind of positive comment about a name in person in front of the parent.

June 17, 2010 2:34 PM

I agree with zoerhenne. I think if a name has reached a certain level (someone else needs to pick the level!), perhaps a notation that the name is occasionally given to the opposite gender is in order.

Gender neutral or nearly neutral names have a strong appeal in our culture. I teach and every year I have a mix of kids with the same name/different genders. This year I had a Jaime in every class, 2 boys and 1 girl. Last year, it was Jordan and Taylor. In the prior year, I had Alexs galore. I don't think BNW can overlook this phenomena, regardless of my feelings about it.

What's interesting to me, is my students like their names neutral. I have always loathed my name, but have been glad that it is decidedly female. I would have been devastated in high school if a male "megan" showed up on campus.

By Daffy Castilian (not verified)
June 17, 2010 2:36 PM

Have you met my little Pervis?

(Kidding and I do agree with your point.)

By hyz
June 17, 2010 2:36 PM

Camilla, lol, I was thinking the same thing. Certainly, from conversations on here and elsewhere, it's clear that people (with varying degrees of subtlety) DO sometimes show negative feelings to the parents about a child's name, I think it's probably fairly rare. Most people have more sense and/or tact than that. You tend to get more honest opinions when you ask BEFORE you give the name (which is why I don't share names with people IRL before the birth, lol!).

June 17, 2010 2:44 PM

no, i would never react negatively to a child's name to the parent. i would always try to say something nice.

i'm with you: i very much like having a decidedly female name, and if have children, i intend to give them decidedly male and female names. that's not to say that they will be super frilly or super macho (e.g. i'm not naming my daughter frilliana and my son spike), but they will absolutely be clearly male and female. this is just my preference, however.

June 17, 2010 2:47 PM

zoerhenne, Thanks for posting the link to that forum about Levi. Reading other naming blogs always makes me so grateful for the thoughtful discussions here!

By Amy3
June 17, 2010 3:00 PM

As others have already said so well, these names should remain boy names. If Esra is legitimately a girl's name in Turkey, then it may merit a stand-alone page, noting it as a separate name from the biblical Ezra.

I do know a girl called Luca, but also several boys with the name so I see it as a boy name rather than an androgynous one.

I'm not sure what the formula should be for determining the level of androgyny that warrants an opposite sex page, but I agree it needs to take into account multiple factors (e.g., ranking for both girls and boys, percentage of use for both, ranking changes over time, length of time in top ___, etc.).

@Camilla, no, I'd never be negative to someone's face about the name they'd chosen for their baby. But I'm nice like that and not everyone is. :)

June 17, 2010 4:05 PM

My personal feelings on androgynous names: not a fan. However, since I teach genetics and realize that this DOES happen rather more often than is acknowledged, the spouse and I still wanted to be ready with at least one androgynous name in case the happy delivery room dialog went something along the lines of "Is it a boy or a girl?" Dr: "Well, I don't think we have enough information to confidently answer that right now." So, even as a distinct non-fan, I do think there are definitely situations in which I would be wanting to bestow a name that does not have any major gender implications, namely, if we had no idea what the gender of our child was going to turn out to be. (As parents in this hypothetical scenario we would be pursuing testing to get a better idea of where we stood, and we'd pick a pronoun based on that, but it would be important to have a name during the testing phase, and we'd prefer to pick a name that would be able to still be our child's name even if our educated guess turned out to be wrong a few years down the road.)

So, I do think that namipedia indication should be given if there is some amount of usage going on. I say this as someone who takes great joy in the fact that there is a namipedia page for my son's name that I didn't even set up, even though it's a name that's been given to less than 5 boys annually every year except for a few years in the 1970s, when it just made that cutoff for three years.

Although perhaps not practical to implement, if it were up to me I would scrap the separate boy and girl pages, and instead have one page per name, with something like a %masculine/%feminine at the top. (I would use percentages, rather than absolute numbers, because to me that's the more important point -- what is the chances that this name would read boy or girl to a random person... and for almost all cases, that would dilute the data entry errors and not make them look like a bigger deal than they actually are.) When people search for boy names, I'd make any page that's >90% boy available to them by default, and ditto girl names. I'd add advanced search options that allow the user to specify the % cutoffs for upper and lower limits, so if a searcher were interested in androgynous names only, or were more willing to consider names that were closer to the androgynous, they could do searches on that specifically.

In the case of a name that has separate origins for male and female, I'd list both origins... just the way that should be done for any names which have multiple independent origins in different parts of the world.

By JessicaM, Insurance Agent (not verified)
June 17, 2010 4:01 PM

Simple - namepedia should let us vote on whether names are masculine or feminine! Go ahead and make some assumptions, but let users vote on a name to over-rule "Micah" in the girls category (to use this blog post's example)


June 17, 2010 4:02 PM

i like your ideas in theory, but i think there might be complications putting them into practice. for example, with percentages, do you mean that the page should reflect the percentages only as indicated by the previous year? or total percentages (since name data started being recorded)? the former could be very tricky and tedious to update every single year, and the latter would likely be a poor reflection of the state of the names today (i.e. the total percentages for names like ashley and shannon would be different than last year's percentages for ashley and shannon).

