Kelly, Mackenzie, and Clare: Great reclaimed names for boys
It’s easy to fume about name theft. After all, conventional wisdom is that once a name is widely used for our daughters, it cannot be given to our sons.
The truth is messier. Consider:– Sometimes the “stolen” name was actually languishing, forgotten, until parents revived it for girls. Fewer than two dozen boys were named Madison the year Splash was released.
– Not every name used for some girls becomes exclusively used for girls. Cameron has remained mostly masculine, despite high profile women, like Cameron Diaz and Camryn Manheim, making it feel like a unisex possibility.
– Bailey, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly female today – but then, this name was actually very popular for girls when parents started considering it for their sons.
– Other names battle it out, becoming popular for both genders for a few years until it becomes clear that the name will be mostly given to girls or boys. Odds are you know a 40-something guy called Shannon, Ashley, or Courtney.
But the newest phenomenon is the most exciting: in recent years, names have held steady for both genders, suggesting that Americans are willing to embrace names that are truly gender neutral. Think of Rowan, Peyton, and Riley.
And why not? Taylor Lautner dated Taylor Swift, and the Earth continued to rotate. Schools have had Jordan (boy), Jordan (girl), and Jordyn (girl) in the same grade, and it wasn’t any more confusing than the 1980s, when every third girl answered to Jennifer.
So what’s the logical next step?
Here are some of the most promising candidates for reclaiming:
Sasha – Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky welcomed twin sons in 2014. Their new additions have romantic names – Tristan and Sasha. Sasha is traditionally an affectionate form of Alexander in Russian, but in the US, Sasha has long trended girl. First Daughter Natasha Obama answers to Sasha, and Beyonce’s alter ego is Sasha Fierce. This was a bold move by Pataky and Hemsworth – but hey, if your dad is Thor, do you really have to worry about playground teasing?
Kelly – Pro surfer Kelly Slater was born Robert Kelly Slater in 1972, around the same time lots of parents were embracing the Irish surname name for their daughters. Actress Holly Marie Combs has three young sons: Finley Arthur, Riley Edward, and Kelley James. Finley, Riley, Kelley – on that list, Kelly fits right in, a logical Irish choice for a son.
Madison – A boy named Madison? Maybe. Baseball’s Madison Baumgartner, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, was named World Series MVP in 2014. Yes, nine out of ten current Madisons are girls – but with options like Maddox and Madden trending for our sons, it is easy to imagine Madison on a boy.
Mackenzie – The Scottish surname is still in the girls’ Top 100, inspiring spin-offs like Kenzie and McKinley. But child actor Mackenzie Astin reminds us that this name has potential for boys, too. Nickname Mac fits right in with Jack and Gus.
Kendall – With Kardashian sibling Kendall Jenner in the spotlight, it’s a safe bet that Kendall hasn’t quite peaked for girls. But isn’t any Ken– name wearable for a boy? Kenneth, Kendrick, Kendall – on sound alone, Kendall seems like an easy sell for a son.
Kennedy – In the 1960s, Kennedy was a hero name, given in honor of President John F. Since the 1990s, Kennedy has been a trendy surname possibility, far more popular for girls. Between the late president and the many places named in his honor – Harvard’s Kennedy School, the Kennedy Space Center, Washington DC’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – this name screams accomplishment, whether you’re naming a daughter or a son.
Alexis – Like Sasha, Alexis is a cousin to Alexander, worn by emperors and saints. Alexis was huge for girls – thank you, Dynasty! But this name had a good run for boys, too, hovering in the mid-100s while it was a girls’ Top Ten staple. Today, Alexis is fading for both genders, but it could still feel fresh and interesting for a boy.
Avery – The 2015 version of Alexis? It has to be Avery. Yes, Avery is huge for girls. But Avery remains in the boys’ Top 200 as of 2013. With a very long history of masculine use, parents seem willing to continue using Avery for their boys – even if their female classmates might have the same name.
Bailey – At first glance, it looks like girls really did steal Bailey. But in fact, Bailey barely used at all in the 1970s, with fewer than two dozen births a year. Parents embraced Bailey as a Kaylee/Hailey spin-off … and only then did the name also catch on for boys. Today, Bailey remains just outside of the girls’ Top 100, but is rare for boys. But if Bentley and Brantley are big for boys, why not Bailey?
Quinn – Here’s a clear case of a name threatening to go girl. From the 1960s onward, Quinn was a great Irish surname name for a boy. In the 1990s, parents added it to their shortlists for a girl. Then came Glee, with its teenage sweethearts Finn (boy, football player) and Quinn (girl, cheerleader). Suddenly, Quinn surged for girls, and floundered for boys. But if Finn and Flynn and stylish boys’ names, there’s no reason to take this off Team Blue.
