Category: Unisex Baby Names
As more and more names are crossing gender divides, with girls being named Maxwell and Monroe, and boy and girl Eastons and Wests, Sages and Sawyers, we’re not surprised to find that among the most persistent topics on the Nameberry forums are those having to do with gender–with very strong opinions being voiced. So today’s Question of the Week concerns unisex names:
Would/did you choose a name that’s given almost equally to both girls and boys?
Would/did you give your daughter a name more often used for a boy?
Would/did you give your son a name that has started drifting into the girls’ column? Does this matter to you?
Or would you only consider a name that’s distinctly masculine or feminine?
On a recent trip through the South, I met two young sisters charmingly named Mason and Ellis. Surname-names for girls are characteristic of the traditional South, where family last names have long been passed down as firsts to girls as well as boys.
Little girls might well have a conventional first name like Mary or Elizabeth, but their full name is Mary Ellis (say) and they’re known as Ellis. The Mary or the Elizabeth might be mom and/or grandmother’s name; it’s the Ellis part that makes the name distinct.
Of course, surname-names are used for girls in many places beyond the American South these days, though not everyone likes the practice. Boys’ names should be left to the boys, some feel, and girls’ names should be decidedly feminine, and unisex names are all-around unappealing.
If you’ve spent any time on Nameberry recently or if you get our newsletter, you’ve seen the ads for my new novel, The Possibility of You. The story of three women at three key moments of the past century dealing with unplanned pregnancies and questions of motherhood, the book required me to spend a lot of time researching the fashion and music, home decoration and child-rearing practices of 1916. And of course, while I was at it, I couldn’t resist digging up information about names.
One of the most fascinating sources I found was the 1916 Social Register, which listed everybody who was anybody in New York. It took both money and social standing to get your name in the Social Register, and so it was a window into upper class naming practices at the time.
One notable trend in evidence, mostly with male names but occasionally with female ones too, was last names used in first place. Long a practice in moneyed families looking to cement ties between fortunes, these surnames are not the faux Coopers and Parkers that rose up over the past few decades but the genuine article: wealthy Great Aunt Fanny‘s maiden name, for instance, or maternal grandfather’s surname.
Of course, if you’re interested in using a surname as a first for your child, it’s best to use one from your own family, honoring someone you love even if you don’t expect them to leave you a million bucks. But failing that, there’s no reason you can’t steal one of these choices. If you like the whole last names as first style, these sound fresher and more interesting than Taylor or Logan.
Choices from the 1916 Social Register:
They’re also clearly gendered. With apologies to Mr. Cooper, it is difficult to imagine a boy named Alice, and while actor James Marsden has a daughter called Mary James, it is tough to imagine picking James for a daughter’s first name.
While we all have our own impressions, it often turns out that the line is blurry, or even non-existent, for many a name. This week’s top nine illustrate that uncertainty.
This year for the first time we’ve calculated a list of top unisex names 2011: names listed on Nameberry for both genders that are winning the highest number of page views.
Unisex name popularity is always tricky: Aren‘t most parents searching for top names Harper and Quinn interested in those names for girls? We believe they are, and if those two names were counted in the girls’ tally, they’d rank among the Top 20.
But in fact, some parents are interested in Harper and Quinn as boys’ names, and many of the other names on this list — Sawyer, Rory, and Riley, say — may be considered equally for both genders, while choices such as Parker or River may be used more often for boys.
Here are the top unisex names 2011 on Nameberry.
Nameberry’s Top 25 Unisex Names, 2011
moving up quickly