Boys’ Names for Girls: A Key To Success?

Will giving your daughter a masculine name — as Heidi Klum and Seal did with their newborn daughter Lou — increase her odds for career success?

It might if she goes into the legal profession, according to a new study.  Women with masculine names make more money as lawyers than those with feminine names and are more likely to be appointed to judgeships, say researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Not only that, but the more masculine the name, the better.  A woman named Kelly has a five percent greater chance of becoming a judge than a Sue, while Cameron’s odds are tripled and a female Bruce’s are quintupled.

The researchers rated each name’s masculinity by comparing the number of females versus males with that name in the state.  They also controlled for income and class, given that masculine-sounding names are more often used for girls in South Carolina by upper class parents.

Even given the controls, female lawyers with masculine names earned more money and rose to judgeships more often than their counterparts named Melissa and Amanda.

Does this mean that parents mindful of their daughters’ future career success should choose more masculine names?  Yes and no.  Remember, this is the legal profession in the south we’re talking about – in other words, a conservative milieu — and female lawyers who rose through the career ranks in a comparatively more sexist time.  More expansive views of women in decades to come will undoubtedly help girls named Emma gain credibility as easily as those named Emerson.

But the author of the study was reportedly so swayed by the results that he named his own baby daughter Collins.

In case you’re of similar mind, feminine names with masculine nicknames do the trick: Samantha to Sam or Ashley to Ash, for example.

For full names that are used for both boys and girls, we decided to construct a masculinity index of our own, dividing the number of boys who got the name in recent years by number of girls. (In most cases we used 2008 statistics, but in a few cases we used the numbers for the decade so far.)  The higher the number, the more boys currently get the name compared with girls; in the case of fractions, more girls than boys get the name.

A couple of notes: We did not factor spelling variations into our quotient, which can skew the results and also make a name seem more feminine (Rylee) or masculine (Jaden).  Also, the changing gender identity of many names means that a girls’ name that seems boyish today might seem anything but by the time your newborn gets to law school.

Even if you’re not figuring your daughter’s chances at a judgeship or even naming a girl, this index might come in useful in judging a name’s comparative gender identity.

DYLAN – 20.36

LOGAN – 18.87

DEVON – 11.2

JAYDEN – 9.08

CAMERON – 7.90

ANGEL – 4.92

ZION – 3.68

JORDAN – 3.28

HAYDEN – 2.22

PHOENIX – 1.75

SKYLER – 1.70

ROWAN – 1.61

DAKOTA – 1.27

JUSTICE – 1.18

RILEY – 0.71

PEYTON – 0.67

FINLEY – 0.57

EMERSON – 0.50

AVERY – 0.30

ALEXIS – 0.24

HARPER – 0.22

LONDON – 0.22

KENDALL – 0.16

MORGAN – 0.13

BAILEY – 0.07

What do YOU think about this issue? Do you believe that girls with boyish names have a better chance of success, and would you give your daughter a masculine names to improve her career prospects?  Let us know!

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34 Responses to “Boys’ Names for Girls: A Key To Success?”

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J Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 1:50 am

That’s absurd. There can’t possibly be enough females named Bruce to (lawyers/judges or not) to lend any credibility to this study.

Elea Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 2:21 am

This is interesting but I agree with J. I’m sure they put a lot of research in to this, but they seem to have made such a wide sweeping conclusion (boys names make girls successful) based on a very small and restricted criteria (one profession in one geographical area).

There have been other studies with a wider focus that have shown that children with ‘weird’ names (this includes gender-bending) are less likely to be offered an interview in top businesses based on the name on their application form.

My point? That studies contradict each other all the time, and while they are interesting, should never be taken as gospel imo.

Meaghan Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 6:35 am

I don’t know about “weird” names getting fewer job interviews, but I know MIT did a study that determined people with names that sounded “black” (like, say, DeShawn) were less likely to get calls from potential employers than people with names that sounded “white” (like Donald).