Cary – Long before handsome Hollywood hopeful Archibald Leach changed his name to Cary Grant, Cary had been a boys’ name. Carey, too. Both spellings are forms of an Irish surname related to the given name Ciar – dark. Both spellings have also always been more popular for boys. Only recently, with the rise of Carrie and Kari for girls did Cary and Carey become unwearable for boys. Look no further than Cary Elwes to imagine how well the name could wear on a boy today.
Clare – In every spelling – Clare, Claire, and Clair – this name has a long history of use as a masculine name. That’s probably because it is a common surname with several possible origins. The best case for using Clare for a boy? Probably the surname, as in early Anglo-Norman leader Richard de Clare, better known by his nickname, Strongbow. It’s also a place name in Suffolk, where the de Clare family held property. In an age of Chase, Clark, and Crew, why not Clare?
Sidney – Spelled Sydney, this name was a fixture for girls. Sydney was Jennifer Garner’s fearless character on Alias. Neve Campbell wore the name in Scream. Now that Sydney is fading for girls, can we reclaim Sidney – and the great nickname Sid – for our sons?
Are there any “girl” names that you would consider for a son? What’s missing from this list?
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on January 16th, 2015 at 1:17 am
I love Sasha and Sidney, and another not on the list – Cassidy! If this baby turns out to be a boy, we’ve decided he will be Cassidy, nn Cass / Sid.
on January 16th, 2015 at 5:45 am
Despite Bailey being claimed by girls exclusively, I only know one Bailey and he is a BOY….although I don’t live in the USA, the name still feels quite boyish to me. Another name I would be surprised hearing on a girl is Sidney/Sydney. The name has always felt masculine to me (although very unattractive) and with the movie ‘Ice Age’ it helps to connnect it to a boy.
I personally think it’s a bit mean to call a boy Sasha. I think more people have to take into account the childs life when it’s growing up, being a teenager and going to school. The amount of teasing potential Sahsa has on a boy….I don’t even think peple knowing who the father is going to stop all of it.
on January 16th, 2015 at 6:59 am
In theory, I have no problem with unisex names because ultimately I don’t think that sex and gender are half as important as the 21st century stereotypes make them out to be. The world isn’t going to explode if we meet a little boy name Elizabeth or a young woman named Ryan, therefore there is no reason to be making a mountain out of a mole hill when it comes to this issue.
However, in practice I HATE unisex names. Absolutely despise them, in fact. Because, for a start, 99.9% of these names are, in fact, male. We rarely, if ever, see a girl name turned unisex (when we do see a few, e.g. Erin and Shannon; you’d be surprised how viciously people fight to keep them ‘all girl’). And having said that, not all of these male names had fallen out of use with boys before their turning; such is the case with Elliot, Ryan, Spencer, Dylan, Rowan, Tyler, Morgan etc. Not only that but, once a male name goes unisex, suddenly it’s – “NO! You can’t name a boy THAT! There are GIRLS with that name and he’ll be teased and bullied and hate you forever!” – and yet, Nameberry in particular thinks that girls bearing the names Auberon, James, Wallace and Owen will be perfectly fine.
Basically, girls can rob boy names because masculinity is still seen as stronger, bolder and more desirable. And boys can’t rob girl names (or even traditionally masculine names such as Loren or Kim) because GOD FORBID THOSE BOYS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ICKY, HORRIBLE GIRLS.
As such, for the time being I simply cannot support such a blatently sexist, double standard trend. And I will continue to reject said trend until it becomes acceptable for ALL names to be unisex – not just boy names for girls.
Having said all that; Evelyn is one of my favourite boy names which I would like to see make a comeback. I’d also like to see Allison, Mallory, Kimberly, Courtney, Whitney, Beverley, Loren, Jody, Madison, Addison, Lesley, Shannon, Carey, Lynn, Joan, Ali, Carol, Kim, Claire, Reneé, Meredith, Vivian, Lindsay, Kelsey, Hilary, Sandy, Michele, Leigh, Nicola, Lacy, Andrea, Macey, Valery, Shelby, Jocelyn, Joyce, Shirley, and Korah reappear on the male side of the spectrum.
on January 16th, 2015 at 8:19 am
Bless this post. It’s so nice to see a post exploring what names boys can take from the girls rather than the other way around. I know men with all of these names! A family friend recently welcomed a son named Sawyer Kelly, which I find lovely.
