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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    1,013

    Gender Bending a Name

    Do you think that a name has a gender?

    Should a name only be used on a certain gender?

    What do you consider a gender neutral name?

    When do you consider a name gender neutral? After it's been used on each gender equally?

    If a name like Emmett, the masculine form of Emma, can be used on a girl can Elisabeth be used on a boy?

    If it is okay to use traditionally masculine names on a girl, why isn't it acceptable to use traditionally girls names on a boy?

    What makes a name more feminine or more masculine? Is it the sound of the name or the way the name looks when written out?

    You always see celebrities and other people using traditionally masculine names on girls but never do you see it the other way around. A little while ago I met a little girl named Isaiah. Her mother had said that she wanted to name her daughter something with the NN Izzy and thought Isaiah was perfect. When I told her that was my son's name she asked me why I picked such a feminine name for my son.

    If you met a little boy named Bailey Madison what would you think of him or his parents?

    Does that make Bailey seem less masculine? Do you think he would be a mama's boy? Does it make you think less of him? Why?

    A friend of mine I think said it best. Why is it okay for a family to decide to name their daughter Asa, a masculine biblical name but if you ask that same family to name their daughter Abigail a feminine biblical name they wouldn't even consider it?
    Mom to Isaiah Gabriel, Zachariah Xavier and two precious angel babies.

    Crossing our fingers for a sticky baby soon.

  2. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Reykjavík
    Posts
    645
    Do you think that a name has a gender?
    Yes, in the majority of cases. Not all names, though. In some languages a name has a grammatical gender, which is (almost) impossible to mess with. In English name gender is all cultural, so it can be gradually changed.

    Should a name only be used on a certain gender?
    I like to be able to tell what sex the bearer is from their name, so I guess I would like it if all names were one or the other. But that's not going to happen in the English-speaking world and gender neutral names don't really bother me, just not something I would do myself. I think using names of the opposite gender is not kind to the child, though.

    What do you consider a gender neutral name?
    Rowan.

    When do you consider a name gender neutral? After it's been used on each gender equally?
    When I can't tell whether it's a boy or a girl, like I am genuinely not expecting one or the other.

    If a name like Emmett, the masculine form of Emma, can be used on a girl can Elisabeth be used on a boy?
    No. Names can be made masculine or feminine by altering them (usually masculine to feminine), e.g. Charles to Charlotte, but if you don't change the form you didn't change the gender.

    If it is okay to use traditionally masculine names on a girl, why isn't it acceptable to use traditionally girls names on a boy?
    I don't think that either practice is desirable. The short answer as to why it is commonly considered culturally acceptable to use boy names on girls but not the other way round is: systemic sexism in our society.

    What makes a name more feminine or more masculine? Is it the sound of the name or the way the name looks when written out?
    Not really anything particular in English, just cultural associations and historical usage. Of course there are various suffixes that are traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine, but there are usually exceptions to these 'rules'.

    You always see celebrities and other people using traditionally masculine names on girls but never do you see it the other way around. A little while ago I met a little girl named Isaiah. Her mother had said that she wanted to name her daughter something with the NN Izzy and thought Isaiah was perfect. When I told her that was my son's name she asked me why I picked such a feminine name for my son.
    This woman is entitled to her opinions, but she's putting a very odd spin on things. She gave her daughter a boy's name.

    If you met a little boy named Bailey Madison what would you think of him or his parents?
    I don't like the names, to me they are both surnames and not good first names, but of course I wouldn't think anything negative about the boy because I didn't like his name! It's not my style, but I wouldn't think anything of his parents either. There are worse names out there and I can't see that they've chosen names that would cause their son any sort of hardship.

    Does that make Bailey seem less masculine? Do you think he would be a mama's boy? Does it make you think less of him? Why?
    Jesus Christ! No! Why on earth would anyone think any of those things?

    A friend of mine I think said it best. Why is it okay for a family to decide to name their daughter Asa, a masculine biblical name but if you ask that same family to name their daughter Abigail a feminine biblical name they wouldn't even consider it?
    I don't know. I guess they don't like the name Abigail. Asa is a girl's name in many cultures, so I don't think it's a great example. It would definitely be one of the names that would qualify as gender neutral for me.
    Last edited by jackal; April 22nd, 2014 at 03:12 PM.
    Emil - Ingimar - Kjartan - Matthías - Óskar - Róbert

    Elísabet - Elva - Rósa - Sólveig - Svala - Ylfa

  3. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    664
    1) Yes, names (generally) express gender. Gender is constructed, not innate. That doesn't make it invalid, it just means that little boys are not actually born with biological love of trucks. Even though it may seem that way sometimes. We recognize specific colors, themes, and names as expressing one gender or another. These things change over time- pink used to be a masculine color, now it is considered feminine.

