Expanding Baby Name Boundaries: Asa, Frankie, and Otis
There are a handful of super-controversial topics in baby naming.
Creative spellings. Surnames-as-firsts. And, of course, boys’ names on girls.
The first two are easier, I think. They’re about style and preference. If you love the look of Madelyn, no amount of cajoling will convince you that it really must be Madeline. And either surnames like Lincoln and Bellamy make your shortlist, or not.
But when it comes to gender, there’s more at stake.
Parents of boys worry that their perfect name will be borrowed by girls, leading to schoolyard drama.
Then there’s the whole idea that girls’ names aren’t perceived as strong, that your daughter Sutton has a better chance at smashing the glass ceiling than your daughter Eleanor. While this strikes me as crazy – by 2040, I expect to see Arabella and Willow in corner offices, a few doors down from Jayden and Cole – part of naming a child is about imagining the name on an artist, or a district attorney, a surgeon, a singer, a CEO.
This week was all about traditionally male names bestowed on baby girls, but there was also some good news. Whether you find gender-swapping names a sign of the apocalypse or just slightly challenging when naming a son, there’s a silver lining.
As parents have borrowed from the boys for their daughters, we’ve also become more daring when naming our sons. Some names seem to remain truly gender neutral. New possibilities for boys are emerging, and we’re also reviving retro names that might otherwise have remained in the antique cabinet.
The nine most newsworthy, gender-bending, boundary-extending names in the baby name news are:
Asa – Actor Justin Bartha and wife Lia Smith chose one of my favorite names for their firstborn: Asa. Make that Asa Charlotte – yup, the couple gave the Biblical boy name to a girl, which made my head whip around. Then again, think Ava, Ada, Asa – it seems like a logical leap. Plus, Asa does have feminine roots in Scandinavia. Add a diacritical mark, change the pronunciation slightly, and Asa is a feminine given name in Sweden. In the US the numbers suggest that this one remains solidly masculine – at least for now.
France Fox – Quick – is France Fox a boy or a girl? It’s the name of Instagrammer Karla Quiz’s adorable daughter. France has me charmed. I do like a place name, and anything from the map, or from the natural world, usually strikes me as gender neutral. And yet, France sounds an awful lot like Franz, so I would probably hear this name as masculine at first. Ms. Quiz is expecting baby #2, and here’s guessing the name will just as stylish and unexpected.
Frankie – We were all waiting to hear what Drew Barrymore would name baby #2. Olive’s little sister is Frankie. Yes, it’s boyish. But just like Billie, Bobbie, and Charlie, it has had a good run for girls, and fits right in with throwbacks like Sadie, Hattie, and Winnie. Plus, Frankie peaked in the 1930s, so if the hundred-year rule applies, Drew’s choice is exactly on schedule. Drew isn’t the first Hollywood mama to use this name, either. Amanda Peet welcomed Frances, called Frankie, back in 2007. I’m partial to Peet’s approach – Frances with the nickname – but if Sadie stands alone, why not Frankie?
Sidney – Speaking of throwbacks, did you see Nancy’s post on starlet names from the early 1900s? Frances, Helen, Clara – such a great list! The one that leapt out at me was Sidney, as in Sidney Fox, a young ingénue who made her film debut in 1931’s The Bad Sister – also the first picture for Bette Davis. Sidney was Fox’s birth name, decades before it became fashionable for girls – and proof that this debate is nothing new.
Dylan–Jorge Rose – Frankie on a girl? Sure. Asa? Why not. And Dylan? Plenty of ‘em. But Jorge? That one shocked me. British singer and reality television personality Kerry Katona has welcomed baby number five, her first with fiancé George Kay. Katona’s older children are Molly, Lilly–Sue, Heidi, and Max, making Dylan a surprise choice for a daughter. Jorge must be a nod to dad, and Rose remains the go-to middle of our age.
Ellington – The good news, of course, is that Dylan is one of many names occasionally bestowed on girls without losing its appeal for boys. Kelli’s round up of names ending in –ton was filled with other possibilities that could stay solidly gender neutral. Ellington shortens to Ellie, but also conjures up the legendary Duke. Layton is for boys, but Leighton is a girl’s name, and some, like Halston and Seton, are too little-used to know for sure. The full list is worth a look.
Auden – For Real gathered up a list of recent birth announcements featuring the same name bestowed upon a boy and a girl. Many have slightly different spellings – Easton and Eastyn, for example. But a big chunk of the list featured names that strike me as truly wearable for any child. The poetic Auden is my favorite, but there’s also Ember, Shiloh, and Shea.
Beckett Thomas – Bachelor alum Melissa Rycroft and husband Tye Strickland welcomed baby #2, a boy called Beckett, a little brother for Ava Grace. This name has gone from obscurity to widespread use in under a decade. Call it proof that we can discover new possibilities for boys, and that some surname names can become appealing modern staples.
Otis Alexander – My favorite name of the week! Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis are new parents to Otis. Originally a surname, Otis is a cousin to Otto. There’s a tinge of Americana thanks to the revolutionary Otis family of Massachusetts. And Elisha Otis designed the modern elevator during the nineteenth century. As a given name, he hasn’t charted in the US Top 1000 for more than two decades, but here’s guessing that Otis will make a comeback. The list of vintage gems awaiting revival is long, and a reminder that there is no shortage of great names for our daughters and our sons.
Do you think parents are becoming more creative with names for boys? Are there names that strike you as truly gender neutral? Are there any names that you would give to a son or a daughter?
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on April 28th, 2014 at 7:52 am
I’m charmed by France too. Can’t wait to see what she chooses for baby #2.
I love Drew Barrymore and I think Olive and Frankie are charming together, although I would have used Frances, nickname Frankie. Her name is Drew and it didn’t hold her back. Her Frankie will be just fine.