I agree with the above posters — this study is too narrow to be of wider use.

phaedra Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 7:31 am

I sure hope it’s not true! Never been a fan of boys’ names for girls.

Tulip Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 8:05 am

That should help out my daughter Finleigh! But I’m not sure I’ll be picking a boy’s name for the little girl that I’m expecting. I bet she’ll do just fine!

Patricia Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 8:16 am

Really awful to think parents have to choose between giving their baby girl a male name or ‘dooming’ her to second rate success with a feminine name like Emma, Emily, Sophia, Elizabeth, Chloe, etc. What happened to feminism? Wasn’t the whole point gender equality, not women having to be pseudo-men including giving up our names and taking on theirs?

I wonder how parents who are so concerned about their daughter’s success that they give her a male name are going to raise her so that their ambitions for her will be realized. What if their would-be corporate lawyer wants to pursue a more ordinary career?

As the above posters have mentioned, this is just one name study, narrow in scope. I hope few parents of girls follow this advice (although some parents have already been giving their girls boys’ names without seeing this study and will, no doubt, continue to do so). I personally find NO appeal in boys’ names on little girls and am wary of parents choosing their child’s career path before birth of said child.

I feel confident that women with solid female names will be just as successful, if not more so, as A Girl Named Bruce.

JustADad Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 8:25 am

Agree with J, not like there are so many female Bruces out there to make a statistical difference. (And Kelly as a boys’ name?-I’d consider it unisex, with a decided female majority.) And the South is its own naming culture, where surnames have been used much more for first names for girls much more than other regions. Notice that our three female Supreme Court justices–Sandra, Ruth, and Sonia–all have feminine names, and you can’t rise higher in the legal profession than that.

What matters far more than a name is the encouragement and support we give girls to pursue whatever career or calling they have.

namefan Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 8:42 am

Here’s my blog post I made back in August on that study:

Like I mentioned there, there was probably some truth to that study when the Boomers were entering into the workforce (whoever did it is probably someone from that generation), but is not really applicable for today’s young adults much less for babies being born right now. If you ask someone born in the 1980s or later, chances are they’ll say that if anything being female is an advantage (notice how among Millennials the girls seem to be outpacing the boys academically).

Andrea Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 9:23 am

Heidi Klum is German and the name Lou and variants with Lou such as Louane, Louana, Louna, ad infinitum, are extremely popular right now in France and Belgium and Germany for little girls. I doubt she saw the name as particularly masculine. She was just following the trends in her home country.

judicialobserver Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 9:58 am

I work with judges in a southern state so I found this study to be very interesting. We have jurists named Fancy and Caprice; not exactly masculine names, but they are elected to public office. Our State Supreme Court has outgoing justice named Harriett and an incoming justice named Eva. Other high ranking female judges include Sharon, Cheryl, Barbara, Cathy, Sherry, Evelyn, Elsa, Laura, Jane, Terry, Anne, Sue, Jan, Diane, Catherine, Karen, Sandee, Phylis, Rebecca, Marialyn, Linda (2), Carolyn, Molly, Elizabeth, Mary, Ann, Guadalupe, Nelda, Dori, Gina, Rose, Adele, Leslie, and Kem. I think these names reflect many things: classic names, no nonsense names, ethnic heritage, and what was popular at the time most of these women were born.

I agree with JustADad; South Carolina strikes me as a place where family surnames would be used more in old families where the legal profession may have been a traditional occupation of the family.

I like classic feminine names for girls and I would think voters in southern states would prefer their women to be women. But that’s just my opinion and in no way scientific. However one of my name test is putting whatever name I like with Supreme Court Justice to see how it flows.

But then Christopher Buckley named a U.S. Supreme Court Justice Pepper Cartwright in his satirical novel, Supreme Courtship and it worked.

