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Boys and Girls in Tug of War

It’s nothing new, this appropriating of boys’ names by the parents of girls.  After all, once upon a time, names like Evelyn, Vivian, Esmé, Hilary, Florence, Jocelyn were all predominantly male as were, in more recent times, Jordan, Morgan, Ashley, Courtney and Lindsay.

But the trend does seem to be accelerating— names like  James , Hunter, Hudson, Owen, Judah, MasonDexter, Elliott and Spencer have all shown up on girl starbaby lists, not to mention all the Baileys, Rileys, Finleys, Sawyers, Dylans, Ryans, Averys and Eastons—with at least 8 of the current Top 50 names having been strictly male at one point in time.

This trend is not to everyone’s liking; in fact it’s become a Hot Topic on our boards and elsewhere, with strong feelings expressed on all sides.  What we’d like to know is:  where do you stand on this issue?

  • Do you think that traditional male names should be used only for boys?
  • Do you feel that this appropriation trend is depleting the supply of names strictly for boys?
  • Do you think that once a name starts being used for girls it loses its potency as a boy’s name or can they continue to be used for both sexes?  Would you use a one-time male name that is now high on the girls’ list, eg Riley or Avery, for a son?
  • Do you think that boys’ names for girls are cool and edgy?
  • Or do you think the whole thing is a non-issue?

Also—please let us know if you have a good idea for a future Question of the Week!

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macho

Boy names have undergone a radical shift over the past few decades, with the old stalwart names like James and Robert making room for a whole army of new choices that break the traditional masculine mold.

The trendiest boy names are not exactly feminine, or even androgynous, but are decidedly male names that nevertheless don’t hail from conventional masculine roots. We mean the two-syllable, surname-sounding names like Caden and Brody, Logan and Landon.

Many parents seem more willing than they might have been before to bestow upon their sons unisex names also well-used for girls: Peyton, Jordan, Taylor, Sasha.

Then there are the more traditional names, but with softer sounds — vowel endings, the sibilant s or sh — usually associated with girls’ names. The most popular of these include Joshua and Noah, Asher and Isaiah.

Another branch of the new baby boy names are macho names that also break ranks with traditional masculinity: Breaker and Ryker, Harley and Ace.

What we’re interested in is your view of masculinity as evidenced by these changing boys’ names.

Do you think the change in names is evidence of a deeper change in the way we think of boys, of masculinity, of what we want for our sons growing up?

How did your own views of masculinity play into the name you chose for your son, or a name you might pick in the future?

Would you give your son a name that was also used for girls — why or why not? Would you want a traditional boys’ name or look for one that broke the masculine mold — again, why and why not?

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How many names does it take to make a trend?

Well, with the number of nicknames for girls —both starbabies and civilians— coming from the boys’ camp these days, it’s starting to feel like a trend.  Call out Charlie or Sam in a playground and no telling what gender child will come running.  And if you look in the celebrity section you might also see a Johnnie, a Billie, a Lou or a Frances-called-Frankie dressed in pink.

Each of these nicknames for girls has a slightly different back story.  Sam is a recent arrival, legitimizing the short form that so many Samanthas are called (anyone remember that ill-fated 80s sitcom My Sister Sam?)—but recent enough that it has never appeared on the Social Security list.  Charlie, on the other hand, has been on the girls’ list on and off for over a century, first from 1880 to 1951, after which it dropped off until 2005, when it reappeared.  Billie has been in the Top 1000 for all but one year since 1886, reaching a high point in the 1930s, when it was in the Top 100.

So though boyish nicknames for girls feels like a new trend, it has happened before.  In the unisex-oriented 60s and 70s–and even earlier– there was a fad for changing the last letter of a boyish nickname from y to i or ie, so that at that time nursery school lists were populated with girls named Andie, Randi, Ronni, Ricki, Micki, Shelli and Kelli.

But you have to go even further back to see the full flowering of this particular naming pattern.  In 1930, there were enough girls with the following male nickname names to land them on the most popular list (of course some were pet forms of girls’ names as well):

ARTIE

BENNIE

BERTIE

BILLY

BOBBIE

BOBBY

CHARLIE

DONNIE

EDDIE

FRANKIE

FREDDIE

GEORGIE

JACKIE

JIMMIE

JOE

JOHNNIE

LENNIE

LONNIE

LOU

OLLIE

ROBBIE

SAMMIE

THEO

TOMMIE

WILLIE (in the top 100, accounting for over 3,000 girls–maybe because Wilma, Willla, and Wilhelmina were all on the list as well that year)

Think any of them is ready for a comeback?  What do you think of boys’ nicknames for girls in general?  Too flimsy?  Too confusing?

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Romantic Names for Girls

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Romantic names for girls – loosely defined as creative and elaborate names that suggest an earlier era and a Latinate emotionality – have become more fashionable in recent years.  As we grow more comfortable with the notion of equality for girls, we may also become confident enough to give our daughters elaborately feminine names rather than having to make our point with androgynous, modern monikers like Blair or Blake.

Of course, not every romantic name is a feminist statement.  These names may just feel fresh again after decades of sleeker, more straightforward girls’ names like Mary and Betty, Karen and LisaEven Jennifer and Ashley pale in the face of these flagrantly feminine names.

The rise of Isabella and Sophia to the Top 10 means that Romantic Names are now mainstream.  Some choices further off the beaten track:

ADORIA

ANASTASIA

ANGELICA

ANTONIA

ARABELLA

ARTEMESIA

AURORA

CELESTIA

EVANGELINA

FORSYTHIA

GABRIELLA

ISADORA

JULIANA

LILLIANA

MAGDALENA

MARIELLA

MELISANDE

NATALYA

PALOMA

RAFFAELA

RAMONA

SERAPHINA

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vintagebaby2

Check out our list of Vintage Baby Names.

In the world of baby names, there used to be something  called The Hundred Year Rule, based on the assumption that it took a full century for a name to shake off its dusty image and sound fresh again.  I use the past tense because this obviously doesn’t hold true anymore; like everything else, the process of name resuscitation has speeded up wildly.

So when we look at the popularity lists for a hundred years ago–1910– we see any number of names that have already popped back—names like Grace, Ruby, Emma, Ella, Violet, Sadie, Ruby, Isabel, Max, Oliver and Felix.

The question is, are there any names from a century ago that we’ve overlooked and are still worthy of re-evaluation?  Here are some you might consider, all in the Top Thou of 1910—although we do have to keep in mind that the US population then was about 30% of what it is now, so some of these names were attached to a very small number of babies.

GIRLS (starred names were in the Top 100 then; none of them appears on the current list)

ADELIA

*AGNES

AILI

ALBERTINE

AMALIA

ANTONIA

ARA

AURELIA

AVIS

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