on January 16th, 2015 at 8:39 am
Jess181, Cassidy/Cass/Sid is great for a boy! Love that you’re using it. If our second had been a boy, Clare was a serious contender for a middle name, after my mother. (If boys can be named for grandfathers, why not grandmothers?)
on January 16th, 2015 at 8:41 am
Ah, but lots of boy names end in ‘a’ – so why is the traditionally male Sasha more of a problem than Ezra or Asa?
on January 16th, 2015 at 8:56 am
I adore Whitney for a boy. Whit is such a cute nickname. I would claim that one back in an instant if SO would go for it. He insists it is a girl’s name.
on January 16th, 2015 at 9:11 am
I always saw Bailey as equally unisex. I never thought it was considered more of a girl name. Same for Quinn, though I slightly prefer it on a girl. I’ve always disliked Kennedy on a girl, and I prefer Madison on a boy and have since I realised it just doesn’t even sound girly! Prefer Sasha on a boy, too. On a girl- I don’t know- it just sounds less genuine.
on January 16th, 2015 at 12:08 pm
I really like Mackenzie and Kelly for boys, and I L-O-V-E Cary. My godmother went by Clare (her surname), and it would have been my son’s middle name…if he had been a girl. I’ve never considered it for boys, and maybe I should. In line with Clare, I’d like to nominate Blair for masculine revival, too.
To be honest, I’m actually divided on the subject of unisex names. My ex was a Shannon, born when Shannon was a hot name for girls, and he hated it. Watching someone I loved be embarrassed and frustrated by his name has made it hard for me to be abstract about using a name that’s currently popular for one sex on the opposite one, regardless of the name’s history or etymology. My personal “line in the sand” is the Top 100. I won’t consider a name for a boy that is in the girls’ Top 100, was there within 5 years, or I predict will be there within 5. (Same goes for boy-to-girl.) I think the easiest unisex names to live with are the handful that are common for both sexes, like Jordan, and those that have fallen out of favor, like Kelly. I think a Shannon born today would be happier with his name than “my” Shannon, born in the early 70s.
on January 16th, 2015 at 1:50 pm
I completely agree with AldabellaxWulfe. It’s just bizarre for Nameberry to *FINALLY* publish a post that addresses the misappropriation of gendered names without discussing the complex history and extremely problematic implications of that misappropriation. Using a boy’s name for a girl is fundamentally sexist. And every name on this list, with the exception of Rowan (nature names are inherently gender-neutral), is a boy’s name.
on January 16th, 2015 at 2:15 pm
No no, no, using a boy’s name for a girl is not fundamentally sexist, augusta_lee. And using a traditionally female name for a male is not sexist either. How does a move away from traditional gender norms result in gender discrimination? Quite the opposite is true. Blurring the lines between what is a male and what is a female name does not sound discriminatory to me. Saying a girl CAN’T have a boy’s name because of her gender (or vice versa) – that is discrimination. Nature names are not inherently gender neutral either. When was the last time you met a male Lily or Heather?
on January 16th, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Is this serious? I feel like we’ve gone through some sort of time warp where actual real people think this sort of post is acceptable. Are we living in a Leave it to Beaver set? These gender wars are so dang absurd. I live in what I thought was a fairly backwards, conservative area. But wow, this website and it’s contributors is about as backwards as they come. It’s disgusting.
on January 16th, 2015 at 11:25 pm
I don’t consider it backwards to prefer male names on males and female names on females. That being said, some names slide from one gender to another (like my own, Leslie) and others truly do seem dual-gender (like, say, Riley).
Personally, I cannot abide most traditionally male names on females. It makes my blood boil. I certainly don’t want it outlawed, but I dislike the trend.
I don’t see much going the other way, but I do like Kelly on boys as well as Bailey, Cary, and Clare. Of course I know males with these names so they seem normal to me.
And I love Loren for a boy.
I will say that calling people who write in with opposing views “backwards” seems to be quite rude.
on January 17th, 2015 at 8:04 am
I think it’s time everyone stop worrying so much about how other people feel about your name lists/choices and make a decision.
Name trends, unisex or otherwise change all the time, and ultimately it’s up to you if you follow them or not. But have conviction in whichever you chose. A boy named Courtney ‘could’ be bullied, as ‘could’ Johnny or Heath.
My biggest concern is that this site’s forum posters seem to condone nastiness and critical judgements towards people’s ability to name their own children. That a parent who names their daughter Madison or their son Sasha (whether I like the names or not) has done their child a lifetime of injustice. That to me is a massive judgement to pass on someone you’ve never met. A saddening sense of self-importance.
on January 17th, 2015 at 9:55 am
I might consider Lynn for a son in the distant future when I’m having children. Or Paige.
on January 17th, 2015 at 10:42 am
In the town I live in, most of these unisex names have stayed male names. If you ran into a Kelly, Casey, Lindsay, Loren, Lynn, or Sidney, chances are they’d be male.
on January 17th, 2015 at 6:14 pm
Thank you, Abby, for this post! I so, so hope that some parents start taking your advice and using these names for boys.