    2) It depends. Maybe the parents are into challenging gender norms, so they want to name their daughter Elliot or their son Phaedra. The thing that annoys me is when the parents name the baby Jameson or similar and then expect everyone to magically know that the newborn is a girl.

    3) I consider most nature names (names like River, Kestrel, Sky, that kind of thing) to be truly gender neutral. Most place names I consider gender neutral as well (London I would say is gender neutral, Victoria is not.)

    4) I would not name my daughter Emmet and I would not name my son Elizabeth. But if a person is okay with baby girl Emmet, i do think they ought to be okay with baby boy Elizabeth.

    5) I believe that people are not okay with girls names on boys b.c people believe that having a boys name will help their daughter to succeed in life, while having a girls name will hurt their son's chances of success and happiness. This is b.c society generally considers masculinity as superior to femininity. Think of how we celebrate little girls being "tomboys." What do we call boys who act like girls? Sissies. And it is not a compliment.

    6) Both the sound, the spelling, and the popularity of the name for one gender or the other.

    7) ok, I agree with you, but a celebrity (can't think who) did recently name her son Phaedra. The middle name also seemed feminine to me, but I can't think of it. And isn't their a YA novel out with a male character named Artemis? Even though Artemis was a goddess? Correct me if I am wrong, please. And that is insane about Isaiah. That is a great name for a boy, though! I love both of your son's names and I hope you get your sticky baby soon.

    8) Bailey Madison sounds like a boys name to me. If I heard that on a little girl, I would think her parents gave her a boys name. I know Madison is allegedly a girls name now, even though it still sounds like a boys name, but really, Bailey is, too?

    9) So, no, I wouldn't perceive him as being a mamas boy or think less of him.

    10) Well, Asa and Abigail are completely different names. They sound very different. I wouldn't name a girl Asa, but it seems legitimate that the family might like the name because of the sound or something and not just b.c it is Biblical. I might suggest Ava for them, or Isa, or something that sounded closer to Asa but wasn't a traditionally male name.

  4. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Kansas
    Posts
    27
    Thank you for the thought-provoking questions! I probably spent way more time on this than I should have.

    Do you think that a name has a gender?
    I think that most names are typically associated with one gender or another in the US, and other English-speaking countries. Even if it wasn't always so, names become a "boy" or "girl" name depending on what is most common in society. The names themselves do not inherently have a gender, it's just in people's minds.

    Should a name only be used on a certain gender?
    I think it would be nice to have a society in which all names are gender neutral, but that just isn't where we are right now. The way things stand, a boy named Elizabeth is going to be teased, and people he meets are going to be confused. I also think that using traditionally male names on girls can create the same confusion, even though it's much more common. So yes, I do think that names that are strongly associated with a particular gender should be used only for that gender.

    What do you consider a gender neutral name?
    Most nature names, like River. However, there are natural objects that are considered more "masculine" or "feminine." A boy named Azalea is going to have the same troubles as a boy named Elizabeth.

    When do you consider a name gender neutral? After it's been used on each gender equally?
    I feel like there can't really be a set rule for this, because things change over time, or suddenly rocket into popularity, like Madison, Morgan, Ashley, Taylor, etc. However, if things are about even between the two genders, like Taylor and Jordan are for people my age, I would say yes, that name is (currently) gender neutral.

    If a name like Emmett, the masculine form of Emma, can be used on a girl can Elisabeth be used on a boy?
    Any name can be used on anyone, but I don't think it's a good idea in our current society, for either a masculine name on a girl or a feminine name on a boy.

    If it is okay to use traditionally masculine names on a girl, why isn't it acceptable to use traditionally girls names on a boy?
    Because being male is the default in our society, therefore masculine things are normal for everyone (or should I say "all mankind"?). A girl can go fishing, wear jeans, and build a fort. A boy cannot play with Barbies or paint his toenails. Girls are inferior, so why would a male want to do something that's "for girls?" On the other hand, it's natural for a girl to want to be more like the superior male. People pick up on this from a very, very young age and know that while girl things, including names, are not okay for boys, boys things are okay, or even good, for girls.

    What makes a name more feminine or more masculine? Is it the sound of the name or the way the name looks when written out?
    This also changes over time. Names like Ashley or Stacy (or your example, Bailey) used to be fine for boys, but now the -ey, -ie, etc endings are assumed to be girls' by default, or gender-neutral at best, with some notable exceptions like Bradley and Jeffrey (although judging from the numbers those two are definitely past their prime, at least for now, and most people go by Brad or Jeff anyway). Names ending in -a are also typically feminine, and even ones that aren't may be assumed to be feminine by some people (ex your examples of Asa of Isaiah). I think tradition, popularity, and sometimes meaning make a name masculine or feminine, not the sound.

