Boys’ Names for Girls
By Pamela Redmond Satran
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds were hardly the first parents to use a boys’ name for a baby girl when they named their daughter James. But they helped popularize a trend that includes other celebrities who’ve used boy names for girls Jessica Simpson‘s daughter Maxwell, Mark Zuckerberg’s baby girl August, and Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s little girl Wyatt.
Thousands of American baby girls were given boys’ names, or names closely associated with male figures, last year. We’re not talking about gender-neutral names such as Riley and Robin, Blue or North that work equally well for children of both sexes. We’re talking about the female equivalent to naming a boy Sue.
So why is it okay, even fashionable and attractive to name a girl James but not to name a boy Jane or Sue? Why indeed, say some. Where some believe that naming your daughter Ezra or Declan is a feminist act, others claim it’s actually sexist, given that it’s hardly considered cool or cute to give traditionally female names — Elizabeth, say, or Maeve — to boys.
Love the practice or hate it, boys’ names are being given in ever greater numbers every year to girls. We combed the social security lists to find male names that rank below the Top 1000 but were given to at least 20 baby girls in 2017. The statistics represent number of baby girls who received each name in 2007 compared with ten years later, showing increases of double, triple, ten times — even 89 times in the case of Jupiter — in the number of girls given these traditionally-male names.
August, 99 -> 254
Chandler, 135 -> 246
Palmer, 24 -> 246
Lincoln, 13 -> 237
Ezra, 74 -> 205
Noah, 90 -> 170
Quincy, 103 -> 166
Bentley, 81 -> 149
Austin, 87 -> 137
Hudson, 48 ->125
Ira, 17 -> 128
Jude, 46 -> 122
Wyatt, 11 -> 107
Bennett, 40 -> 106
Maddox, 64 -> 102
Charleston, 23 -> 99
Perry, 31 -> 96
Luca, 15 -> 92
Sullivan, 37 -> 91
Jupiter, 0 -> 89
Ryder, 26 -> 86
Asher, 31 -> 85
Beckett, 5 -> 85
Anderson, 39 -> 84
Channing, 77 -> 84
Bowie, 9 -> 82
Hendrix, 10 -> 77
James, 33 ->77
Jameson, 50 -> 72
Asa, 41 -> 71
Hayes, 9 -> 67
Maxwell, 6 -> 66
Wrigley, 8 – > 65
Dawson, 20 -> 64
Everest, 0 -> 64
Landon, 26 -> 64
Wesley, 34 -> 60
Atlas, 0 -> 56
Levi, 15 -> 53
Lamar, 17 -> 52
Tate, 35 -> 52
Beau, 20 -> 51
Bradley, 12 -> 48
Everett, 5 -> 48
Porter, 13 -> 46
Tennyson, 14 -> 43
Judah, 23 -> 42
Reid, 21 -> 42
Max, 8 -> 41
Greyson, 22 -> 40
Declan, 0 -> 39
Liam, 11 -> 36
Davis, 17 -> 34
Soren, 27 -> 34
Finn, 14 -> 33
Orion, 13 -> 32
Archer, 0 -> 31
Lyndon, 7 -> 31
Nixon, 8 -> 31
Blaise, 11 -> 31
Owen, 13 -> 29
Milo, 0 -> 27
Nehemiah, 15 -> 26
Basil, 0 -> 24
Connor, 18 -> 23
Bowen, 0 -> 22
Cohen, 5 -> 21
Roman, 7 -> 21
Clark, 7 -> 20
Preston, 17 -> 20
But while the overall trend of giving boys’ names to girls may be booming, a significant number of boys’ names are given to fewer baby girls today than they were a decade ago, as illustrated by this list of names whose use for girls declined from 2007 to 2017.
Ashton, 230 ->192
Tyler, 319 -> 174
Grayson, 191 -> 127
Cooper, 100 -> 99
Christian, 217 -> 90
Bryce, 115 -> 88
Evan, 115 -> 86
Brady, 64 -> 61
Mason, 95 -> 58
Jaden, 993 -> 55
Tanner, 76 -> 51
Auden, 234 -> 50
Chase, 148 -> 50
Jensen, 50 -> 49
Tristan, 194 -> 48
Colby, 68 -> 47
Kyle, 42 -> 46
Madden, 54 -> 44
Aiden, 175 -> 43
Michael, 51 -> 33
Cody, 35 -> 31
Jackson, 33 -> 26
Griffin, 24 -> 20
Julian, 68 -> 22
Jonah, 26 -> 23
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on August 13th, 2018 at 5:33 pm
I used to hate boy’s names on girls, but I have to say, the idea has definitely grown on me. I also like certain girl’s names on boys too.