June 17, 2010 4:08 PM

Emilyrae - I think what I would want to know as a parent looking for a name to give to a child in an upcoming year would be what THIS year's percentages were. Would it be more tedious than updating the overall popularity info every year?

But, I would be very interested in a historical maleness/femaleness plot... just as much as in a popularity graph overall, actually! Again, to me this seems as computationally doable as the popularity data over time!

I like JessicaM's idea, too, but when I think about it the ultimate voters are the people who gave the name to their kids! But the masculine/feminine thing should definitely be added to the surveys about whether a name sounds young or old, sophisticated or not, and whatever else is in there.

June 17, 2010 4:15 PM

OK, I see what you're saying, emilyrae, about the fact that the popularity (nationally and globally) are inset as references to the namevoyager and to global popularity database. But advanced searches allow you to search by current US popularity as well, which obviously has the potential to change over time, so I don't see how this would be hugely different.

I guess really what I'd be interested in is an inset with a gendervoyager which displays the %male/female over time!

June 17, 2010 4:27 PM

well, i think (someone correct me if i'm wrong) that laura only annually updates popularity for the top 1,000 names for each gender (after all, until this year, we didn't have any further data). but to cover ALL names that are being used for boys and girls, no matter how few people are using them, like the 9 girls named steven last year or the 11 girls named john or the 7 girls named richard...that just seems like it would be a lot of work to me. i mean the percentage of girls using the name richard is so insignificant, i hardly see a reason to calculate it. but if you're meaning to only calculate percentages of androgyny for names in the top 1,000, then that seems a lot more feasible (and practical) to me.

By Keren not signed in (not verified)
June 17, 2010 4:43 PM

I'd keep them all as boys' names - but I'd also note that many names which are solidly boys' names here in the UK seem to be girls' names in the US.
Allison - you assumed that Jamie was a girl's name - in the UK I'd always assume that Jamie was a boy. I'd have thought that the mum was Mika.
Same goes for Cameron, Aubrey, Rory - all big butch boys to me. Ashley is equally likely to be a boy as a girl - my daughter has a male Ashley and a female Ashley in her class at school.
It's a problem for me as a writer, writing books for teens. I wanted to put a boy called Jamie into my latest book, but I was told that US readers would assume he was a girl. So now he's Jack.

June 17, 2010 5:05 PM

hmm. to me jaime/jamie is equally likely to be male or female. cameron is still male to me, as is rory.

June 17, 2010 5:05 PM

lucubratrix-I like you ideas too. I think if a medical condition precluded me from knowing visually what gender my child was then maybe yes I would pick something that could be both like Alex. Then when I knew for sure HE could be Alexander or SHE could be Alexandra. Also, in the case of changing genders Laura's quandry is not really relevant because by then I would assume the person was old enough to choose whatever they preferred either boy, girl, or neutral. By I guess knowing what others would expect it to be IS kind of the point.

And now that I have this dilemma tossing around in my head to crunch some numbers for your ideas of percentages I need some names to look up. I want names that USED TO BE BOY but are now much more prominently GIRL. Such as Ashley, Shannon, etc. Can you guys list some for me? Then I will follow up with some figures as soon as I can.

By Laura P (not verified)
June 17, 2010 5:39 PM

zoerhenne: some traditionally male but mainly female names names that I can think of are Courtney and Lynn. I know at least one male named each, but several females. Courtney is a traditional southern (US) name, but it's definitely been phased out because of the strong girl connotation.

June 17, 2010 5:47 PM

Okay, here's another question about cutoffs and stats..
Should we count things that appear to be anomalies? If we don't then should we only use the top 500 names from 1880-1920's or disallow a certain number for inaccurate recordings? Or should we count ALL the names regardless because we just don't know if they are correct or not. Then we must include the 4 Edward, 4 David, 5 Joe, 5 Glenn, 5 Edgar, 6 Leo, 6 Harry, 6 Clifford, 7 Clarence, 8 Thomas, 9 Fred, 10 Claude, 11 Robert, 11 Henry, 11 Charles, 13 Frank, 13 Clyde, 22 James, 26 George, 30 William, and 46 John that were recorded as girls in 1880 according to SSA. So even though there were less than 1% of babies given these names, are they any more or less statistically relevant?

By Heuristics Inc. (not verified)
June 17, 2010 5:48 PM

lucubratrix: If you use the NameVoyager and select Both you can see the graph over time for boys and girls. It won't show you percentages, but you can see the bulk of each gender.
Take Alex, for example, or Riley...

June 17, 2010 5:54 PM

Wow, what timing! I just opened up the blog to let you know that a British colleague gave birth to a little boy today named L@urie Benjamin LN, brother for Thomas. At least, I presume it's a boy!
I was wondering how the name L@aurie would come across in the US in terms of gender. In England it's not really known for either gender. There is the author Laurie Lee (m). I've only heard it for a boy in Little Women, but I also known a girl by that name here in Calif.

