Rule-Breaking Baby Names
They’ve found the perfect name, but it breaks all the rules. How can they reconcile using the name they love with their long-held preferences?
My husband and I are expecting our first baby, a daughter, in May. We have finally found “the” name, but I feel like a hypocrite! We spent years carefully compiling and editing our name list, only to find that our little girl’s name was never even on it. I like Lucille, Sybil, and Marceline. My husband likes Winifred and Violet. But sweet little Jay will be given her daddy’s middle name, and it feels incredibly easy and right. We knew it was her name the minute we said it aloud. We love the simplicity of it, that it FEELS so good, and I love naming her after her dad. But Jay is a boy name!
While I certainly support the new gender neutral naming trend, I often feel that what people perceive as genderless is actually anything but. It’s odd to me that naming daughters things like James and Elliot is so trendy right now, but these same parents wouldn’t necessarily name a son Sarah or Jennifer. Seems like a one-way street of “boys” names for girls, but not “girl” names for boys.
How can I make peace with bestowing a traditionally “boy” name upon our daughter, when our taste is otherwise feminine and vintage?
The Name Sage replies:
The cardinal rule of naming a child is this: you should use the name you love.
Maybe I’d try to talk you out of naming your daughter Lucifer. Or an unpronounceable string of letters, numbers, and characters. But outside of a very few thou-shall-nots, I tend to think we should trust our instincts.
That’s exactly what you’re doing, so I’d encourage you to proceed exactly as planned and name your daughter Jay.
It sounds like you have two concerns: first, that others will perceive your daughter’s traditionally masculine name as trendy, when it’s truly carefully considered; and second, that you’ve broken with your preferred style.
Let’s start with the issue of unisex names, which are so often boys’ names on girls. And yet, there’s more to this practice than a fleeting trend.
Many families – especially in the South – have handed down heritage names to sons and daughters alike over the generations. That’s why you’ll find women with names like Lanier and Sedley. It’s traditional, rather than trendy, and may be viewed as nicely egalitarian.
Even as Jennifer and Sarah remain exclusively used for girls, there has been a rise in true unisex names. Choices as traditional as Charlie or as modern as Storm are tough to pin down. Other names, like Rowan and Peyton, seem to work effortlessly for boys and girls alike. As a generation of Jordans and Taylors grows up, I suspect more parents may embrace truly unisex baby names for all of their children.
It helps that the name you’re choosing feels very wearable for a girl. Jay is traditionally masculine, but Faye and Kay? They’re most often feminine. Plus, from the early 1900s onwards, there’s a steady minority of girls named Jay. Is it conventional? No. But it’s not as extreme as naming a daughter Edward.
So yes, some may perceive your meaningful choice as trendy. Others might mishear your daughter’s name as Jade or Jane – perhaps even after you’ve corrected them more than once. But your reasons for choosing it are heartfelt, and it’s easy to imagine Jay wearing well on a girl.
Be confident in your reasons, and your daughter will be confident in her name, too.
The second question is harder. That’s because any name choice requires leaving dozens of other possibilities behind.
Or maybe not. We all have outlier names on our lists – the one that’s frillier or more tailored, rarer or more common than most of our favorites. When it comes down to the final decision, sometimes that outlier choice does end up feeling like the right name.
Even though it changes everything you’ve ever thought about naming a child, I think the kind of clarity you’ve experienced about your daughter’s name is a gift.
If it’s not what you expected, well … I think that’s a pretty good introduction to the surprises of parenthood!
Readers, have you chosen a name that seemed very different from your personal style? Any advice for Julia?
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on February 21st, 2017 at 8:00 pm
Go for it, use Jay! From your letter, it is so obvious that it’s the right name for your baby. And Jay is very cute on a girl! I agree with Abby that you could use a longer, vintage name in the middle if you wanted, but you certainly don’t need to. I think it’s great that you and your husband both love Jay and know that it’s the right name for your daughter.
on February 21st, 2017 at 8:17 pm
Bottom line: don’t name your child based on politics.
on February 21st, 2017 at 8:53 pm
I know a girl named Jaye, pronounced Jay. The “e” feminized it a bit.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:48 am
It seems OK to me. Somehow short names seem to move in gender better to me than longer ones.
I say that as an adult and teacher.
As a child, I would not want to be named Jay. I actually love the name because of my childhood book associations with it. As a boy, I would like it. As a girl, I would wish you had named me some other name and called me Jay, thus giving me more options.
For what it is worth. Not a condemnation, just a question. Would you have wanted to be named Jay or your dad’s name? I love my dad, and his name, but not for me.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 1:15 am
In this case, I’d be tempted to give her the middle name Jay with one of the names off your list as her first name, and call her Jay.
Normally, I very much believe in name your child what you are going to call it, but it this case, I think its the best option. It would give her more options for names when she’s older, as not every little girl, or woman, is going to be happy with a very masculine name. I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated being named after my dad.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 1:49 am
Jay is a cute name go for it. If you wanted you could always call her Jayne or Jayla or Jacie or Jaylyn but I have a feeling you wouldn’t like any of those so just use Jay.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 3:16 am
With plenty of little girls running around named Jayla, Jaya etc. Jay feels completely usable on a little girl. I actually work with a lady who goes by Jay 95% of the time, although her birth certificate reads Jeanette.
If you still feel uncertain, you could put a longer J name on the certificate and still call her Jay.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 4:27 am
I think you should definitely use Jay. I absolutely love Jay for a girl, If I was to have a baby girl I would seriously consider naming her Jay.
