Baby Boy Names: Tough, Tender, Traditional, Trendy?

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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38 Responses to “Baby Boy Names: Tough, Tender, Traditional, Trendy?”

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namefan Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 8:30 am

I agree with what you said. For example, a lot of the boy’s names that have been very common for generations (e.g. James, John, Michael) are not my style (except for honoring or in the middle spot). I do tend to like those names that have not been so common but still have more than just a modern history to them (for example two of my favorites are Gabriel and Sebastian). Also, I’m one of those who isn’t uptight about a boy potentially sharing his name with a girl in his class (perhaps since my own name is one of those and I’m male); there are numerous names like these that I like and would consider; some of my current favorites are Riley, Rory, and Rowan (coincidence that all three of the ones I mentioned are Irish and start with “R”).

As I’ve said before, I think the younger generation of parents is more comfortable with unconventional and/or unisex names for boys than their parents and grandparents were. When I did an analysis on the percentage of babies given a top 10 name on the SSA lists, I found that in recent years the percentage has dropped for both genders but has fallen faster for boys (although it is still higher for boys than for girls as it has been for much of recent history, but that gap has narrowed). As for the unisex name theory, newer choices like Hayden and Rowan continue to hold on to the boys despite female influences and names that we thought were doomed to “girlyhood” a decade ago like Avery and Riley continue to maintain their popularity for boys despite ranking higher for girls.

Dove14 Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 9:25 am

Good points Namefan!

I don’t know that I have a solid theory why softer/unisex boys names are more acceptable nowadays, except perhaps that there’s a growing acceptance of all sorts of different names for both girls and boys. The quest for a special and distinct name is bound to lead away from the traditional after all!

Andrea Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am

My brother wanted “boy’s names that can only be found in the Bible” and his wife wanted trendy surname names for her sons. My sister-in-law won. I think my sister-in-law values being mainstream and having her sons have popular names that will help them fit in. My nephews’ first names are very much in style right now and they will undoubtedly have several other little boys with the same name in their schools and on the athletic teams they’ll undoubtedly play on. My brother is more traditional and not what I’d call a team player. There’s one difference right there in personality and style preference.

I worked with a sports editor who named his son Cooper a few years ago because he thought it would sound good when they’re calling the names of the basketball players as they run into the gym. I think that’s the same image my sister-in-law probably had of the name and other similar names.

Andrea Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 10:06 am

As far as gender preference, I don’t think my sister-in-law would have picked a name that is used equally for boys and girls but it doesn’t seem to bother her that there are a few little girls in school with my older nephew’s name. Most of the kids who have these names are going to be boys. I’ve typed a lot of honor rolls and awards lists in the last month and my nephews’ names are going to fit right in with the Bradens, Bradys, Brodys, Hunters and Austins.

Stella Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 11:22 am

I would say I am attracted to old-school (but not traditional) conceptions of masculinity. Names that reflect dignity, honor, eloquence. Luther, Ronan, and Arthur comes to mind for that category. I also like the idea of a mischievous, adventurous, but kind little boy, so names like Jack, Sawyer, Everett and West. My partner really likes these kind of names too. Can you guess the profession of my partner? He’s a writer/traveler.

My child will probably eventually end up with one of each to allow for either or both! I tend to go for really girlish names for girls, so those in-between names hold little interest for me for either gender.

olivegreen Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 11:34 am

I think that these days it’s cool, even mainstream, for guys to have a soft side. Look at the success of shows like Glee and High School Musical–the leading guys are definitely not traditional tough guys, though they do of course still play sports. Some parents still give their sons tough-guy names like Ryker, but in my experience they’re often the parents that are pretty far outside the mainstream (parents with tats and nose rings who want their kids to fight The Man rather than the rival football team). Again, this is within my limited experience. And being an urbanite, I have no idea if people in rural Kansas are naming their kids Ace and Harley. But my guess would be that names like Taylor and Noah are more popular in those areas as well.