I find new choices everyday I search birth announcements for my blog. It’s amazing how many choices are out there.
Have a great week!
on April 28th, 2014 at 8:00 am
Definitely disappointed to see so many boy names being used for girls. 🙁
Was very excited to see little Otis Alexander though. I think it’s very handsome.
on April 28th, 2014 at 8:32 am
I love Beckett Thomas 🙂
A name I’d use on a boy or girl? Avery. I know it’s mostly used on girls now, but Avery can still be used on boys. Morgan as well, though I personally prefer Morgan on a boy.
on April 28th, 2014 at 8:41 am
I love Frankie so much for a girl!! And have since I read “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” by E. Lockhart (great book!). Like some of you, I do prefer to get to Frankie through the lovely name Frances, but I also see a value in going straight to the name you plan to call your child. I also love that Drew used her maiden as Frankie’s mn. Def my fave celebrity name in recent history!
on April 28th, 2014 at 9:05 am
Really hate to see boy names on girls, like Asa. Also, the name Leighton is unisex not “a girl’s name”.
on April 28th, 2014 at 10:40 am
@NaomiNY – I know just about as many boy Averys as girls, including a little 6 month(ish) boy, who is crazy adorable, so yes, I completely agree that it works for both.
@skizzo – If you click through to Kelli’s article (http://www.thenamefreak.com/2014/04/a-ton-of-great-names.html), she provides usage for each of the spellings. I agree that Leighton/Layton feels gender neutral to me, but as it happens, Leighton is MUCH more popular for girls, and Layton more common for boys.
@saraallison – Ooh … putting Frankie Landau-Banks on my summer reading list!
@jtucker – I know what you mean – Asa has been on my shortlist for a boy for a while … and yet, I do LOVE to see parents considering names like Otis.
on April 28th, 2014 at 11:17 am
I really like France and Otis!
I’m happy to see the nod to place names in general. I too like names on a map!
on April 28th, 2014 at 11:46 am
This will probably make me unpopular, but I find using the names of Jewish historical figures (such as prophets, etc) who are culturally important as girls’ names when the individuals were clearly male a little bit culturally insensitive. Asa, Elijah, Hosea, Micah, Ezra — these are not gender neutral names. The “ah” sound in the ending in Hebrew does not automatically feminise the name — the “ah” is symbolic of Adonai and other names for G-d. While there are plenty of female Hebrew names that end in “ah” — Dvora, Dafna, Aviya, Chaya — it seems to me that people are assuming the Latinate feminine “a” ending for a language that is not Latinate and for persons who existed. For example, I had a female student named Uriah — the name of the captain that David had killed so he could marry Uriah’s wife. Not a name I’d bestow on any child, but in which universe was Uriah female? And I’m not denigrating our daughters or female names — I’m just saying that from my point of view, it’s culturally insensitive.
on April 28th, 2014 at 12:19 pm
@miloowen – I agree with you.
Personally, France doesn’t seem like a boys name to me, since it’s used only for girls in the French language. I know a female France who is about 30.
Dylan-Jorge is my least favourite. Is it pronouned like Dylan-George, or using the Spanish pronunciation of Jorge, therefore Dylan-Hor-hay? Either way, it’s a head scratcher.
on April 28th, 2014 at 12:53 pm
@abby: I really hope you like the book! It’s a favorite of mine. It was also a National Book Award finalist and won a Printz honor. It’s written for the young adult age group, but it’s def one that can cross over into adult reading!
on April 28th, 2014 at 1:35 pm
I hate gender-bending names too, but what I hate more is people who assert that a name has become unisex just because THEY used it for their child. Self-centred people, in other words.
@miloowen: I agree too!
@maggiefromcanada: I strongly suspect that Katona will be pronouncing it like George; she probably doesn’t even realise it’s Spanish. I reckon the (nonsensical) idea behind it is that it’s a ‘feminine’ version of her partner’s name. And Dylan is over 99% male this side of the pond, so she looks doubly ridiculous!
on April 28th, 2014 at 2:04 pm
I love names that challenge conventional “gender rules” – including “female”-sounding names on boys.
In light of a new Frankie being added to the Frankie Club, I welcome thee! While my name is legally Francesca (which seems fussy and overelaborate), my parents began calling me Frankie at the time of birth, and it is my preferred form of address. Among its many traits, it is nice to write it down and have others not immediately aware of gender. Prejudice and bias does have an eye on names and genders, and on documents certain types will be (consciously or sub-consciously) passed over.
I will admit that seeing such a “high profile” bearer of the name disheartens me a bit, but I am still pleased to see it.
To mention other names in the article, I very much am fond of Sidney on boys (though not on girls, strangely), and Otis is quite the charmer! I realize that Auden and Asa have been making their rounds on name websites, I simply have not found what holds their attraction.
on April 28th, 2014 at 2:38 pm
I hate to see Asa on a girl, and Sidney too, as Sidney will forever be a male name to me.
Beckett Thomas is fabulous, but Otis Alexander is my winner of the week too, it’s stunning!
on April 28th, 2014 at 5:31 pm
Beckett Thomas makes me laugh. I think it could be one of those combos originated that from a subconscious memory leak (probably from 10th grade history class, this case). Or, you know, they just really dig 12th century Archbishops. That’s cool too.
» Expanding Baby Name Boundaries: Asa, Frankie, and Otis Baby Name Suggestion Said
on August 15th, 2014 at 12:47 am
[…] This week, Abby Sandel’s Nameberry 9 looks at gender-bending and other expansions within the baby name universe, seen through the prism of the latest celebrity picks. Nameberry – Baby Name Blog » Baby name news […]
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