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Expanding Baby Name Boundaries: Asa, Frankie, and Otis

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There are a handful of super-controversial topics in baby naming.

Creative spellings.  Surnames-as-firsts.  And, of course, boys’ names on girls.

The first two are easier, I think.  They’re about style and preference.  If you love the look of Madelyn, no amount of cajoling will convince you that it really must be Madeline.  And either surnames like Lincoln and Bellamy make your shortlist, or not.

But when it comes to gender, there’s more at stake.

Parents of boys worry that their perfect name will be borrowed by girls, leading to schoolyard drama.

Then there’s the whole idea that girls’ names aren’t perceived as strong, that your daughter Sutton has a better chance at smashing the glass ceiling than your daughter Eleanor.  While this strikes me as crazy – by 2040, I expect to see Arabella and Willow in corner offices, a few doors down from Jayden and Cole – part of naming a child is about imagining the name on an artist, or a district attorney, a surgeon, a singer, a CEO.

The English language gives us no easy outs, either.  Nate is a boy, Kate is a girl, and Tate is probably a boy … but that’s all based on usage, not a convenient clue provided by spelling.

This week was all about traditionally male names bestowed on baby girls, but there was also some good news.  Whether you find gender-swapping names a sign of the apocalypse or just slightly challenging when naming a son, there’s a silver lining.

As parents have borrowed from the boys for their daughters, we’ve also become more daring when naming our sons.  Some names seem to remain truly gender neutral.  New possibilities for boys are emerging, and we’re also reviving retro names that might otherwise have remained in the antique cabinet.

The nine most newsworthy, gender-bending, boundary-extending names in the baby name news are:

Asa - Actor Justin Bartha and wife Lia Smith chose one of my favorite names for their firstborn: Asa.  Make that Asa Charlotte – yup, the couple gave the Biblical boy name to a girl, which made my head whip around.  Then again, think Ava, Ada, Asa – it seems like a logical leap.  Plus, Asa does have feminine roots in Scandinavia.  Add a diacritical mark, change the pronunciation slightly, and Asa is a feminine given name in Sweden.  In the US the numbers suggest that this one remains solidly masculine – at least for now.

France Fox – Quick – is France Fox a boy or a girl?  It’s the name of Instagrammer Karla Quiz’s adorable daughterFrance has me charmed.  I do like a place name, and anything from the map, or from the natural world, usually strikes me as gender neutral.  And yet, France sounds an awful lot like Franz, so I would probably hear this name as masculine at first.  Ms. Quiz is expecting baby #2, and here’s guessing the name will just as stylish and unexpected.

Frankie – We were all waiting to hear what Drew Barrymore would name baby #2.  Olive’s little sister is Frankie.  Yes, it’s boyish.  But just like Billie, Bobbie, and Charlie, it has had a good run for girls, and fits right in with throwbacks like Sadie, Hattie, and Winnie.  Plus, Frankie peaked in the 1930s, so if the hundred-year rule applies, Drew’s choice is exactly on schedule.  Drew isn’t the first Hollywood mama to use this name, either.  Amanda Peet welcomed Frances, called Frankie, back in 2007.  I’m partial to Peet’s approach – Frances with the nickname – but if Sadie stands alone, why not Frankie?

Sidney - Speaking of throwbacks, did you see Nancy’s post on starlet names from the early 1900s?  Frances, Helen, Clara – such a great list!  The one that leapt out at me was Sidney, as in Sidney Fox, a young ingénue who made her film debut in 1931’s The Bad Sister – also the first picture for Bette DavisSidney was Fox’s birth name, decades before it became fashionable for girls – and proof that this debate is nothing new.

Dylan-Jorge Rose Frankie on a girl?  Sure.  Asa?  Why not.  And DylanPlenty of ‘em. But Jorge?  That one shocked me.  British singer and reality television personality Kerry Katona has welcomed baby number five, her first with fiancé George Kay.  Katona’s older children are Molly, Lilly-Sue, Heidi, and Max, making Dylan a surprise choice for a daughter.  Jorge must be a nod to dad, and Rose remains the go-to middle of our age.

Ellington – The good news, of course, is that Dylan is one of many names occasionally bestowed on girls without losing its appeal for boys.  Kelli’s round up of names ending in –ton was filled with other possibilities that could stay solidly gender neutral.  Ellington shortens to Ellie, but also conjures up the legendary DukeLayton is for boys, but Leighton is a girl’s name, and some, like Halston and Seton, are too little-used to know for sure.  The full list is worth a look.

Auden For Real gathered up a list of recent birth announcements featuring the same name bestowed upon a boy and a girl.  Many have slightly different spellings – Easton and Eastyn, for example.  But a big chunk of the list featured names that strike me as truly wearable for any child.  The poetic Auden is my favorite, but there’s also Ember, Shiloh, and Shea.

Beckett ThomasBachelor alum Melissa Rycroft and husband Tye Strickland welcomed baby #2, a boy called Beckett, a little brother for Ava Grace.  This name has gone from obscurity to widespread use in under a decade.  Call it proof that we can discover new possibilities for boys, and that some surname names can become appealing modern staples.

Otis AlexanderMy favorite name of the week!  Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis are new parents to Otis.  Originally a surname, Otis is a cousin to Otto.  There’s a tinge of Americana thanks to the revolutionary Otis family of Massachusetts.  And Elisha Otis designed the modern elevator during the nineteenth century.  As a given name, he hasn’t charted in the US Top 1000 for more than two decades, but here’s guessing that Otis will make a comeback.  The list of vintage gems awaiting revival is long, and a reminder that there is no shortage of great names for our daughters and our sons.

Do you think parents are becoming more creative with names for boys?  Are there names that strike you as truly gender neutral?  Are there any names that you would give to a son or a daughter? 

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