Category: Unisex Baby Names
Unisex baby names, when they begin to veer toward use for one gender more than the other, typically move to the girls’ side.
But not always. Thanks to the wonderful chart by Steve Ruble that we are delighted to feature on our new unisex baby names home page, we can see how the gender ratio of unisex names morphs over time. And an increasing number of unisex baby names names are turning decidedly more blue.
The multi-ethnic Amari was two-thirds female in 2000, soon after in entered the U.S. Top 1000, and now has reversed course and is 63% male.
Love reading and writing? Love the idea of names inspired by this love? But it can be so hard to pick just one iconic writer, book or character that represents your tastes and what it is that you like so much about the world of fiction and prose. If you’re someone trying to escape this “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem, how about some more general literary related names?
Author - If occupational names are in, why not Author? Due to its similarity to Arthur, this would probably work best for a boy. It has in fact been used regularly in America, appearing in the US charts most years up until 1995, when it dropped off, not to be seen again. Maybe we feel it would be too much for a child to live up to these days because it is still a common profession, whereas the more popular occupational names such as Piper, Hunter, Cooper or Archer are much rarer today.
Fable – Fable is so adorable! It would be a great name for either gender. It only started charting in America in recent years, and 2012 was the first year it registered for boys. Fable is also the name of an action role-playing video game, so it has the cool advantages of a literary reference, classic feel, modern sound, and video game reference.
Journey - The Heroes Journey is generally accepted as a template for an effective fictional tale story-line. It also happens to be the name of a great (some may say legendary) rock band that has won a new generation of fans after their hit Don‘t Stop Believing‘ became the iconic song of the first season of Glee. Another choice that works well for both genders, it has been gaining in popularity since 1981, and in 2012 was positioned at Number 327 for girls and 1809 for boys. Variations Journee, Journei, Journi, Journie, Journiee, Journii and Journye have also been popping up on girls.
Legend - OK, admittedly this is a bit over the top as a first name. But it makes a fantastic middle. How cool would it be to say “My middle name is Legend“? A bit cheesy, yes, but cool. Legend first appeared in the US charts for boys in 1993, closely followed by the girls in 1994, but remains more popular for boys. In 2012 it was ranked at 834 for boys, and 6174 for girls. Seems this is one case of a daring name that people are more inclined to use for boys.
Muse - The Muses of Greek mythology were the goddesses of inspiration for literature, science and the arts. These days, a muse is a general term for a person who inspires someone to do great artistic work. It is also the name of an English rock band, who were reportedly inspired by one of the band member’s art teacher. Muse has only charted for boys, in the years 2005, 2010. 2011 and 2012, with parents preferring other versions such as Musetta or Musidora for their daughters.
Myth - Another cool one-syllable name option. Unlike other fanciful sounding names listed here, Myth has never charted, possibly because it could be hard for young children to pronounce–it does sound suspiciously like Miss with a lisp. Maybe not the most wearable choice, but it would certainly be unusual.
Novella - This might seem like clutching at straws, but there is something extremely attractive about the idea of Novella as a name. A novella is a short novel or long short story and is also a Latin name meaning ‘new,’ much like the name Nova. It has a long history of use for girls, and was a regular in the American charts from the 1880′s to the early 1940′s. You may well have a Novella in your family tree, and with Nova on the rise Novella may not be far behind.
Page – Page is generally accepted to have an occupational origin, but taken literally as a page from a book it would be a great literary themed name. Paige is one of my all time favourites and is much more popular than this spelling. But without the “i” it feels a little more masculine and more wearable for a boy, though it is currently more commonly used for girls.
Penn - Penn Badgley shot to fame on the CW hit Gossip Girl, and caused his name to triple in usage, going from about ten boys a year being named Penn to about thirty. This makes it pretty rare, but with the benefit of being recognisable, easy to spell and easy to pronounce. It also feels like one of the gentler one-syllable boys names that has simplicity without sharpness. And as we have all heard, the Penn is mightier than the sword!
Penna - A feminine version of Penn, meaning ‘feather’, this is a pretty, sleek and classic-but-friendly sounding name due to it’s similarity to names like Jenna. Also a great (and pretty unusual) nickname for Penelope. Penna recently gained some attention when actor Ian Ziering gave it to his daughter, but as of yet it hasn’t appeared on the American charts.
Poet – It’s not the most popular occupational name, but does have a certain charm. So far Poet‘s preferred use is for girls, having entered the charts in 2005 for girls but only appearing in 2007 and 2009 for boys–a good choice for an occupational name with a difference. Soleil Moon Frye used it for her daughter in 2005.