Charlotte Vera Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 2:10 pm

My husband and I don’t have any boys yet, but the boys’ names that we can come to a consensus on tend to be old-fashioned but not entirely traditional. Actually, our number one pick (Cedric) was for decades considered a sissy name, although that image has faded somewhat in recent years. I tend to gravitate towards names that begin with A and C: Alistair, Alaric, Alfred, Clarence, Cecil, Clement, etc.

peach Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I agree with many of the opinions mentioned already: mainly that today’s view of men and masculinity has broadened such that men in particular (in my observation) are more comfortable with less traditional and/or obviously masculine names for boys. As namefan said, many men of the current generation becoming fathers have names/nicknames that are unisex, including my hubby. Although I live on the West coast where naming trends may be more liberal in general, I still hear new moms and dads wanting boys names that are relatively more familiar if not necessarily more distinctly male than the girl’s names they might consider. So today’s parents may have turned their focus from traditional to popular/approachable: some names like Jack, Charlie, Finn, Noah, Gabriel. And the degree to which the name may be shared with girls has taken a back seat to other factors like meaning, family/origin connections, popularity, and that most elusive and gender-blind factor — “cool.”

Ayelet Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Well, I helped pick out my stepsons name before he was my stepson, and we picked an extremely masculine name, Ignatius (Nate). So when I had a boy 8 years later we couldn’t think of anything softer that didn’t sound girly in comparison. Theodore was what we ended up using, btw. My husband was determined to pick a name that was extremely unlikely to be used for a girl, and I’ve never been one for unisex names, because is Taylor a girl or a boy? You never know! I think my husband and I are drawn to solidly masculine names, and very girly names, and for us it’s kind of like why use a boys name when there’s a frilly feminine form of it?!

Bella Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I am against unisex names on either side. I like sophisticated girls names and classic, upstanding boys names. No Rykers, no Jordans.

beeplaysbass Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I tend to be ok with unisex names for girls and masculine names for boys. I like names for boys that have lots of meaning behind them, like Atticus because that is my favourite character from my favourite novel. Or something like John, George. I like older names for boys, but girls, well I’m prepared to dress their names up as much as I plan dressing them up!

susan Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I love classic boys’ names so much – Peter, William, and Thomas. I also love vintage names such as Theodore and Victor.
Lionel, Miles, and Trevor are great, too. I’m not sure what category they fit into. But I love Peter and William the most. I love first names that sound great when a guy crosses the stage and gets his college diploma. Middle names need to be quirky and add some style to the first name.

Macy Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I absolutely HATE classic names for boys, but love them on girls. So I guess i’m the opposite. I can’t stand names like Henry, John (which I loathe), Bob, Robert, Edward, Michael, Richard, ugh.

However, I think boy names have gone from being sweet to tough. I mean in the past we had boy names like Shannon, Meredith, Leslie, Lindsay, Kelly, Dana, Kiley, Shelby, Ruby, Vivian, Kimberly, Terry, Alexis, Robin, Stacy, Tracy, Courtney, Hilary, Alva, Carey, Mackenzie, Aubrey, Sydney, Avery, Paige, Ashley, Jasmin, Jade, Fay, etc…

and now we have Gunner, Hunter, Jaxon, Ryker, Killian, Brandon, Kanyon, Cannon, Choker, Maddox, etc… really harsh boy names.

namefan Says:

April 1st, 2010 at 9:50 pm

About Macy’s comment; Although there has been a rise in “tough” names like you mentioned, like the blog mentioned there are plenty of currently fashionable softer boy’s names. Like the super-frilly girl’s names that have become fashionable along with the boyish ones, on the boy’s side the softer-sounding ones are being used along with the “tougher” ones.

Macy Says:

April 2nd, 2010 at 11:43 am

namefan, perhaps, but I doubt you’ll be seeing boy names like Peal or even Pink which were popular in the early 1900s back in the boys list heh.

Although I do think femininity is volatile. Back then, a name like Lynn or Whitney which were boys names would probably be considered masculine. We only see them as feminine now because it is more popular for girls. We associate names to the people we know who have that name. If we know more girls named Lynn or Whitney, then we’re going to associate the names with femininity.

Also some names are for some reason associated with girls even though there are more boys with those names. For example there are more boys named Leslie, but it seems we put it on the firmly girl side. Why is that? Does a girl with a boy name have a more powerful effect on us than a boy with the same name?