    You always see celebrities and other people using traditionally masculine names on girls but never do you see it the other way around. A little while ago I met a little girl named Isaiah. Her mother had said that she wanted to name her daughter something with the NN Izzy and thought Isaiah was perfect. When I told her that was my son's name she asked me why I picked such a feminine name for my son.
    She's probably just making assumptions based on the "-ah" ending; lots of people don't know much about names' histories and assume that the way things are now is how it's always been. Our society is obsessed with delineating between girls and boys, and many people are very uncomfortable with ambiguity in gender (that's why you must have a blue or pink outfit for your baby at all times, so that strangers know whether to say "he" or "she" when discussing your offspring). I think that because girls are encroaching on traditionally masculine names, there's a backlash of people feeling like they have to choose a super masculine name for a boy, so you can be super sure that yes, he is a boy. This just leads to even more names seeming to be more feminine and getting "lost" to girls.

    If you met a little boy named Bailey Madison what would you think of him or his parents?
    I might think that the parents were not up on name trends, or that they didn't care that these names are now predominantly seen on girls, but since these are both traditionally masculine names, there's nothing wrong with this name in itself. However I suspect that many people would be laughing behind their hands, or openly as the case may be.

    Does that make Bailey seem less masculine? Do you think he would be a mama's boy? Does it make you think less of him? Why?
    I don't think that the child's personality would be influenced by his name, although I do think that parents may choose names that reflect their values, and therefore also how they will raise their children. Ex parents who name their child Gunner might encourage (or tolerate) more aggressive behavior than the average parent; parents with a daughter named Faith may be more religious and encourage it in their child. Parents who name their child a very feminine or very masculine name might encourage associated traits in their child. Obviously this wouldn't hold true every time and would be a terrible way to make predictions about someone's personality and behavior. And I wouldn't think less of anyone for their name, since they didn't choose it themselves.

    A friend of mine I think said it best. Why is it okay for a family to decide to name their daughter Asa, a masculine biblical name but if you ask that same family to name their daughter Abigail a feminine biblical name they wouldn't even consider it?

    I think sometimes choosing a traditionally male name for a girl is a question of people trying to find a unique but still recognizable name, or on the other hand, of following the trend of boys' names for girls. In large part because of the internet, there's such a fine line between cool and too trendy, and between too common and too weird, that I think people have trouble trying to navigate it and find a "perfect" name.

  5. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    652
    Do you think that a name has a gender? - Not necessarily. Names today are becoming more unisex i.e. Avery, Sidney, Lincoln, Frankie, etc....

    Should a name only be used on a certain gender? - Again, not necessarily. I feel that it depends on the parents taste in names.

    What do you consider a gender neutral name? In today's world anything that is trendy can be gender neutral.

    When do you consider a name gender neutral? Again, I feel it is the opinion of the parents, and their culture.

    If a name like Emmett, the masculine form of Emma, can be used on a girl can Elisabeth be used on a boy? Yes, it could be but I wouldn't personally use it.

    If it is okay to use traditionally masculine names on a girl, why isn't it acceptable to use traditionally girls names on a boy? I don't see why you can't as long as the child is raised to be strong enough to hold onto it.

    What makes a name more feminine or more masculine? Is it the sound of the name or the way the name looks when written out? IMO, sound, such as ie, y, i, son, man, etc.

    You always see celebrities and other people using traditionally masculine names on girls but never do you see it the other way around. A little while ago I met a little girl named Isaiah. Her mother had said that she wanted to name her daughter something with the NN Izzy and thought Isaiah was perfect. When I told her that was my son's name she asked me why I picked such a feminine name for my son. - My name is Jamee (spelled with 2 e's, but pronounced ie.) I grew up and went to school with 2 boy Jamie's. I had no problem with it at all. I loved my name.

    If you met a little boy named Bailey Madison what would you think of him or his parents? I would think, what a cute name! My best friend has a new boy puppy named Bailey, and Billy Madison is one of my favorite movie characters. Every time I hear the name Madison I think masculine.

    Does that make Bailey seem less masculine? Do you think he would be a mama's boy? Does it make you think less of him? Why? - No! He will make the name his own!

    A friend of mine I think said it best. Why is it okay for a family to decide to name their daughter Asa, a masculine biblical name but if you ask that same family to name their daughter Abigail a feminine biblical name they wouldn't even consider it? Again, it is the freedom of the family to name their little child a name that they love. I actually do know a little girl named Asa and her grandparents are from Isreal. I love the name on a little girl, but I would personally love Abigail on a little girl too.

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