By Kara Blakley
Gender and naming are two complicated subjects that become almost perilous once considered together. It may appear on the surface that we’ve entered a sort of gender-fluid golden age in which names like Cameron, Elliot, Peyton, Quinn, and anything -son are equally accessible to boys and girls. It seems every week a new celebrity is bestowing a daughter with the middle name James.
But why is it that only girls can have traditionally male names? And, why is it also that once a name “goes to the girls,” it’s off-limits to boys? Look no further than the US Top 25 to find Harper, Madison, Evelyn, Avery, Aubrey, and Addison—all former boys’ names that seem to have lost their masculinity. There is no parallel on the boys’ list.
Nameberry recently ran a brilliant article on the subconscious bias of “unisex” baby names (https://nameberry.com/blog/the-subconscious-bias-of-unisex-baby-name-trends), and it got me thinking: what are some traditionally male names that became more common for girls, but could be revived for boys? I wondered what qualities would make for a good candidate, and decided on a few factors. For starters, it shouldn’t be too popular for either gender in 2016. Vivian, for example, started out as a boys’ name, but it’s too popular for girls right now for the mainstream public to put it back in the blue column. It should sound similar to currently popular boys’ names, if possible, or have a male celebrity to back it up. A cool nickname would be a definite plus.
Here are the 10 names that made the cut:
Carey. In its infinite spelling variations, Carey is, at the moment, a “mom name.” But, Cary Grant lends the name Old Hollywood glamor, and Carey Hart balances the image with machismo. Carey is a great choice, too, when sound-alikes Charlie, Brady, and Harry are just a little too common. Kerrigan with nickname Kerry is also a viable option for a boy.
Casey. Irish names never seem to go out of style in the US, but the particular name’s experience ebbs and flows. Casey, another name with endless spelling variations, peaked for girls in the 1980s. It’s time to bring it back for boys. Tracy, as in Spencer, is similarly ripe for rediscovery; nickname Trace fits right in with Jace and Ace.
Leslie. Another Old Hollywood choice via actor Leslie Howard of Gone With the Wind fame, Leslie could easily be a friend for the more popular Wesley or Presley. Nickname Les, with a musical connection through Les Paul, adds wearability to the name today.
Marion. Little girls get names, especially middle names, in honor of male relatives all the time. There is no dearth of feminizations of male names, from super popular Charlotte to the less common Giovanna. Sometimes I’ll even come across a pink birth announcement with Thomas in the middle. Why not masculinize a traditionally feminine name? Marion, a variation of Mary, was once common for boys—it was John Wayne’s birth name, after all. Josh Turner has a son named Marion, and it fits in quite well with contemporary favorites Harrison, Julian, and Sullivan.
Morgan. Morgan had a unique history of use on both genders, but once Ms. Fairchild came onto the scene, the name became more associated with girls than boys in the US—it was in the Top 25 by the late 90s. But since its popularity for girls is fading, now is the perfect time for boys to start using the name again. Morgan Freeman wears it well.
Robin. Bird names, and nature names in general, are unisex in theory, but Robin exploded in popularity for girls in the 70s. In recent years, the name has become associated with the late Robin Williams, and then with Robin Thicke. With N-ending two-syllable names being ridiculously popular for boys (think Aiden, Mason, Ethan, etc.), Robin is poised for rediscovery.
Sasha. A couple of years ago, Chris Hemsworth went against the tide in giving one of his twin sons the name Sasha, and soon after, Shakira followed suit. A diminutive of evergreen Alexander, Sasha is a great alternative to overdone Alex and super-trendy Xander. Naomi Watts and Live Schreiber’s son Alexander is known exclusively as Sasha.
Sidney. With “old man” names and nickname names both on the upswing, Sidney, with wearable nickname Sid, is a perfect candidate for this list. Actor Poitier and director Pollack (the latter with the y spelling) have been notable wearers.
Shannon. Shannon was popular for both sexes during the 70s, but its use for boys dropped faster than it did for girls. Now that Cannon and Gannon are gaining traction for boys, Shannon is worth reconsideration.
Whitney. Having enjoyed intermittent use for a century until falling off the charts in 1988—just as it peaked for girls—Whitney is waiting in the wings for boys. Whit is a great nickname that lends a modern feel.
Which of these names do you think are ready to go back to blue?