Sorry long post; interesting topic.

jenniferjosephine Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 10:41 am

I don’t agree with this at all. In fact, I think the trend will prove just the opposite. In twenty or thirty years, when today’s babies are establishing their careers, the boy-names-on-girls trend will be dated and time-stamped. And, if I’m judging the trending of it correctly … somewhat downmarket, depending on the name.

Giving a girl a “leg up” in life by giving her a masculine name leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And I’m sorry, but you’ll never convince me that little Emerson and Rileigh have a better chance of becoming a judge than Jane, Audrey or Catherine.

And, if it IS true, than what messed-up message does this imply? That femininity automatically equals weakness and a degree of incompentance?

I have three daughters, all with equally feminine names. I would never give them a name that did anything less than celebrate their femininity. Parents that choose a boyish name are, at the very least, subconsciously compensating on behalf of their daughters. Something that SHOULD be very unnecessary in this day and age.

Jenny Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 10:43 am

I agree with most of the aforementioned criticisms of the study but do find the hypothesis rather fascinating (and, as a feminist, maybe also a bit disheartening.)

Another possibility is that the kinds of families that are giving their baby girls such masculine names are the kinds of families that are raising their little girls in a, hm, more masculine way, such that drives a person to pursue a more traditionally masculine career as corporate law? I’m a Jenny who practiced corporate law for years before becoming a mom, and, although anecdotal in nature and thus not ripe for making generalizations, I found that my upbringing in an atmosphere of gender equality made much more of a difference in my chosen career path than my feminine name. Our hope is to raise our daughter in a similar fashion such that her decidedly feminine name, Evangelina, doesn’t hold her back from pursuing whatever career she wants. She can be anything she wants to be- her name notwithstanding.

susan Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 11:02 am

I tend to love strong but feminine names for girls such as Elizabeth and Veronica, so I hope this study isn’t true. It would be so sad if we all stopped using feminine names. Makes me think of the ’80’s when business women wore mannish suits with those stupid ties at the top of their shirts that they casually tied around eadh other. Looked absurd! As a woman, I love feeling strong and assertive – but also very feminine. I have worked very hard to help my daughter feel that way as well.

k_lareese Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 11:05 am

I thought that this was an interesting study, but I think that it is really just isolated to the generation and location demographics. I am a lawyer in the West and I have not found this to be the case at all. In fact, from what I have seen in law school and out is that the classic, feminine names seem to generate the most success, along with the more common names of the generation. The three women justices on the State Supreme Court are Mary, Nancy and Allison. Mary is our Chief Justice! My friends from law school that got the best jobs were Kathryn, Jessica, Laura, and Miranda. So, I really think that in the long run it does not matter. I think that it comes down to preferences, networking, hard work and drive anyway, not a name.

SJ Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 11:31 am

I’m kind of surprised that your masculinity index (if I’m reading it right) showed that so many more Dylans are boys than girls… For some reason I think of that name as being much more unisex, even girl-skewing, than many of the other names on your list.

I like some “boyish” names on girls… Not the traditional masculine names like William or James, but the “surname” types like Emerson and Harper I think can sound fresh and energetic on a girl. I think when you see “Emerson Smith” on an application, you don’t necessarily know whether the person walking in the door will be male or female, and it prevents you from forming certain ideas about them beforehand, which may be advantageous for the applicant in the end. I agree with the posters who’ve said that they don’t like the idea of naming your child based on what you hope their specific future profession will be, though.

I do always wonder, though–if your daughters are named Emerson and Harper, what do you name your son? Do you go with Skyler, because you like those names, and end up with everyone confused over who’s the girl and who’s the boy, or do you feel the need to go with William or even a “powerboy” name like Duke or Clint?

Kayt Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

I’m sorry, but I’m going to echo the other posters here. I don’t think this is a wide enough study to convince me. I don’t like frilly names for girls, but I flat out hate masculine names on girls. We have Daphne or Caroline picked out for a future daughter. I feel like it’s unfair to give our daughters flat out masculine names like Bruce or Addison. It’s like you’re telling your daughter you can’t be both feminine and successful, and that seems wrong to me.