On this list, I love Archer equally on a boy as a girl, and greatly prefer Noah as a girls name (though I might spell it Noa). I can see Jupiter and Orion growing on me too as girls names actually, though just now I love both for boys.
on August 13th, 2018 at 5:43 pm
I like Austin though I’d spell it Austen. I also like August, James, and I LOVE the idea of Noa!
on August 13th, 2018 at 5:53 pm
Okay my typical rule of thumb is that if it’s been in the top 100 names for either gender (Carson , Owen , Nora etc.) in the last decade , it has origins that are not European , Latin or western or it’s a very classic name that is quite common for one genders middle name (James , Jane , Sue , Rose etc.) then it’s not fair game for gender switching. Anything outside of that is fair game. I typically like a lot of these names because they would work just as well on any gender or human being. Names like Sophia and Olivia or Logan and Wyatt typically aren’t my fave because there’s an expectation about who would wear that name. For example a Sophia is almost expected to girly and into princesses and makeup or a Logan is almost expected to be manly and into sports. And whilst there is nothing wrong with those character traits , the expectation could be damaging on a child who isn’t like that. I could see a quiet , shy boy who loves to read and draw rock the name Jensen just as well as a girl who is athletic and outgoing or a sensitive soul wise beyond on their years who writes their own poetry. There’s nothing wrong with naming your baby Sophia or Olivia or Logan or Wyatt if that is what your name style is. But I have to say there is something cool about a name that fits with the wearer no matter who they are.
For references here are some of the names I like on this list – Jensen , Palmer , Chandler , Orion , Everett , Tate , August , Auden , Porter , Reid , Hayes , Bowie , Quincy and Perry
on August 17th, 2018 at 12:00 am
Are we going to get a girls’ names for boys blog soon? I’d love to see Nameberry’s take on it!
on August 17th, 2018 at 3:17 am
I just think it’d be too much of a bother for the child. In addition, I feel like a girl named James would be expected to be a tomboy etc and I dislike names that kind of force stereotypes on people.
Oh, and I’m not a fan of people changing the gender of names from a different culture (for example, I’ve heard of a girl being named Ares)
That said, I’m also of the opinion that all nature names could work on any gender. Though if it’s a name like Willow, which is very popular, it should stay as a middle name only on a boy.
on August 17th, 2018 at 5:28 am
Ira (EE-ra) is a Girl name in Germany. And Luca is the definition of an unisex. Gender switching names are not a big thing here, because of the legal situation. Although I would love to read a post about girls names for boys from you!
on August 17th, 2018 at 7:02 am
I went to school with girls named Kyle and Michael, and know equally boys and girls named Logan, never really gave it much thought. The names were just that, their names. Michael was named after the woman who played the mother on the Walton’s, so gender bending names have been around for a long time. It is adults who give assumptions to names, not children. They just accept each other with no predisposed notions. We need to go back to the innocence of childhood and just think That’s cool when you hear someones name.
on August 17th, 2018 at 8:19 am
I’m not a fan of names that are clearly transferred surnames being classed as “boy names”. Women in the English-speaking world are not given different surnames from their brothers, and as such, names such as Auden, Tennyson, Hendrix, Hudson, Tate, and Hayes are absolutely unisex.
on August 17th, 2018 at 8:51 am
@beynotce I agree! Actually, the only Hayes I have ever met was a girl and it didn’t feel masculine in the slightest! I actually know lots of girls with surnames as first names though, it’s very common in the south.
on August 17th, 2018 at 10:00 am
It’s funny, but I used to hate it, then I will hear a traditionally boy’s name used on a girl, and it will grow on me. For example, I love the name Aidy and Aidy Bryant’s name is actually Aidan. So, I think, sure, I would use Aidan on a girl. LOL
I would think that it must be annoying for a girl to be confused for a boy though and vice versa. Unisex names can be just as confusing. Personally, I would choose names that would make it easy to distinguish the gender.
on August 17th, 2018 at 12:39 pm
Thanks for all these really insightful comments, everyone. Some of you might be interested in this blog we did on unisex or female names that are becoming more masculine: https://nameberry.com/blog/unisex-baby-names-going-to-the-boys
It may be time for us to revisit that one.
Also, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the gender breakdown of several of the top unisex names.https://nameberry.com/unisex-names/splits
on August 17th, 2018 at 1:51 pm
I’m in the category “others claim it’s actually sexist”. But I have no problem with Riley, North, Oakley, Aspen, Jupiter, Eden, Wren, etc, on both genders. They are truly unisex to me (because they have no history or popped up on both sex at the same time), which is different with Elliott (from Elijah), Atlas and Zephyr (greek gods), August (from Augustus), Jackson, Orion, Ezra, Jude, Wyatt, James, Everest (not just a mountain, it’s a variant of Evariste), Levi, Liam, Beau (masculine french word???)… I also think it’s weird to not respect the name’s history if it comes from another country.
on August 17th, 2018 at 1:58 pm
From this list, I find Quincy, Austen, Perry, Bowie, Asa, Wrigley, Tate, Tennyson, Lyndon, Clarke, Auden, Madden, Jupiter, Channing wearable for a girl.
on August 17th, 2018 at 10:13 pm
Call me when we start naming boys Sarah, Isabelle, and Emma…!