June 17, 2010 6:17 PM

Given that all the data on the site so far are for top 1000 names, I could see limiting it to only the top 1000 names. However, if it were possible to include the not-top-1000 alternate-gender instances in the percentage, that would totally be preferable, because we DO have the data, now. As a sometimes-programmer that doesn't seem intractable to me, the same way that including EVERY name out there to Jaylyeighn would. It would still mean at most 2000 names to consider, but you'd just look up the opposite gender rankings from the new SSA data.

Zoerhenne, I like your Alex idea... that way you could have a name right away and you could wait to figure out the long form until you had a more confident assessment of likely gender. This hadn't occurred to me because nicknames as given names are generally SO not my thing... but I think in this case it makes a lot of sense!

I think my point was more that I would want to make sure that a name that I was using for its gender-flexibility was still currently reading reasonably ambiguous -- like, I'd check that there are actually still some male Aubreys being born this year, to make sure that it hadn't gone the way of Shannon or Ashley in the US.

Other names I can think of in the same vein: Hilary, Meredith, Vivian, Evelyn, Jocelyn, Beverly. Oh, and Carol! I'd think those have close to zero ambiguity now, even less than Shannon or Ashley, though I believe they all originated as male names. (Correct me if I'm wrong on that, I didn't take the time to look up all of them.) Kelly, though I think that one isn't all-girl yet [ETA: it's still 10% boy!]. I think Aubrey likewise is probably going to the girls? I'm keeping foreign unisex names out of this, unless you're also interested in those.

June 17, 2010 6:15 PM

Yeah, I know we can use the namevoyager and select both, but I would enjoy being able to look at the boy/girl ratio independently of the popularity increases/decreases which are simultaneously going on... especially since the name might not be top 1000 for both boys and girls. Again, not a huge deal, and in my case, I have basic perl proficiency as well as the popularity info stored in beautifully grep-able text-files (thank you SSA!), so I personally can now answer those questions if they plague me. It turns out that when the spouse and I first had this discussion ten years ago, an Aubrey born was 12% likely to be a boy, but now it's 2.5% boy - mostly as a result of a huge girl popularity surge, while the boy Aubreys are staying surprisingly stable.

As for the cutoffs - I personally wouldn't try to curate the data, and just assume that if the name is top 1000 for one sex, then there are large enough numbers of correctly-sex-assigned uses to swamp out the boy Edwards incorrectly labelled as female, for example. But that might just be because I'm lazy. :)

June 17, 2010 6:19 PM

How about on the page when you look up a name in Namipedia, if the name is entered for both genders and shows a page with a link to the entry for each gender on the link page show the current rankings and numbers for each gender. For instance, said page for the name Riley would show that last year the name ranked #107 for boys and was used 3,753 times and for girls ranked #38 and used 5,592 times (per the 2009 SSA stats). It would also probably be helpful to show the gender ratio (majority gender per minority gender); for the example of Riley that would be 1.490 (rounded) girls per boy.

As for which names should have entries for both genders, I think as has been said any name that has a legit usage somewhere in the world for each gender can be listed both times, as are any names that are showing a regular usage both ways in modern times. The only ones that I'd rule out are those that are extremely rare for the other gender and are likely listed on the stats due to errors (for example girls named Jacob or boys named Isabella last year).

Re: lucubratrix - The gender ratio of Shannon is actually narrowing (as is the case with some of the other previously popular androgynous names as well), but a lot of that is more due to the female usage going down rather than the male usage going up (compared to the change of Aubrey like you mentioned which is largely due to its recent surge on the girl's side).

June 17, 2010 6:33 PM

ah. perhaps it wouldn't be as difficult as i thought it would be. just picking through all those thousands of names and all the different spellings sounded tedious to me.
i'm probably letting my personal feelings get in the way of objectivity. i guess i just can't really see the point in working out a percentage for how many girls are named richard or levi. according to my rushed math, about 99.5% of levis were boys last year. i mean...i guess maybe some people would find it useful to know that 0.5 percent of levis are girls, but i am not one of those people.

laurie on a boy is interesting. the only one i know of is also the little women character, though i believe that was short for laurence.

By Jenny also (not verified)
June 17, 2010 6:57 PM

These are all boy names BUT parents using the site would probably be interested to know if there is a significant "gender bending" trends or associations with the name. A great use for the comments fields.

Noah is a biblical boys' name and Noa is a Hebrew girls' name commonly used in Israel. Seems like Noa is also growing in popularity in the US. One little Noa I know has combined the use of her middle, very feminine name, goes by something like "Noa Lilly" (not her real name) so as not to be confused with the Noah in her class and it stuck. Super cute, I think.

June 17, 2010 7:12 PM

heh. i just realized fewer girls were named levi last year than either bertha or mildred. that has to indicate something, right? ;]