JustADad Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

When there are so many varied choices for girls names, ranging from frilly to sleek to strong to luminous, why people would want to poach from the shrinking pool of boys’ names is absolutely beyond me.

Jenny Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Totally agree with JustADad. Though I find a handful of more masculine names to be cute for girls (Camryn, Taylor), it’s so frustrating to see so many boy names going to the girl side. I like only a few boy names as it is, so to see them swept up by team pink…. frustrating! 🙂

Natalie Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

This study includes “male” sounding names like Jan, Leslie and Kelly. There are so many flaws in this study, I don’t know where to start, and I can’t believe you didn’t take a more analytical view of it. Usually you’re really on top of that.

They did not actually control for income or class according to what I read about the study when it came out MONTHS ago, in the sense that if you’re a girl who was named Vaughn 30 years ago, you might have at that time been privileged. That doesn’t mean you are now.

Also, what are the names of our female justices? Thought so.

redridinghood Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Personally speaking if I had to be called a beautiful feminine name and give up my chances of being a judge, I would choose a lovely name every time! Speaking as a Brit, I think it is codswallop! Sorry. I just got more and more cross as I read it through.


JustADad Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 3:49 pm

My own name is an entirely masculine name, and I am named after my grandmother, who had this masculine-style family name, and she often wished she’d had a more feminine name (like her sisters). Guess what part of the country I’m from? Yep, the South.

Pam Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

A note on Dylan: I too was VERY surprised that it skewed so heavily male. I think of it as pretty androgynous and also leaning feminine. But I also was surprised that Riley, Peyton, and Morgan were predominantly female. And that Devon, Cameron, and Jordan skewed so male. It was eye-opening to boil it down to relative numbers vs. impression or even standing on the Top 1000.

teabee Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 5:22 pm

If people want their daughters to be successful career women it’s more helpful to teach them to be assertive, ambitious, fearless, and meticulously competent than to give them masculine names. I think Jenny brought up a great point about parents who name their daughters masculine names possibly raising them in a more traditionally masculine manner, which is a considerable possibility but difficult to measure. There are so many factors with a greater share of responsibility for success or failure than names, even if one has an unusual or horrid name. Class status is definitely more of a limiting factor in my mind, and accounts for what we’re often really referring to when talking about names that sound a certain way in terms of success. Of course, the ultimate name of female success is a funny one: O-P-R-A-H!

Andrea Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I take this sort of study with an enormous grain of salt. I don’t think names have that huge an impact. Boys names are popular for girls because they’re in style. If anything, I’d say that the sort of parents who give a girl a name like Riley or Dylan are maybe more likely to encourage the kid to fill typically feminine roles because they maybe are more fashion-minded. These are the sort of name I associate with cheerleaders and beauty queens, not necessarily with Supreme Court justices and astronauts.

Toni Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Having lived my life with a masculine name, I can honestly say I hate it! I wish my parents had given me a feminine name and used the masculine as a nickname instead. I’ve had professors, interviewers, and customers be shocked when they were expecting to see “Tony” and they meet me, “Toni.” I was teased mercilessly as a child for having a “boys name” and get asked ALL the time what my “real” name is. Toni IS my real name, tyvm.

There are so many beautiful, strong, feminine names out there. I just do not see the point in stealing from the boys. I was very cautious when selecting the name for my baby daughter and chose a classic name that is undeniably feminine.

CarolynR Says:

October 14th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Sounds like a study done for the sake of getting some attention. For the record, the female partners at my firm (13th largest law firm in the world) are called Carolyn, Angela, Amanda, Michelle, Jacinda, Mitzi, Linda and Caroline. Not a blokey name amongst them!!!

Olivia Says:

October 15th, 2009 at 2:03 am

I like Dylan on a girl. Because I want her to be a judge. Heehee.

