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family names

Let’s say right up front that we don’t advise naming your daughter Davette to honor Grandpa Dave, or any of the other similarly awkward cross-gender namesake names.

So how do you, did you, can you best choose a name for your baby that honors a relative or friend or hero of the opposite gender?

Some parents simply use the name, as Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard did when they named their daughter Lincoln or several celebrities recently have in giving their daughters the middle name James.  But this cross-gender appropriation happens most often when giving male names to girls, which may be inherently sexist — though even the most feminist parent may stop short of naming a son Mary or Patricia, even in the middle place.

So what do you do then, use the name Patrick?  Or choose a name that’s more conventionally gender-identified that starts with the same first letter?  Or maybe appropriate Grandma Mary‘s maiden name as a first?

There are all kinds of ways of approaches and beliefs on this subject, and we’d like to hear yours.

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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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unisex names

Unisex names most popular among Nameberry’s visitors include those that lean girlward and those more favored for boys.  To qualify as a unisex name for this list, a name needs to be given to at least 10 percent of the minority gender.

Check out the graphic on our new Unisex Names home page to get more specific statistics on how these names divide along gender lines.  Our Number 1 unisex name Quinn, for instance, is now 68 percent female, a dramatic swing toward the girls’ side thanks to its starring role on television’s Glee.  Number 2 Rowan, meanwhile, is 63 percent male.

Names such as Sawyer and Kai are predominantly male, edging toward our 90% cutoff, while choices such as Avery and Emery are more than 80% female.

This is a fascinating list, including names such as Charlie and Elliot that were long traditional male names and other choices such as Reese (Witherspoon) and Peyton (Manning) that are heavily identified with celebrities of one gender but are still used for babies of the other.

If you’re interested in these or other unisex names for your baby, be sure to check the gender progression over time on the chart on our Unisex Names page.

The Top 20 Unisex Names so far this year on Nameberry are:

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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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Top Unisex Names 2011

babysurprise

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

1. Harper
2. Quinn
3. Rowan
4. Avery
5. Sawyer

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