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Choosing Unisex Twin Names

July 1, 2020 Abby Sandel
unisex twin names

Unisex twin names are this week’s challenge. Jane and her wife are expecting boy/girl twins, and hope to find two gender-neutral nicknames. Their daughter’s name is set, so let’s help them with a great name for their son.

Jane writes:

My wife and I are expecting! We have an unusual dilemma. Both of us love traditional feminine/masculine names – Rosemary, Isaac, Oliver, Ada, etc. – but we want to give our child room for more freedom in gender expression. We plan to do that by choosing a traditionally gendered name that has a gender-neutral nickname. That way, if our little Alexander grows up to be an Alexandra, then at least we’ll have given her the option of the neutral “Alex” along the way. 

When we learned my wife was pregnant, we already had a few options for a female/assigned female at birth baby:

Juno Cecelia (unfortunately no gender-creative nickname)

Wilhelmina Florence (“Willie“)

Augusta Elisabeth (“Auggie”)

Edith Marigold (“Eddie” or “Iggie“)

However, we learned recently that my wife is actually having twins! Mazel Tov to us! We’ve decided that the girl will be Edith Marigold (potentially “Eddie“), but the other will be a boy, and as such, we have no traditionally-masculine-name-with-gender-neutral-nickname to bestow upon him. 

The Name Sage responds:

Mazel Tov indeed!

I think you’ve found a great strategy for naming your children: more classic first and middles, with flexible built-in nicknames.

Here’s why you’re stuck.

In American English names, gender-neutral usually means “a conventionally masculine choice sometimes used for girls.”

It might also refer to “a name that many people think seems like it could be conventionally masculine, but is mostly used for girls.” Think Harper or Madison.

Which means your pool of unisex twin names for your daughter? Deep and varied. For your son, though? Not so much.

In general, there are three possible categories of unisex names for our sons.

The Alex names – traditional picks that share a nickname with a feminine form. These sound like what you probably have in mind, except you aren’t listing Alexander/Alexandra or Joseph/Josephine, so I’m guessing that’s not quite what you’re after.

The Ezra names –  their history makes them masculine, and most parents use them that way. But their sound opens the door to considering them for our daughters, too, and so they slowly become at least slightly unisex over time.

The Rowan names – the more modern choices, seldom heard in the US much before the twenty-first century. Again, they tend to read more masculine, but they’re often used in big numbers for girls, too. Word names like River can fit in the same category.

I’ll take a few from each group, because your girls’ list demonstrates that you’re looking for something that’s more than utilitarian. It needs some style – as well as whole lot of multi-tasking function.

UNISEX TWIN NAMES FOR EDDIE‘S BROTHER

ARI – With names like Aria and Ariana big for our daughters, Ari might seem like a feminine nickname. And yet, it’s a long-standing Hebrew name meaning lion, as well as Old Norse for eagle. That’s quite fierce! For your family, Ari might be short for Arthur, Arlo, Artemis, or any other name with a strong ‘ar’ sound.

ADDYAtticus fits with Edith, an old school name that feels fresh and appealing now. I’ve heard Atticus shortened to Atti, which sounds like Addy. That takes it closer to so many popular choices for girls in recent years, from Addison to Adeline. Except Eddie and Addy sound a little too matched for siblings.

CALCal easily becomes Callie, and formal names for Cal abound. On the more traditional side, there’s Calvin and Caleb, as well as Callum. Americans have overlooked Callum, but the Scottish name would fit right in. It has a great meaning, too – dove.

CHARLIE – As with Alex and Jo, I’m sure you’ve considered Charlie. But consider this: it’s actually split almost 50/50 between boys and girls. More boys are Charles … but then some girls are Charlotte-called-Charlie, and lots of girls are Charlee, Charli, and Charleigh, too. Give it another dozen years or so, and Charlie won’t feel automatically masculine.

LUXLuke and Lucy names abound, both traditional and popular. Lucas ranks in the US Top Ten, so maybe Lucian fits with the girls’ names on your list. As for Lux, it’s Latin for light, and it’s tough to pin to a gender. There’s minor (male) Star Wars character, Lux Bonteri. Then there’s (female) Lux Lisbon, from The Virgin Suicides. Both characters pronounce their name like luck, but it’s also said with the long ‘u’ of Luke – the choice is yours.

MICAH – We sometimes behave as if unisex names are a twenty-first century innovation. But Micaiah appears for both male and female characters in the Old Testament, and Micah is the modern version. While it’s still used far more for boys in the US, spell it Mika and it’s the Finnish equivalent of Mikey … or a Japanese feminine name. With so many Mias and Milas and Makaylas, it’s easy to hear Micah as unisex. 

NICO – As an independent name in the US, Nico is far more popular for boys. But plenty of Nic– names have topped the charts across gender lines. The best part? Choices range from classic Nicholas/Nicolas and Dominic to imported Niccolo to rare Nicodemus and Nicanor. Feminine choices are every bit as varied, including –nic ending names like Anika and Veronica.

PAX – We tend to hear Pax as masculine. Credit to Max/Jax, but also JoliePitt brother Pax Thien. Except the original Pax was the Roman goddess of peace, always depicted in a gown, with olive branches and domestic symbols. It’s the rare masculine name clearly borrowed from feminine origins.

RAE/RAY – This might be one of the most effortlessly neutral names of our era. It encompasses everything from Ray Charles to Rey Skywalker. And while Raymond doesn’t sound quite like your style, I wonder if Raphael or Rafael might appeal? 

RORY – Pop culture gave Rory a boost for girls. Hollywood legend Errol Flynn used it for a daughter way back in 1947, but it’s Gilmore Girls that makes us think of it as unisex today. Rory’s roots are Irish, and it means red king. The television series made it short for Lorelai. Another traditional option might be Lawrence or Laurence called Rory.

I’m not sure I have a definite favorite yet, so let’s try some unisex twin names combinations.

EDDIE AND …

ArthurAriAtticus and EdithEddieMarigold

CallumCalRaphael and EdithEddieMarigold

CharlesCharliePaxton and EdithEddieMarigold

LaurenceRoryRaphael and EdithEddieMarigold

NicolasNicoLucian and EdithEddieMarigold

RaphaelRay” Nicanor and EdithEddieMarigold

When paired with your favorite girl’s name, I think Nico and Ray stand out. Ray and Eddie could belong to the same 1950s-era bowling league, or play on the same All-American Girls Professional Baseball League roster. (Or both.) But Nico strikes me as possibly more unisex than Ray – though I’m certain opinions will vary.

I think it’s also worth considering how you’re thinking about the nicknames. Do you plan to call your children, say, Eddie and Cal? Or are you thinking of unisex nicknames as insurance policies – a built-in fallback if their given names don’t suit?

Because your choice should hinge on the everyday use name – what you and your wife plan to call your children. Building in options is loving and wise, but make sure you love the names you’re going to use, above all else.

Let’s turn it over to the community: what are the best gender-neutral boy names that work as nicknames for a more traditional first?

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.

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