Or they could be like Aldabella, Augusta_Lee, and dozens of other Nameberry users and just whine about sexism until everybody tunes them out. I wonder if they even read your post, because what you’re advocating is the exact opposite of the sexism they claim to despise.
Lisaskye: I honestly don’t even know what you’re talking about.
on January 18th, 2015 at 8:42 pm
I love mackenzie mackinley Riley for boys!
on January 18th, 2015 at 9:20 pm
I love Riley for a boy, but one I truly adore and plan on using for a boy is Eden. It’s not feminine to me at all.
The Brave New World of Boys’ Names: Zion, Dashiell, and Ocean – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Said
on January 18th, 2015 at 11:45 pm
[…] that creative spirit and sense of possibility is present when naming sons as well as daughters. The rule insisting that a name given to girls can never be considered for boys is changing. With choices like Jayden in the US Top Ten, even names once unknown can become wildly popular for […]
Nymphalis antiopa Said
on January 19th, 2015 at 2:47 pm
I would reclaim Ashley for the boys and I am pretty sure my DH would go for it. In fact, I refuse to see it as a girls name even though I was a child in the late 80’s and 90’s, so I grew up with SEVERAL Ashley/Ashleigh/Ashlee/Ashly/Ashleas. I feel the same, but less passionately (since they aren’t my style either way) about Addison, Madison, Riley, Casey, Mischa, Micah (I know 4 girls with this name) Elliott, Carey, Mackenzie, Kelsey, etc. I also agree with AldabellaxWulfe regarding the double standard of “unisex” names. I actually have an internal monologue every time someone mentions naming their daughter a clearly (in my name nerd mind) masculine name – even if it is considered feminine by modern standards (see Allison or every other -son name in existence) and it usually includes “so you want to name your daughter . Please name your next son or you are just perpetuating our chauvinist society.”
That being said, gender bending doesn’t bother me as much as “unisex” because I define them differently. “Unisex”, in my mind, is when a name that was at one time predominately one gender (usually boys) and it becomes socially acceptable as a name for the other gender (and may or may not make it unusable for the original gender to most in society – like the -son names). Gender bending is a name that is completely in one gender gets used by the other on a non-mass scale (like Mercury on a girl and Phaedra on boy). Names that are truly neutral – word names, place names, and most nature names – don’t bother me either (I use them) unless it is for another reason (naming your child Treasure or Precious)
Nymphalis antiopa Said
on January 19th, 2015 at 2:53 pm
Also wanted to add, though it is a bit off subject but somewhat connected. It bothers me too when people go crazy wild naming their daughters creative or kre8tif names, but name their sons something conservative. (Example from a sibset I actually know: Daughters – Esmarina and Calliope Sons – Luke and Daniel) I think it ties into the idea of conforming the gender and societal norms.
Not-So-Different Baby Names: Elena, Caroline, Matteo – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Said
on February 1st, 2015 at 11:39 pm
[…] Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky also used the name. It’s another suggestion that parents are willing to consider names for boys even after they’ve been popular for girls – and a great ends-in-a possibility for a […]
on February 25th, 2015 at 2:31 am
I adore Ashley on a boy. (I was heavily influenced by Gone With the Wind). I also like Mackenzie and Addison.
That being said, I hate the double standard that goes on with unisex names. I saw a forum post about Rose for a boy, and though I said I didn’t feel it was unisex, I really don’t see why it couldn’t be. Because it’s a flower? And flowers aren’t tough? I would love for boys to steal a name or two. The closest I can think of is Jayne.
on February 25th, 2015 at 2:43 am
Oh! And Ariel is also unisex! It would be so cute on a little boy, though admittedly it’s not quite my style. Sadly, it’s unusable to any parents that care about their son not getting called “Princess” on the playground. 🙁
on April 3rd, 2015 at 7:49 pm
I wish this could happen, but I don’t really see this happening until boys are allowed to be sweet and sensitive just as girls are now starting to be allowed to be strong and assertive. Anyone who thinks the growing trend of boy names on girls means things are more equal are fooling themselves. It’s very rare that I see anyone saying they would like to name their daughter OR son Sidney or Elliot or Avery. There’s the people that consider them gentlemanly boys names (like me) and their are those that consider them tomboyish. Pretty much these people have determined that these names are too “soft” for a boy.
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