Gender-Neutral Names: The line continues to blur

Gender-Neutral Names: The line continues to blur

This week, Appellation Mountain’s Abby Sandel ventures into the blurry grey area of  newly discovered gender-neutral names.

It’s official! America’s favorite names are Charlotte and James. The top names for 2011 in Sweden? Alice and William. They’re classic appellations, at home across the centuries and in many languages.

They’re also clearly gendered. With apologies to Mr. Cooper, it is difficult to imagine a boy named Alice, and while actor James Marsden has a daughter called Mary James, it is tough to imagine picking James for a daughter’s first name.

Or is it? At first, it is easy to draw clear lines. Evan is a boy’s name, but Evelyn is meant for a girl. Nicola is feminine, of course, while Jordan was shamelessly stolen from our sons.

While we all have our own impressions, it often turns out that the line is blurry, or even non-existent, for many a name. This week’s top nine gender neutral names illustrate that uncertainty.

Micah – Congrats to Grey’s Anatomy’s Sarah Drew on the birth of her son Micah Emmanuel. The fast-rising Biblical name fits right in with Noah and Asa and Ezra, and often feels like an updated version of the enduring Michael. But Micah is related to the Old Testament Micaiah, a name with some history of use for women, too. One notable example? Among the nine Duggar daughters is Jordyn–Grace Makiya.

Gray – Talented television surgeon Meredith Grey might be why this restrained color name is showing up on both genders lately. Now Andie McDowell is playing a character called Gray Chandler Murray on new ABC Family show Jane by Design.

Wainwright – This one doesn’t appear on many lists of names at all, but Nancy recently discovered the tale of the Canadian town of Wainwright. The settlers were inspired to christen their new home with the same name given to the first baby born in the new location, a little girl called Wainwright Marguerite. The baby, in turn, was named after William Wainwright, vice president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, which ran past the settlement. Proof that parents have been creatively naming their children for ages.

Berlin – Speaking of place names, what do you think of Berlin? The German capital feels as valid a choice as London or Paris, but if I were guessing, I’d expect Berlin to be a boy, just like Boston. I might be wrong, though. For Real spotted this one dolled up for a daughter: Berlynn Marie.

Cedar – Another one borrowed from the birth announcements Anna found a Cedar Kate in Adelaide, Australia. When I’ve asked about Cedar before, responses have always been evenly split between those who favor it for a son and those who prefer it on a girl. Combined with Kate, I’m persuaded that the answer is either.

Jem – Number six on this week’s list comes from the boys’ side of Elea’s Bronte names post, but if you came of age in the 1980s, it is tough to hear Jem without adding “and the Holograms.” Between the animated television series and the stylish name Gemma, it is easy to buy Jem as a girl’s name. But Jem also has history as a nickname for James, as Jeremy Renner’s character in 2010 crime drama The Town reminded us.

Bowie – Musicians’ surnames, from Jagger to Lennon, have been used for children’s first names in recent years. No surprise, then, that musician Paul Weller recently named one of his newborn twin sons Bowie. Bowie**’s brother is John­-Paul, as in The Beatles, as well as Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. With boys answering to Boden and Bodhi, the sound is quite current. The question is whether we’ll also meet girls named in honor of the iconic David Bowie, just as girls are called Presley and Marley**.

Pfeifer – Here’s the name that inspired this post, spotted on the Nametalk forum. New baby Pfeifer Marais is here, and he’s a boy! But Pfeifer fits right in with the equally musical Harper and Piper, suggesting that Pfeifer might be a good girls’ name, too.  Of course, unless it’s a family surname, it can always be simplified to Fifer.

FyfePfeifer brings us back to Grey’s Anatomy, and the children of the cast. Patrick Dempsey is dad to three, including firstborn daughter Tallulah Fyfe. In the middle spot, Fyfe really sings. Like Pfeifer, it comes from the German word for pipe, a type of small flute used in medieval music. If Finn and Flynn are top choices for boys, why not Fyfe? And yet, it sounds good for a girl, too.

Would you ever consider a potentially gender neutral name, or do you feel that it is best to stick with the Williams and Charlottes?

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.