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Category: androgynous names

unisex baby names

by Pamela Redmond Satran

Some unisex baby names start as female choices and shift over time to become more boyish, but many more begin as all-boy names and over the decades cross to the girls’ side.

The baby names here are extreme cases.  Most started life, back when the US government began recording babies’ names, as 100% male choices, and now have become mostly girls’ names.

While we were tempted to narrow the field to only those dozen names that went from 100% male to 100% female, the entire list proved just too interesting to cut.

The baby names that have morphed from blue to pink – and when they made their big switch – include:

Addison

100% male in 1880, 98% female in 2012

Jumped to 55% female in 1996

Alexis

100% male in 1882, 77% female in 2012

In 1942, Alexis leaped to 69% female from 42%

Allison

100% male in 1880, 100% female in 2012

From 1942-1948 it jumped from 52% to 80% female

Ashley

100% male in 1880, 100% female in 2012

Crossed the line in 1965 to become 64% female

Aubrey

100% male in 1880, 98% female in 2012

In 1974, tipped to 52% female

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rainbowhat

Unisex names and the question of whether a child’s gender should be evident via his or her name is one that comes up frequently on Nameberry.  It’s an issue that’s changed a lot over the years we’ve been writing about baby names and that varies substantially in different cultures.

Starting with the baby boomlet of the 1980s, the first wave of feminist parents gave girls androgynous names like Morgan and Parker to make them more competitive with boys…..while parents of boys abandoned unisex names in favor of more traditional masculine choices.   Next came names that broke away from traditional boy or girl choices — Logan and Lake, Bellamy and Finn — but still somehow held onto a gendered identity.

Despite vast changes in naming practices around the world, some ancient cultures accommodate names that work for either sex — Japan is a notable example — while other countries such as Norway require that names carry gender identity.  Germany changed its naming laws in 2008 to allow the use of unisex names.

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abby-8-06

In this week’s Nameberry 9, Appellation  Mountain ‘s Abby Sandel focuses on several interesting  unisex baby names in the news.

Few subjects are as divisive as gender neutral baby names, and yet I can’t stop talking about them.  Some of us deny their very existence.  Others are willing to call a daughter James, but hesitate to name a son Avery or Madison.  Many of us are discovering nature names or other novel appellations, ones that don’t easily declare themselves pink or blue.

Not every culture splits names into such neat categories, and names certainly shift over time.  Plenty of ends-in-a options, like Noah and Joshua have become favorites for boys, even though they’re very different from the once-dominant Bob, Tom, and Bill – proof that we can reconsider names every generation, if not more often.

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abby-blur

This week, Appellation Mountain’s Abby Sandel ventures into the blurry grey area of  newly discovered gender-neutral names.

It’s official! America’s favorite names are Charlotte and James. The top names for 2011 in Sweden? Alice and William. They’re classic appellations, at home across the centuries and in many languages.

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.

Or is it? At first, it is easy to draw clear lines. Evan is a boy’s name, but Evelyn is meant for a girl. Nicola is feminine, of course, while Jordan was shamelessly stolen from our sons.

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.

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Unisex Names: Yes? No? Boy? Girl?

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Unisex names have been around forever, back to the era when Alice, Anne, Emma and Esmé were boys’ names that morphed over to the girls’ side, and Douglas and Clarence were female names.  In the sixties there were Jodys and Jamies of both genders, and now we have a whole new set of names popular for both boys and girls.

Some of  the unisex names on both current lists include:

The Question of the Week is:  Are any of these names among your faves, and if so, would they be used for a girl or a boy?

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