on August 18th, 2018 at 12:49 am
@indiefendi2 I hear you. But I don’t think you’ll be getting that call anytime soon. However, I think it’s cheering that more boys are getting unisex names these names and that names such as Robin are being used more often for boys after swinging very far in the girls’ direction. In 1980 (I just looked this up), there were 7 girls named Robin for every boy; today it’s 1.2 girls for every boy, nearly even!
on August 18th, 2018 at 4:11 pm
(Kyle actually went up.)
on August 18th, 2018 at 11:28 pm
I do adore Robin for a boy as well as a girl. That’s a perfect unisex option right there! Same with Rowan.
on August 19th, 2018 at 7:37 am
I agree with @McCharlie in that a) it’s weird to not respect the culture, and b) I think it’s sexist. I’m fine with truly unisex names, like Eden or Austen, but I’m not a fan of girls named Liam, James, Matthew, etcetera.
on August 19th, 2018 at 4:45 pm
The poll was a bit hard to answer. For my kids, I like clearly gendered names. However, I love gender bending names for others… as long as they do it both ways…
on August 20th, 2018 at 1:39 pm
I was going to say the same thing @beynotce! I don’t see how Chandler, Quincy, Bentley, Palmer et al can be called male names, when they’re surnames and surnames are always androgynous in English.
@Wittyusername103 – Why is it all right to change the gender of European names, but not ones from the rest of the world? I understand that we might have more of a prerogative to change the rules of names from our own culture, but I don’t see why a non-Welsh American would have more of a right to use Rhys on a girl than they would to use, say, Ayumu.
@McCharlie – I completely agree with your point, but how is Jupiter different from Atlas and Zephyr?
on August 20th, 2018 at 5:10 pm
I feel like the names that work best, at least from an American standpoint, tend be surname names. A lot of names across the spectrum of unisex, from more or less true unisex names like Riley and Taylor to more boyish names like Elliott and Spencer, were originally surnames, and I think that goes a long way to 1) justifying giving them to girls and 2) having them sound like a reasonable thing to call a girl.
First, a lot of girls legitimately do have these names BECAUSE it’s a family surname, like naming a daughter Spencer because, say, it was her grandmother’s maiden name. That’s a wonderful connection, and also serves as a simple explanation for any “But isn’t that a boy’s name?” reactions. Second, people are often called by their last names (alone, not just Mr/Ms/Mrs Lastname) anyway. When I was in high school, we had a bunch of guys who were almost always called by some form of their last name, as well as several girls. Some had the sort of last name you could easily use as a first name, some didn’t, but because this is a thing that happens, there have probably been girls called Spencer for ages, simply because it was their last name.
I think those are the only ones that I pretty widely accept the first time I hear them. After that, the next best candidates are ones that sound similar to other unisex or established girls’ names. For example, Asa sounds similar to Ava, Ada, and to a lesser extent, all the -aisy and -acy names (Daisy, Maisie, Macy, Lacey), so it’s plausibly feminine, and since it isn’t super common, we have less of an instinctive association with it being a boy’s name. Another reasonable option are ones linked via nicknames, either by naming a girl a nickname that’s traditionally a boy’s name but can also be short for a girl’s name (like Max by itself, rather than Maxine), or, less comfortably, a boy’s name that shares a nickname with another girl’s name (like Maxwell, although that’s also a surname).
I feel like word names should work too, but most of the examples I can think of come closer to true unisex (Rowan, Sage, Robin, River) than gender flipped.
On a related note, I feel like I’ve been seeing the name Morgan shift back to boys in recent years in fiction. There doesn’t seem to have been a corresponding rise in real life (it’s dropped from #404 to #685 over the past decade), but maybe it’ll make it feel like more of an option over time, if it keeps happening. It’d be interesting to see a name shift from mostly boys to mostly girls and then back towards boys.
on August 21st, 2018 at 12:33 pm
So many of these could go either way. August, Jude, Reid and Luca – I’ve known girls with each of these names and they didn’t raise eyebrows.
on August 23rd, 2018 at 9:21 am
Nameberry has always been super hypocritical when it comes to unisex names (which for the most part are boy names borrowed by girls). You click on any of these names, and they’ll always have a paragraph on how this name sounds “much better on a girl”, how its “more popular for a girl”, or worse “dont use it on a boy”. Even when one of these names is actually more common for boys, they’ll always reference how many girls also share the name, usually with a comment like “but its rising fast as a girl name”, as if to discourage these parents from using them on boys.
For example Kimberly, traditionally masculine, this is what the supposedly “experts say”:
– For a boy, don’t you dare.
So how is nameberry encouraging the use of these unisex names for boys? They’ll aplaud any old traditional male name on a girl, whether its James or Sean, but heck, give a boy a name that used to me masculine like Lindsay, and they’ll panic and write completely shameful paragraphs on why you shouldn’t use it – heck I’m not even talking about using names like Anna or Martha here, I’d imagine you guys would have a full on panic attack.
But then its been years since Nameberry has continuously proven to be completely biased in this subject, you’re definitely pushing an agenda.
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