Girls’ Name? Boys’ Name? Who Cares?

Inside the post-gender baby names trend

unisex baby names

by Pamela Redmond Satran

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.

How do we define truly unisex baby names? Those with at least a 35/65 split between the sexes.  Babies given names with wider gender splits — 20/80 or 90/10 — rose in number too, but less than ten percent in the past decade.

The rise in babies with unisex names is even more dramatic if you look at the span of a generation, comparing 1985 and 2015. In that time, the number of babies with 35/65 unisex names rose 88 percent; with 90/10 names, 105 percent; and with 80/20 names, 157 percent — nearly triple.

The Top 25 Baby Names that are truly unisex, with the number of children of both genders who were given the name in 2015 and their gender split, are:

Name Girls Boys Total  PercentGirls
Hayden 1703 2712 4415 38
Charlie 1554 1662 3216 48
Emerson 1780 1191 2971 59
Rowan 982 1799 2781 35
Finley 1598 1055 2653 60
River 941 1499 2440 38
Dakota 1323 931 2254 58
Skyler 1111 902 2013 55
Phoenix 691 1152 1843 37
Tatum 775 466 1241 62
Justice 696 543 1239 56
Milan 406 723 1129 35
Lennon 604 440 1044 57
Royal 371 646 1017 36
Armani 428 556 984 43
Lennox 377 597 974 38
Oakley 471 493 964 48
Remy 328 552 880 37
Casey 341 515 856 39
Emory 452 269 721 62
Azariah 326 358 684 47
Landry 297 260 557 53
Briar 330 203 533 61
Baylor 215 280 495 43
Frankie 269 205 474 56

Another remarkable finding indicating that we are moving toward a greater acceptance of gender-neutral baby names: We’re using them more often for boys. The balance tipped from 48 percent of the Top 25 unisex names going to boys in 2005 to 54 percent of them going to boys in 2015.

In other words, parents are more likely today than they were ten years ago to use a popular gender-neutral name for a boy, a refreshing turnaround.

Some specific names that are going in the boys’ direction: Casey, the Number 1 unisex name in 2005 when it was split evenly between the genders, is now over 60 percent male. Hollis and Remy have gone from half  to two-thirds male, and Phoenix has risen from 60 to 67 percent male.

Celebrities can have a huge influence on the gender identity of names. Channing Tatum, for instance, has turned the image of his name from less than ten percent male a decade ago to nearly 40 percent male now. Hayden Panettiere has done the same thing in the opposite direction, taking that name from only 11 percent to 38 percent female in the past ten years.

But the celebrity influence doesn’t always take the gender direction you’d predict. Football star Peyton Manning‘s first name, for instance, has moved from just over half to three-quarters female in the past decade. And while the name Lennon is vastly more popular overall, its gender balance has shifted dramatically toward the girls, 57 percent female now vs. 14 percent a decade ago.

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