I have been traveling a lot with work recently and not had much time to blog, but back home for a few days and with some quiet time I was toying around with making an A-Z list of unisex names. But it occurred to me that unisex names are subjective and so I thought it might be more fun to set up some criteria which made it a bit harder and see if it would be possible to make an A-Z list from the top 1000 girls an boys names from the SSA 2010 list. The criteria quite simply was that the name had to appear on both the boy and girls top 1000 list. I didn’t quite get the A-Z, in fact nine letters are missing but here are the names common to both and it seemed a shame not to share them. I am curious to know if anyone is surprised by any of the inclusions (or omissions).
A: Alexis, Ali, Amari, Angel, Armani, Avery
C: Cameron, Camryn, Casey, Charlie
D: Dakota, Devyn, Dominique, Dylan
E: Eden, Emerson, Emery
H: Harley, Harper, Hayden
J: Jaden, Jadyn, Jaiden, Jaidyn, Jamie, Jayden, Jaylen, Jessie, Jordan, Jordyn, Justice
K: Kai, Kamryn, Kayden, Kendall
L: Leighton, Logan, London, Lyric
M: Marley, Micah, Morgan
P: Parker, Payton, Peyton, Phoenix
R: Reagan, Reese, Riley, River, Rowan, Ryan, Rylan, Rylee
S: Sage, Sawyer, Sidney, Skylar, Skyler
T: Tatum, Taylor, Teagan
I’ve been away for a week traveling for work, but when I came back I caught up with several of the name sites and blogs and Sarah’s blog, For Real Baby Names, caught my attention most of all.
In the past week she has noticed one boy with the first name Harper, another boy with the middle name Bliss, and two boys with the middle name of Lynn and Linn respectively.
In current terms, even though some people still don’t like the name Harper for a girl, it is most clearly now in the girl’s camp rating at 119 compared to 689 for boys and with almost 10 to 1 girl’s being named Harper compared to each boy. To use it as a first name for a boy, even with the all masculine middle name Grayson would seem a brave choice today.
Bliss struck me as the most unusual one. It struck me as feminine and yet has never ranked in the top 1000 for girls. In fact it has only ranked once in the top 1000 for boys and that was back in 1887 at 921. That said, I could definitely see Bliss working on a girl, especially as a middle name.
Until the 1940’s Lynn was mostly considered a male name. But then the girl’s started to “take it over” (sound familiar) and it peaked for girls in 1956 at Number 58 in the rankings compared with a high for the boys of 141 in 1941. As it peaked for the girls it began a decline for the boys dropping out of the top 1000 for the boys just before 1990, but it also began to decline for the girls too starting around the 1970’s and dropped out of the top 1000 for girls around 2000. So it’s use as a middle name for a boy, reverting back to an old boy name as it were, would seem quite safe – not many girls around with that name now and has a history of a boy’s name too. That said, I can still see some grandmother’s having the name Lynn that may cause potential embarrassment to a young lad. It’s for this reason I usually think a name has to drop out of popularity for at least two generations before it can gender switch back from the girls to boys again.
I had never seen the spelling of the name Linn before and again according to Behindthename it ranked very briefly as a boys name in the lower part of the top 1000 around the late 1800’s. But in Europe, and more specifically the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden (where Linn ranks Number 64 for girls) it is seen as a girl’s name and in fact ranked as high as number 20 for girls in 2000 in Sweden.
Quincy (7, g)
Sidney** (5, b)
Spencer (5, g)
Logan (3, g)
Taylor (1, b)
Someone posted this sibset at behindthename today and commented on how “the more masculine names are on girls and the more feminine names on boys”.
More masculine and more feminine can be subjective terms, so when I see statements like this I always go back to the data just to confirm things and see how they match reality. In this case, it does very well:
Quincy (girl) has never shown in the top 1000 for girls, but ranked 468 for boys in 2004
Sidney (boy) ranked 800 for boys in 2006 and 423 for girls
Spencer (girl) has never shown in the top 1000 for girls, but ranked 183 for boys in 2006
Logan (girl) ranked 430 for girls in 2008 but ranked 19 for boys
Taylor (boy) ranked 326 for boys in 2010 and 36 for girls.