To me Jay has a sweet vintage feel so it actually seems to fit with your naming style quite well even if it is shorter than the other names you had considered.
I also think of Jay as a truly unisex name rather than a boy’s name used for a girl (I have actually met more female Jays than male Jays) My granny had a cousin named Jay who is probably in her 80s now so it doesn’t seem trendy at all to me.
It makes me so happy to see someone considering calling their daughter Jay – it’s a wonderful name for a little girl.
The fact that it is her dads middle name makes it extra special!
on February 22nd, 2017 at 8:41 am
My roommate’s name is Jalia and she’s gone by Jay for a lot of her life! She still uses it in places like Starbucks where she doesn’t feel the need to spell out her full name or explain that it’s “like Julia but with an A.” I think Jay on a girl is fine.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 9:21 am
Jay is cute, and it works on a girl.
I vote it is fine as it is, but you could always consider something like Jaylynn or Jayleen if you want to make it more clearly a girl name.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 10:02 am
I vote that you use a more vintage-sounding, traditionally feminine name that starts with J and use Jay as a nickname – maybe Josephine, June, Jane, Juniper, Juliette if it isn’t too close to your name – simply because those names are more your taste and because I share your “unisex names are a one-way street” concerns. Also, if you later have more children, those names are a lot more likely to complement whatever you’d want to use then.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 11:32 am
What if you spelled it Jae or Jaye? While I never would have thought of it, it is similar to May and Kay.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:12 pm
My mother’s middle name is Jay, after her father. I’ve always found it very sweet. Use it, it’s so clear that you love it!
on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:21 pm
I actually don’t see Jay as a boy’s name at all. To me, it’s one of the few truly unisex names. It’s a nature name- a bird- and I don’t think that most nature names are inherently gendered. It’s also a nickname, and just as logical a nickname for Jamesina or Jamie as James. It’s much different to me than Elliot or even Mackenzie.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:43 pm
To me, Jay is a nature name and that makes it fairly unisex. I can see it on a boy or a girl like River or Wren. I think spelling it Jae or Jaye takes it out of that nature name category and loses most of the charm imo. If you are feeling on the fence about it, I liked the suggestion of using any traditionally feminine name that starts with J to get to the nickname Jay, but if Jay feels perfect I say go for it!
on February 22nd, 2017 at 2:07 pm
Could you call her by both names since Jay is so short? Ex: Violet Jay
on February 22nd, 2017 at 3:26 pm
While I think naming her Jay is fine. What happens if/when you have another child? That’s when naming preference really comes into play. Is it important for you to have a cohesive sib-set? What names do you like with Jay? Are those names you actually like? I think what you have done is pick an outlier name.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 4:10 pm
I love the name Jay on a girl or boy. Perhaps you could choose a feminine J name and still call her Jay. Or you could alter the spelling. Or just stick to Jay. Either way works, I think.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 5:08 pm
I do not think there is anything wrong with using Jay, but if you are worried, why not Jayde? It’s not the same but it’s a tribute name.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 6:32 pm
I think Jay is darling for a little girl. If you are concerned because it doesn’t match your style you could always use a long vintage name that starts with a J, she could take her father’s middle name and you could have the comfort and the name you love. I think Jay is great on its own but if you are concerned maybe try :
Many of these names have built in nicknames but if you always call her Jay it won’t be a problem. Again I think Jay is great on its own but if you feel nervous then one of these might be the winner
on February 22nd, 2017 at 10:32 pm
You know, I think it just might work. I think Jay Marceline would be a good combination. Personally it’s probably not a name that I’d pick for a daughter, but as others have pointed out, it does have that nature/true unisex feel, and it’s definitely not the same as naming your daughter James or George or Thomas. It’s just modern and nature-y enough to be a unisex name that actually works.
on February 22nd, 2017 at 11:24 pm
I love it! I know a little girl named Jayleigh after Grandpa and mom. J and JJ where nicknames of mine when I was little. I think that it is also a nature name makes it well suited for a gender neutral. ( Blue Jays, Mocking Jays and such.)
on February 22nd, 2017 at 11:47 pm
My name is Jayme. I’ve seen several Jaynes and even met a female Jaye. Jaymes (pronounced James) is a nickname of mine and would be a darling first name on a girl.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 3:24 pm
I love it! I actually though Jay was for a girl and not a boy, but the more I researched it I discovered that it was commonly used for boys. I think the name Jay is sweet and works for a boy or a girl. Also, if you love AND it feels right, then definitely use it.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 4:18 pm
My little sister’s friend is named Jaya and is often called Jay, and Jaya Marceline is really cute. But I also totally support Jay Marceline!
on February 24th, 2017 at 6:29 am
Louis Tomlinson’s mother’s name is Jay. I think jay could be used as short version of Joanna.
on February 24th, 2017 at 12:27 pm
I knew of a little girl named Jae. Always liked it.
on February 28th, 2017 at 11:43 pm
I like it. I’m from the South, and as Abby said, it’s more common there to give girls gender-neutral or even masculine family names. My daughter’s name is Cates Margaret. Cates is my husband’s middle name, and his grandmother’s maiden name. My son, had he been a girl, would have been Carter Elizabeth – Carter was my grandmother’s maiden name.
I liked giving my daughter a super-traditional, obviously feminine middle name to balance out her unusual, neutral first name. I figured if she grows up to hate her name, she’ll have something timeless to fall back on. Maybe you could do the same thing – you could use one of the feminine names that you listed, or pick a female family member to honor.
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