I also don’t think TV shows help bringing back the old boys name, in fact, some bring in new names to the girls side. In Grey’s Anatomy the main character is Meredith, a male name firmly female these days, but also popularized the male name Addison onto the girls side (even though it’s still popular for boys), and the show brought a new female character named Teddy, long known as a male name, and another one called Reed. Many shows have girls named Quinn these days, we’re starting to see the name now as unisex or even girly rather than male like it was just a few years ago. We have had female lead characters in recent shows called Elliott, Charlie and Blair, all boy names. The new Melrose Place, as well as bringing back Sydney and Kelly, brought in a new female character named Riley. The list goes on and on. For boys, well they’re all called David, Michael, John, Robert, Dixon, or names like that, names we all know are strictly male.

namefan Says:

April 2nd, 2010 at 12:44 pm

When I mentioned “softer boy’s names” I didn’t necessarily refer to those that have turned unisex (although it seems that the new generation of parents is less willing to let the unisex factor deter them from using a name for a boy). That can also be construed to mean names that are (for the most part) clearly masculine but have softer sounds that in the past may have kept them from being as popular. Examples: Adrian, Gabriel, Julian, Noah, Sebastian.

The changing attitude towards boy’s names is not so much driven by pop culture, but rather by the attitudes of the generation now coming of age. These young adults grew up during the era in which the gender double-standard was most pronounced, and the young men of this generation are reacting to that and are not as uptight about masculinity as older men. In addition one of the original reasons for giving a girl a boy’s name (so she would not be discriminated against when seeing her name) is not so much true anymore; in fact in someways being female is an advantage now (look at statistics of college graduates and how girls vs. boys are performing in school).

namefan Says:

April 2nd, 2010 at 1:13 pm

More on the generation factor: When Macy referred to how she bases her trend predictions on pop culture, you should remember the kinds of changes I talk about are driven by a new generation of parents replacing an older one, who grew up during different eras and have had different impressions on issues (in this case gender and gender roles). Think back to the change in gender attitude in the 1960s: What drove that change is a new generation of Baby Boomers coming of age who grew up in a post-WWII era replacing a generation that remembered the Depression and WWII who were more conservative on gender roles (especially for females). The young Boomer women felt constrained by the previously expected roles of women and sought to change that.

What’s happening now is a new generation is coming of age who grew up after the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, many of whom have had to deal with the pro-female, anti-male bias of the era they grew up in: Divorce becoming easier and fathers subsequently being restricted on seeing their children but having to pay large amounts of child support for no reason other than the mother’s wishes, schools being rigged to favor girls’ learning styles rather than the more gender-neutral approach previously used, girls being allowed or encouraged to persue masculine activities but boys being discouraged or barred from persuing feminine ones, and of what is being discussed here parents taking boy’s names for girls and then abandoning their use on boys.

Neither of these generational movements were mostly driven by pop culture; in fact the pop culture protrayal of youth and changing attitudes often lags behind the reality of the young (being created by those older than the young adults). Well into the 60s movies protraying young adults continued to assume they would be as conformist as those of the 50s, but we know what actually happened. Back onto the subject of names, although there continues to be shows using masculine names on girls (and said names may show up for girls being born), such usage is less likely to bring down the name for boys than in the past (read my previous posts on this blog topic). On many name boards you can probably guess the person’s age (and when I’ve been able to verify it is true more often than not) if they are pro-androgynous names for girls but anti-androgynous names for boys – probably at least 30, most likely closer to 40 or older (and this difference is generational and not just because they’re older; 10-20 years ago these people made up much of those of child-bearing age and shaped the attitude back then). (If they are either pro- or anti-androgynous names for both genders, there is probably no age/generation corrolation there.)

namefan Says:

April 2nd, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I found at least three instances of celebrities of using unisex or boy-turned-girl names for their sons in the past three years: Holly Marie Combs’s Kelley James (his older brothers are Finley Arthur and Riley Edward), Julianna Margulies’s Kieran Lindsay (although the middle name catches the most attention with this one, since it’s with a first name that a few are also using for girls this one becomes notable), and Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s Taylor Thomas. Although there are also plenty of instances of unisex or boy’s names being used on girls during that time, this goes to show that there are some trying to turn the tide.

