Category: Unisex Baby Names
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.
When we named Post-Gender Baby Names as our Number 1 trend for 2016, we were mostly just guessing. Oh sure, the guess was backed up by some strong cultural trends, from marriage equality to trans recognition, as well as a raft of celebrity baby names.
But when The New York Times asked us whether we could back up the trend with, you know, actual statistics, we weren’t entirely positive what we’d find. Baby name prognosticating is as tricky as any other kind of forecasting, relying as much on instinct as on science. Our gut told us that baby names that defied gender categories were on the rise for both girls and boys. But would the numbers bear that out?
Our discovery, as reported in today’s New York Times by Alex Williams: The number of babies with truly unisex names — those most evenly split between the sexes — has exploded in the past ten years. And boys are getting these post-gender names as often as girls, with 60 percent more babies getting gender-neutral names in 2015 than in 2005.
By Abby Sandel
But there’s a new kind of virtue name in vogue today: the modern virtue. These names are less specifically religious. True, there’s no shortage of names like Miracle and Messiah. But many of the modern virtue choices are word names that carry a great deal of meaning, but aren’t expressly about faith.
Instead, they’re about bravery, achievement, fairness, and peace. It’s easy to imagine any parent hoping their child will embody these qualities. No surprise, then, that these names are very much in use in 2016.
Actor turned director and activist Nate Parker and wife Sarah DiSanto are the latest high profile couple to choose a modern virtue name for their new arrival. Parker’s latest project is The Birth of a Nation, the story of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. The couple named their daughter Justice.
It’s time for a closer look at the modern virtue names that have become mainstream in recent years.