Without knowing the story behind the naming of this family you can only speculate as to the why. Each name, in and of itself, is not unheard of as either a girl’s name in the case of Quincy, Spencer and Logan, or a boy’s name in the case of Sidney and Taylor. However, the pattern is there, the girl’s have been given more masculine names than the boys. This could be by chance, or it could be deliberate. This is not the first time that I have seen this kind of naming pattern, and in one case in particular that someone shared with me at Nameberry, all of the boys were given top 100 names for girls; and all in the name of challenging societal norms associated with gender stereotypes.
Now, as a guy who has grown up with a “girl’s” name, I am totally opposed to any child being used as a pawn in the politicising of their parents, teachers, or anyone else using them as social experiments (like the genderless baby for example in Canada earlier this year). If parents choose to deliberately base the naming of their children as a platform to challenge societal norms related to gender association of names then I think that is wrong and is setting the child up for problems. It’s one thing to use a “girlish” name because of a sentimental reason, or honoring, or family history, but quite another in terms of using the child in a politcal sociological way. At the same time, if this has just happened by chance, I can also sympathize with the boys too.
I am an only child so I did not experience the direct comparison with a sibling growing up, but I did have a female cousin in the UK who had a more androdgynous, unisex nickname. Whenever we went out together people always assumed she was me and I was her based on our names. This proved to be good preparation for when I first moved to the US and found everyone assumed I was going to be a girl based on my name anyway, but the psychology is a bit more subtle than that. I think as children we compare ourselves a lot, to siblings, relatives, parents, family, friends etc. I think the closeness of these relatives to us and the amount of exposure we have to them in term of time, etc, also amplifies the importance to us of these comparisons; we care more about what our family thinks of us than say a friend we had for one summer kind of thing. So, each time someone would comment that my cousin had more of a boy’s name than I did, it had an effect on me (and her too).
I am not dogmatic about boy’s names being on boys and girl’s names on girls, partly because I see names as something that are fluid. But I don’t dismiss the notion that gender identification is important in our development either. I could confidently say growing up that my mom never wanted me to be anything but a regular boy. But if I had had a sister who had a more boyish name than me, I think that may have left me more unsure of myself because the inversion of the gender association would have drawn more attention to the difference as being something that is important to the parent and potentially symbolic.
For this reason, my naming preferences for sibsets is that boys can have equally unisex names as girls (where my preference for any unisex name is always that the middle name indicates the gender anyway), but they should not have more feminine names than girls and vice versa. Of course a traditional boy name for a boy paired with a unisex name on a girl, or a unisex name on a boy paired with a girl with a traditional girl name would be fine too.
But I am very curious on how others see this.
Like a rare bird spotter, I’m always happy to find another male Chelsea that I can point people towards on the Internet because firstly it’s one of those rare findings which gives you a sense of achievement when you find it, secondly, with each additional person you can point to, the argument that Chelsea is not and never has been a unisex name grows that little bit weaker and thirdly, with so few male Chelsea’s around, there is that strange connection between us all. One male Chelsea, and the sister of a male Chelsey, both shared with me that they assumed growing up that they were the only male Chelsea’s/Chelsey’s in the world; a sentiment I shared when I was growing up too. And yes, there were times when I wanted so badly to be able to point to another male Chelsea as an example of my having a “unisex” name. Alas, I was never able to do that, not when it mattered anyway.
But it has only been in recent years as my interest in names has coincided with being more active in those communities with others of similar interest, and also with more resources being available on the Internet, that I have discovered I was not alone at all.
How I wish back in England, I could have pointed my school mates to Robert Frederick Chelsea “Bobby” Moore. For those who don’t know, he captained the England team that won the 1966 World Cup for football (or soccer as those in the US call it). In England, what an iconic figure that would have been to cite.
Or in the US, where maybe I could have cited Chelsea Quealey an American jazz trumpeter who was born in 1905.