reader Says:

April 3rd, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I love manly sounding names last names as first names, i really wanted bronson and holden for boys names

ended up out voted by the family my sons commonly called very girly names lulu and wish their given names are luther and Aloysius

i agree lots of the sound or action names being given to boys now seem more violent some could be best suited to dog fighting dogs, but there is no mistaking them as boys names and i think thats important

having grown up in the 80s with girls and guys having the same names, shannon, kerry, kerian, stevie, sam, robin, mike, i hate the unisex names

but relish little girls nic names charlie from charlotte or jimmy from jimima

Rook Says:

April 6th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I like girly names on girls, and old-fashioned ones at that. But I also like the softer, unisex names on boys — I see it as taking back the names that the girls had “borrowed.” I would be quite pleased to have a son named Shannon, Robin, Tracey, or Meredith. I’ve been able to convince my husband to allow me the possibility of the first three, so that’s a win. He’s a medieval historian, so he likes reeeally strange names like Adegrim (apparently one of the early monastic knights and a companion to St. Hugh; I would go for it, but what would our families say?). Our three insistences:

1. they must be from our cultural background — Irish & French on my side or Hungarian & German on his — or be plain English names

2. they must be Catholic-approved — either saints’ names, Biblical names, or virtue names like Prudence

3. since our tastes lean a bit toward the strange, they must not elicit any “ewwwws” when suggested to our parents

Troy Says:

April 8th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I am a woman born in ’66. My parents named me Troy. I made sure that my children had VERY gender specific names. There is nothing fun about being mistaken for the opposite sex, it get old very quickly. And then there are the boorish people who ask “Did your parents want a boy?”. It is very convenient when a tele-marketer calls asking for Mr. Troy… though.

Are people too lazy to think up girl and boy names? ” We’ll just call the little bundle Taylor and be done with it.”

If you do give your child a unisex name, at least give them a gender specific middle name. My mom gave me her middle name “Dawn”. So even if you heard my name you would still think I was a man (Troy Don).

I really am not angry about my name. I just wish people would think things though a bit more.

Madi Says:

April 25th, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I wouldn’t give my boy a that was often used for females also only because I love boyish names for girls. Noah, Aiden, Asa, and Ryan are some of my favorites for girl names, so it would be waaaayy to confusing to have a boy Taylor and a girl Ryan.

kaybee3 Says:

May 13th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I have a son named Noah…and the only memorable comment we’ve gotten is , “my, what big shoes to fill”. Mostly, people love it..and those that don’t, it is because of it’s commonality these days. I think it sounds strong but humble, and I think that’s why we chose it.

Sunshinetina Says:

May 24th, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I know of girls named Logan, Payton, Jordan, Taylor, Sasha, Noah and Harley. Those names, despite the fact that I severely dislike them all (except Sasha), would never make it onto my list.

I like more classic male names. Walter, Allistair, Graham, Christopher.

Ultimately, I think the change in male naming trends has to do with gender equality. Women spent so many years fighting to be equal, and since women can do just about anything a man can do, then why shouldn’t women have more masculine names? I personally think (this is seconded by my fourth grade teacher brother) that a childs name should denote his/her gender. Why is that wrong?

Suzanne Says:

June 14th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I dont have any kids yet but i like boys names for girls. I saw a female Jordan in the newspaper and i liked it immediatly! I had Billie on my list for a long time too but i like Jordan better. At this point i have 7 names i like for girls: Miley, Jordan, Logan, Riley, Ryan, Alyssa and Piper and for boys i like for mascule names: Wyatt, Tyler, Tyson, Cullen, Devin, Riley ( iwant a Riley, i dont care if its female or male i really love it for both boys and girls), Caleb, Jason, Kristopher, Owen, …

If you like the name give it to your kid, someones not gonna like it, someone thinks its georgious!

