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Rule-Breaking Baby Names

February 21, 2017 Abby Sandel

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?

Julia writes:

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.

The acid test is whether we use traditionally feminine names for boys. While it remains the rare exception, there are stories like this one about a boy named Jayne.

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.

Maybe choosing an amazing, traditionally feminine name like Violet or Marceline for your child’s middle name would give you the best of both worlds.

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?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

View all of Abby's articles

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