Or Chelsea C. Cook, the blogger who writes of beesandbooks:
The other day I came across a comment Chelsea had left just recently on the babynamewizard site:
He writes: “I was named Chelsea 75 years ago this december (2011). Until “On Golden Pond,” the movie, came out I had almost exclusive use of it. There was a trumpet teacher, some many years after i was a musician, who taught at Langston U. in Oklahoma. There was a Chelsea on Laugh-In all those years ago. Another Chelsea was symphony director for the Tulsa Philharmonic. Chelsea @ Langston, Chelsea with the Tulsa Phil and me are all MEN! How all you girls got named after an old, bald, white-bearded man I shall never know.”
Now that made me laugh; oh how I wish I could have said that.
Coincidentally this is the second reference I have seen to a male Chelsea in just the last few weeks. Abby in her guest blog on November 14, 2011 at Nameberry also mentioned how skateboarder turned U.S. Bombs singer Duane Peters named his son Chelsea too, although then went on to call him by his nickname, Chess.
Now Chess is a nickname I wish I had thought of!
So if you ever come across a male Chelsea who isn’t sure if they are the only one in the world out there, point them here, and also let them know that Nameberry now officially recognizes Chelsea as a unisex name at least. And if you know of any male Chelsea’s do share.
With the recent trend of co-opting more boy’s names on girls, it’s not that uncommon to see a combo made up from a more traditional boy’s name and a more traditional girl’s name. What is much less common however is when this is used for a boy. When James Corden earlier this year revealed debating whether to give his son the name Kimberly as a middle name, which in fact was a family tradition for males in his family, it raised some eyebrows. Yet this was only for a middle name. Imagine the reaction if he had been talking about using Kimberly as the boy’s first name.
But I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw a baby announcement on a message board for Asher Brynn, a boy. Asher currently ranked 139 for boys and absent from the top 1000 for girls. A solid male name. But Brynn? With the double nn ending, Brynn is currently ranked 286 for girls and absent from the top 1000 for boys. Even the more traditional masculine spelling of Bryn has only ranked in the top 1000 for girls periodically in recent times. Now, as girl’s names go, I think Brynn is one of the more masculine sounding names in the sense that it is wearable for a boy. I also found the combo quite a good one too.
From a cultural perspective we are clearly not ready for girl’s names to be used as first names on boy’s yet, in the same way that we accept them for girls, but it will be interesting to see over the next few years whether more boys end up with more feminine middle names as a way of testing those limits.
But this brings me on to a second point to this post. Some name traditionalists complain that using boys names on girls and girls names on boys can be confusing and you can’t tell which gender the child is from their name alone. To some extent this is true, although it is often a good chance that if there is any girl name in the name at all it is most likely a girl. Still, an an interesting irony of this difference in attitudes on using boy’s names as first names for girls, but rarely the opposite is that you end up in a situation where girls are sometimes named: boy name + girl name, and as in the case of Asher above, boys are also sometimes named boy name + girl name which makes everything even more confusing 🙂
In the same post that I was reading at Behindthename, there were several other combos that caught my eye, all with mixed gender names:
Quinn Jasmine Elise
Quinn is clearly growing in popularity as a girl’s name, but even as someone who quite likes unisex names I would have to say that it looks harsh here against the much more feminine Jasmine and Elise.
Payton is another name, growing in popularity for the girls and in decline for the boys. Combined with Reid, I can imagine this is a boy. Depending on how old Payton is, we can also wonder if his parents are shocked how popular this name has grown for girls since they named him.
Spencer is another one of those names that you see discussed on the message boards. Spencer for a girl, how horrible people say, yet it seems to be one of those names catching attention on the forums at least. It still ranks at 227 for boys and not in the top 1000 for girls. But paired with Brooke, with the e ending, one can imagine this is a girl. Brooke ranks around 72 at the moment for girls. So is this a trend setting girl Spencer? Or another boy with a popular girlish spelling of a middle name that could sound unisex?
