Category: Unisex Baby Names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
You can always count on a few titters when people hear that macho John Wayne’s birth name was Marion. They’re not aware that when he was born in 1907 Marion—also the name of an infamous Washington DC mayor– was Number 106 on the boys’ list–which also included Leslie, Aubrey, Harley, Merle, Carroll, Cleo, Clair, Lynn, and Pearl (the real name of Wyatt Earp) in the Top 400.
All those names plus many more modern ones have gone to the girls, leading to a lot of talk about gender inequality, of this being a one-way street. Well, maybe it’s time to reverse that trend, for boys to reclaim some of the names they’ve lost.
It’s probably too soon for a name like Ashley, which was the fourth most popular name for girls just a few years ago, or the patronymic Addison, which reached Number 11 in 2010, and for others like Avery and Aubrey that are climbing for girls as we speak. And some once-male-accepted names like Vivian and Evelyn have been seen as strictly feminine for far too long to ever come back.
But here are a few that are not as high on the pink list, some with strong male namesakes, that well might be ready to cross back into the blue, and conceivably work for a 21st century boy.
I’m going to talk about my son Jayne.
Jayne is a sometimes happy, sometimes whiny, always snuggly terror of a two-and-a-half-year-old. Basically, he’s a typical toddler. Jayne is also big. He’s tall and very dense, and people constantly think he’s older than he is. I’m giving you this detail for a reason that will make sense in a bit.
He also has a traditionally female name: Jayne. There is no difference in how it is pronounced and no, we don’t shorten it and call him Jay, or Arthur (his middle name) or Wyatt (another middle name). His name is Jayne.
Down at the very bottom of the Social Security extended list of baby names, among the hundreds of names given to only five babies in that particular year, are a few dozen names that have radically crossed gender lines.
I’m not talking about unisex names like Charley or Emerson that are widely used for both girls and boys. I’m not even talking about those names like Addison, say, or August, that are occasionally used for babies of the opposite sex but are predominantly given to children of a single gender.
I mean names that are universally considered boys’ names or girls’ names — except for the handful of parents who chose to use them for babies of the nonconforming gender. Girls named Eric, for instance, or boys named Karen.
Baby names crossing gender lines is nothing new — US records from the 1880s list girls named John and boys named Mary — but sometimes it’s all a mistake. Maybe the recording official noted the wrong gender or misspelled the name. Or perhaps the parents are from another culture and don’t understand that in the US, Louie is generally considered a boys’ name while Lucy is for girls.
But in this age of Social Security registration for newborns and digitized records, errors are less common and it’s more probable that those parents, for whatever reason, chose to name their baby daughter Oscar and their son Alice.
People, particularly people who happen to be berries, often have very strong feelings about this kind of thing. Keep names attached to their traditional gender, many say, including boys “taking back” traditionally-male names such as Madison that have become used mostly for girls. Other people feel that gender is an artificial construct and that names can and should be used free of gender considerations, as long as it’s done even-handedly.
We want to know your thoughts on this issue. But first, the names from the 2015 Social Security list that were radical gender-benders:
Then there are the newer names crossing the gender divide toward the girls’ side. These may still be more widely-used for boys but have now moved into the Top 1000 for girls: Sawyer, Hunter, Ryan, Dallas, Royal, and Ellis are the most notable.
More obscure than these, but way more newsworthy, are the boys’ names below the Top 1000 that are being used for sizeable numbers of girls.
We don’t mean word names like Rebel and Timber that are not intrinsically gendered or nicknames such as Billie and Joey that have long been used for girls or established unisex names such as Rowan or Robin. We’re talking about deeply traditional boys’ names that are being used, in many cases, for literally hundreds of baby girls.
In a few cases, there are powerful celebrity influences nudging these boys’ names girlward, such as Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds naming their first daughter James or Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher naming their little girl Wyatt. We’ve starred the names that are being used more often for girls thanks to a celebrity.
Most fascinating are those gender-shifting names that have been traditionally used for boys since Biblical or Roman times…or at least since 1880 in the US. Some names in this group may be international choices that have not be widely-used in the US until recently for either gender, but that are conventional male choices in their native cultures. These classically-male names, with the number of girls who were given them in the US in 2015, include:
There weren’t that many names that I considered giving my first-born. Even though I had amniocentesis, we didn’t find out the gender. My husband didn’t want to know and so I let him have his way. I really wanted a girl, but knew I’d be happy with whoever showed up.
Her last name would be the same as my husband’s, which is Virgin. It limits things. We’d agreed that a boy would carry on Cliff’s family name – he’s a III – which gave me the lead in choosing a girl’s name. I had always liked the name Esme. I liked Grace, I also liked Neema (which means Grace in Tanzania—at least that’s what was on the tag attached the African doll we had). None of those names sounded right with Virgin, though. I also wanted a name that meant something, had a connection to someone–a family member or a place or in the case of Baldwin, a favorite writer.