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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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Unisex Names: Would you use one?

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As more and more names are crossing gender divides, with girls being named Maxwell and Monroe, and boy and girl Eastons and Wests, Sages and Sawyers, we’re not surprised to find that among the most persistent topics on the Nameberry forums are those having to do with gender–with very strong opinions being voiced.  So today’s Question of the Week concerns unisex names:

Would/did you choose a name that’s given almost equally to both girls and boys?

Would/did you give your daughter a name more often used for a boy?

Would/did you give your son a name that has started drifting into the  girls’ column?  Does this matter to you?

Or would you only consider a name that’s distinctly masculine or feminine?

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A Girl Named Ellis

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On a recent trip through the South, I met two young sisters charmingly named Mason and Ellis.  Surname-names for girls are characteristic of the traditional South, where family last names have long been passed down as firsts to girls as well as boys.

Little girls might well have a conventional first name like Mary or Elizabeth, but their full name is Mary Ellis (say) and they’re known as Ellis.  The Mary or the Elizabeth might be mom and/or grandmother’s name; it’s the Ellis part that makes the name distinct.

Of course, surname-names are used for girls in many places beyond the American South these days, though not everyone likes the practice.  Boys’ names should be left to the boys, some feel, and girls’ names should be decidedly feminine, and unisex names are all-around unappealing.

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Baby Name Trends: Gender Benders

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Kids who defy gender stereotypes – and how best to parent them – is a hot topic these days.  The New York Times recently featured a story on boys in tutus and girls with Mohawks on its front page.  And when the J. Crew catalog carried a photo spread of its fashion director painting her 4-year-old son’s toenails pink, it sparked an outpouring of both criticism and support.

Whatever your feeling about pedicures for boys, names that push the gender envelope are among the hottest baby name trends.  The most recent statistics on names making the biggest leaps up the popularity ladder show names that break with both feminine and masculine conventions leading the lists.

For both sexes, these include truly unisex names such as Quinn and Karter and names long favored for one sex jumping gender lines (Charlie going to the girls’ side and Terry to the boys’).   There are also girlish spins on boys’ names and vice versa, such as Danna and Jayleen for girls and Rhys and Emmett for boys.

And then there are the names that are used almost exclusively for one gender but carry qualities usually associated with the other: I’m thinking of the hard-edged Kinley or Kenzie for girls and the soft-sounding Greyson and Jasper for boys.

Here, 20 gender-bending names that crowd the tops of the fastest-rising lists for both girls and boys, in order of how many places they’ve moved up the ladder.

Girls

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Unisex baby names, meaning those that are used for both boys and girls, are not always that equal. Some of the most popular are heavily weighted toward one gender or the other: Emerson is 61 percent girls and 39 percent boys, for instance, while Rowan is the other way around. Other names are skewed depending on spelling: Jadin is 66% boys, while Jadyn is 71% girls.

Still other unisex baby names may veer in a new direction because of a pop culture influence. Quinn, while 68% boys right now, we expect to rise dramatically for girls thanks to the attractive female character on Glee.

But there are some baby names that are truly unisex, given to half boys and half girls. Many of these are somewhat obscure names, or unusual spelling variations of more popular names. We’ve left off the less usable examples (Dacoda, Oluwadamilola) but if your main aim is absolute parity, here are some unisex baby names split 50-50 between boys and girls:

Adi
Aidynn
Amadi

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