I couldn’t find any rankings for Dashiel, but it seems to be mostly considered as a boy’s name. But Bailey is another name that has been trending girl for a while now and currently ranks 78 for girls and is almost out of the top 1000 boys. I find this one a 50-50 call. I can see Dashiel working as a girl’s name, but equally I can still see Bailey being used as a boy’s name. This is probably a kindergarten teacher’s nightmare and as much as I am open to unisex names on either gender, I do believe they should usually be paired with a much more traditional gender appropriate name to both indicate gender and also give the child a chance to use that middle name if they prefer.
Piper, another girl name with no presence in the top 1000 for boys, that currently ranks at 144. But with Bowie? A David Bowie fan? Or Jim Bowie? Bowie to me sounds masculine, and Piper, despite it’s female history I think is another of those female names that could, maybe just could, work on a boy. I am guessing girl here, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong.
Winslow a rare masculine name combined with the undoubtedly feminine Kate. The poster at BTN made the point that Winslow goes by Winnie, but it was an interesting choice for first name all the same.
As always, I welcome any comments on these topics and any shares that you might have of your own.
It is said that kids say the funniest things, but adults can too. I was talking with a guy named Dakota once who told me that someone had asked him whether he was named after Dakota Fanning (who would be about five years his junior)… yeah right!
But that’s just a little aside into this post for today. I believe that the media has a huge influence on our perception of names, and even name choices. For example the rise in popularity of the name Madison for girls is often associated with Splash, and the same is true for Ariel and the Little Mermaid. Then we have more recently Elliott being used on girls and the character in Scrubs of that name (I guess Elliott in Law and Order doesn’t cancel it out). But just as there can be a positive influence on names, I wonder if there can be a negative influence too, and looking at this from a name and gender perspective which is the main theme of this blog, does a name with an iconic figure of one gender adversely affect the name being used on the opposite gender? Perhaps the name Dakota gives a little insight into this.
Let’s take a look at the popularity of the name Dakota for boys and girls (a link to behindthename is given here)
For convenience the boy’s rankings are listed here:
1985 – 864
1986 – 487
1987 – 421
1988 – 363
1989 – 296
1990 – 195
1991 – 121
1992 – 103
1993 – 85
1994 – 69
1995 – 56
1996 – 58
1997 – 66
1998 – 72
1999 – 77
2000 – 88
2001 – 93
2002 – 107 (Dakota Fanning’s break out year)
2003 – 126
2004 – 137
2005 – 149
2006 – 172
2007 – 203
2008 – 226
2009 – 251
2010 – 293
Looking at the rankings it appears that Dakota as a boys name peaked several years before Dakota Fanning’s break out year. But has her recognition helped with the decline of Dakota as a boy’s name or was this going to be a trend that continued anyway? I’m not sure and I’d be curious as to what others think. Also, any suggestions for other names to test against would be interesting too. (I can say very quickly that Elliott hasn’t gained enough traction for the girls yet to even show up in the top 1000 names for girls and as a boys name it is continuing to rise in popularity).
Red and Ginger. Red just sounds more masculine doesn’t it? And while neither have been that common as names over the years (Red with just a brief entry once in the top 1000 names for boys in the last 100 years and Ginger peaking at a ranking of 187 for girls in 1971) most people would just have a feeling that Red would be a guy’s name and Ginger a girl’s name.
Nameberry have a list of color related names
I agree with many of their associations. Personally I find it hard to picture a boy named Hyacinth or a girl named Grey. But some of the others I think could easily be used on both genders.
For example, here are some of the names that Nameberry lists as boys names that I think could be used on girls:
* Ash (although Ashley would be the more obvious choice)
And here are some names listed as girls names that I think could be used on boys without too much heartache.
It is Rose that I find an interesting one though. On several boards I have seen posters ponder on whether a boy could be named Rose; in fact there is even a male character in a book with that name. But for me the flower association makes it more feminine while others such as Jade I have seen on guys.
So, I am interested in readers thoughts. What makes a color masculine or feminine in your eyes and what color names would you consider using for a boy or girl.