Quest – Q names generally aren’t super popular, but Quest is definitely one of the cooler Q options, in the American charts for boys since 1991. It “peaked” in 1998 when it was given to just thirty boys, the only year it has appeared in the charts for girls too. Quest has a modern, almost futuristic sound and could be among the next generation of one-syllable names. It feels closely related to Journey, and is also an oblique reference to adventure video games where characters often need to complete quests to advance in the game.
Saga - This word name meaning an extended story of heroic achievement comes from the Old Norse for ‘seeing one’. It’s been used rarely in the US, mostly for girls, influenced by Scandinavian countries, where Saga is a fairly popular name and also a goddess in Norse mythology. A good choice if you want a literary word name with a mythological reference.
Sonnet - A pretty name that evokes images of love and songbirds. William Shakespeare famously wrote sonnets (a fourteen line poem with a specific rhyming pattern), as did many other great poets. Nickname Sunny (or Sonny for the boys) is also an adorable option. May cause confusion when in English class, but is a sweet name nonetheless. Historically it’s only charted for girls but could work on a boy too. Forest Whitaker used it for one of his children.
Story – Story has been getting quite a bit of attention on the Nameberry forums in recent months. Generally the discussions sway more to the girls side, with Astoria often given as a possible way to get to Story as a nickname. Story has been seen on boys and girls since the 70′s, and in 2012 rose to position Number 1954 for girls, which is still a long, long way from the top 1000.
Wright - Sounds like write, but isn’t. This surname is derived from Wainwright, which means ‘wagon maker’. It has a great look and a preppy feel, and actually has a long history of use for boys. Unfortunately though it also sounds like right, which could be a little hard to live with.
With so many options, there are some true gems here just begging to be used. They would be great as a middle name theme for siblings, although some are too nice to be hidden as a middle name. Which ones are your favourites? Would you use them as first or middle names?
When we named our son Alexander in 2004, it was a no-brainer, a family name that my husband very much wanted to pass down. Despite my baby name obsession, the choice was made without much thought.
I knew girls could answer to Alex as a tomboyish nickname for Alexandra. Heck, it was the kind of name I’d craved as a child. And I was fascinated by the medieval French Alix, the Italian Alessandra, the Russian Sasha.
The possibility of a girl Alex didn’t bother me a bit.
The classmate who told him that his nickname was a gender bender?
His name is Delaney.
So what’s happening with boys’ names in 2013? There’s pressure to choose a name that is clearly masculine, coupled with frustration that so many fresh possibilities for boys could easily be the next big thing for girls. Parents will drop Elliot if they see it mentioned on a message board as a vague possibility for a girl. Emerson has been ceded to Team Pink before she even cracks the Top 100 in the US.
We’re always adding new names to the database, and here are Nameberry’s ten newest baby names 2013:
Sunniva — Thanks, Mom2Seven, for urging us to add the ancient saint’s name Sunniva to the Nameberry database. Saint Sunniva was born in Ireland but fled to Norway when an invading heathen king wanted to marry her. With her followers, she hid in a cave on a Norwegian island. After her death, miracles on the island led to an excavation of the cave, where Sunniva‘s body was found intact. Sunniva, pronounced SOON-ee-va, is the patron saint of Western Norway, making this a distinctive choice for a family with Norwegian ancestry. That’s her above on a Norwegian stamp.
Swithin — Saint Swithin, whose name is also spelled Swithun, is well-known throughout Britain for his July 15 feast day, which is believed to determine the weather for the next 40 days. The original Swithin was the bishop of Winchester, where his remains are interred in the famous cathedral.
By now, you’ve almost certainly heard about Blaer Bjarkardottir.
She’s just won the legal right to use her name. Fifteen years ago, Blaer’s mom unknowingly gave her daughter a name that does not appear on the official list of 1,853 names permitted for baby girls in Iceland. The mistake was discovered only after Blaer’s baptism.
A Nobel Prize-winning novelist had used the name for a female character. Plus, Blaer’s mom knew another woman with the name – it’s where she got the idea in the first place.
It turns out that even in a country with official lists, things can be a little bit fuzzy.
There are no official lists in the U.S., but plenty of us might like to impose them.
Trouble is, even if there were rules at a given moment, they’re always subject to change. What was true in 1960 – or 1860 – won’t hold in 2013.
This brings us to a great quote from Swistle: “Names, like colors and toys, are given to male/female babies according to fashion, not according to stone tablets.”