GatorDan Says:

July 9th, 2010 at 9:23 am

Who would seriously name a girl “Noah”?…That name refers to one of the most well known MALE Biblical patriarchs…It’s not like the trendy Taylor, Jordan, Riley, which aren’t obviously male or female these days, but really? Noah for a girl? Come on now folks..that girl will live with having folks see her name on paper and ALWAYS assume that she’s a boy…

Pamela Redmond Satran Says:

July 9th, 2010 at 9:28 am

Dan, Noa, which is pronounced the same, is a very popular and valid GIRLS’ name in Israel and Spain.

Amy Says:

July 19th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Don’t suggest names to your parents. These are your children, name them yourself! Not to say that you should use a name you know they hate but if you don’t ask hopefully they will be kind enough not to say ewww when the baby comes. 🙂

Amy Says:

July 19th, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I have two sons and one on the way. Calvin, Isaac and ??? any suggestions?

Amber Brice Says:

September 8th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Gage Or Eli? I was going to name my son Eli Gage but my husband reminded me he has a cousin named Gage, so we have to change the name again 🙂

Bridgette Says:

September 12th, 2010 at 9:02 am

I love the name Jude for a boy. My husband hates it. I like plenty of girl names; Piper, Mallory, Phoebe, Halle, Macy, I could go on and on but I can’t say I really like any boy names. Lets just hope it’s a girl. That would make it easy.

Tiffany Says:

December 23rd, 2010 at 3:21 pm

My sons names are: Brendan, Gabriel and come 2/11 – William 🙂

Hannah Says:

March 16th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I don’t understand the gender-neuteral craze. So, you want your daughter to have a masculine name, but you also want your son to have a femminine name?

As a girl, I feel that it’s important that girls are strong and independent, but do you need a boyish name to accomplish that? Isn’t saying that the only way a girl will ever be strong and independent is if she has a masculine name surrendering to the beef-headed “men are stronger” belief?

In addition, I just don’t like those sqeaky-clean sounding polo-shirt-wearing names like Carter, or Ryker, or whatever else they come out with next, because they won’t be a baby forever. They’ll have to apply for a JOB and COLLEGE someday. If they have some little cutesy-wootzey name, people will be less psychologically inclined to take them seriously.

Personally, I like names like Teddy, Sterling, Montgomery – Names that are timeless, but not redundant like John, James, or William. However, I actually have every single one of those ‘redundant’ names on my middle names list, so…

Robert Says:

March 23rd, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Thank the Lord my parents named me after Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederate hero. And I agree wholeheartedly with Hannah. My girlfriend and I are engaged to be married and although we haven’t discussed it, I will definitely be for giving our sons traditional male names and our daughters traditional female names. None of these ridiculous unisex names that so many parents are giving their kids nowadays that are actually surnames.

Derek Says:

May 13th, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I named my son Ryker in 1989 because I wanted to make sure that he held a strong name that would make sure there was no mistakes that he was a male and strong. At the age of 21 he fits this descripition to a T. I have had thousands of compliments on his name over the years.

Whatever you do never give a male child a uni-sex and girls name. Gunner and Hunter also favorites on mine but I am way done having any kids.

Good luck to everyone!!!

CandaceMarie321 Says:

September 3rd, 2013 at 5:03 pm

If a name can’t be used for a boy it’s not really uni-sex is it?

I have two boys with what some (including my sister-in-law) would consider too feminine for boys: Kaelen, a unique spelling of Gaelic names meaning slender or warrior which we came to through Nikolas and Jensen, a Norwegian name literally meaning John’s SON. Apparently there are two women named Cailen and Jensen on some TV show I’ve never seen.

I think when it comes to naming your kids you find their name and that’s it whether it is very gender specific or more neutral. If you met my sons you’d know Kae and Jensen could not possibly be named anything else.

kitchi1 Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 11:21 pm

I’ve always thought Axel and Ace were very tough. Cane/Kane is, too.

kitchi1 Says:

June 25th, 2014 at 11:24 pm

I must add, that I don’t think names like Ryder or Ryker are tough. They are trying waay too hard to be masculine, that the names, in my opinion, are kind of funny.

When I see Ryder, all I see is “Ride her”.

The Ryder I met was a spoiled little boy who was always dirty (in every way). That’s what I picture a “Ryder” to be like.

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