Karen Says:

October 16th, 2009 at 10:57 am

I find it at least interesting to think about. We talk a lot about “image” of a name on the forums, and to me, this is an “image” thing. A merely masculine name is nothing. Some of them sound kind of fluffy on a girl, actually. When I think of a name’s strength, I try to think can this person be a judge, particularly – how does this person’s name sound when arriving to the bench and being announced. I’m not against male names for girls, but this “study” doesn’t seem to account for image, and as well, most of these women were named a few decades ago, and trends change so fast.

Some male names and some female names just sound weak. Not that the person can’t be strong, but they will have some prejudices against their name on paper before anyone meets them, unfair as that may be. A kooky, trendy boy’s name on a girl does no better to set her on the right foot than a kooky, trendy girl’s name that sounds great for preschool, but doesn’t stand up to time or development and maturity.

As I was reading the article, however, my mind started to drift over the “image” I felt in my mind over many feminizations of male names, or names that used to be boys’ names but are now mostly common on women. A Charlene might not sound as serious as a Charlotte, but in my mind, they both are. Dylan, by contrast, just doesn’t sound like a strong name for a boy or girl. They sound very t-shirt and jeans and likeable, but not very aspirational academically, career-wise. Shirley, as in Temple, gives us an iconic image of the name (to the detriment of diminishing her career as an ambassador), but on an adult woman, I think it sounds dead serious. All these names also have the capacity of defying their overall image – it depends on the child, their parents, and what they want to achieve and how hard they want to work to achieve it.

Mostly, I think it is a shame that parents are so worked up over their child’s success this way, to try to determine what will make them happy before they are born, and thinking their name is such a leg up over their peers, while at the same time, producing a study that encourages MORE competitiveness in this area. By contrast, I don’t think it will increase “competition” for law schools and careers in law more than it already is – not all of these children will aspire to a career in law, and their success if they do will still not depend on their names.

Joan Says:

December 26th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

I’m a second year law student in San Diego and the only surprising thing about the girls’ names at my school is the what I deem the level of “serious”. I’m named after my grandmother and I don’t meet many Joans my age (24), but I was surprised to find not one, but two Camilles at law school. Along with Rachel, Sophia, Ann, Heather, and Vienna (who, I later found out, was actually named Pippa by her British parents and changed it in college), I have found myself among girls-names-for-girls, but not of the Kimberly, Britney, and Tiffany variety. Just some food for thought.

just me! Says:

June 29th, 2010 at 12:22 am

I like the name Danielle but calling her dannie. I like alot of girl names that have boyish nick names.

Suzannevk Says:

August 15th, 2010 at 10:53 am

I love unisex or as some call them ‘boys names for girls’ on girls. My list contains out Riley, Eden, Noah, Rowan, Finley. I love every single one of those names. I would never give them to my daughter because i want her to be a judge, thats just silly. Id give them because id love my girl and her name. I wouldnt name her Sophie because its a ‘feminine name’, i wpould name her Eden because i love it!

Being a judge has noting to do with your name, but with your talent, your ambition, what you are willing to do for the job.

Ali Neih-miah Tyese Merritt Says:

August 17th, 2010 at 11:48 am

pretty name

Hilary Ireland Says:

October 2nd, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I think this is silly. Yes, of course names make a difference. Who do you pick as the fireman who will come and rescue you, Tim or Victor ?
Who is the prettiest girl, Agatha or Olivia ?
If my son decided to bring a Bruce home to meet the family, I would not be thinking female !!! lol.
Personally, I like a name to be gender specific, especially when arranging Birthday parties for little kids, how do you know what to put in the party loot bags, if you have names like Stormy, Shiloh, Ladasha, Autumn, Skyler…some boys are going to end up with barrettes and bracelets !

How do You Name a Baby for Success? – Says:

October 30th, 2015 at 8:00 am

[…] study conducted by Clemson University found that women who entered the legal field were more successful if they had masculine […]

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