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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18 Responses to “Girls’ Name? Boys’ Name? Who Cares?”

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yellowplums Says:

August 18th, 2016 at 11:03 pm

His name is Channing Tatum, not Tatum Channing!

Maple10 Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 5:52 am

Not of fan of unisex names, personally. It may be cute to have a boy’s name on a girl, but I doubt a boy wants to have the same name as a girl. I also love longer feminine names for girls, so it makes me sad to meet a girl named Cooper or Carson.
I do think nicknames are different though. Alex, Sam, Lou, Joe etc definitely work for both genders.

Readingclaygirl Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 8:52 am

Names like Casey and Skyler are not only gender neutral but can also be spelt in different ways if one wants the name to seem more feminine or masculine. For example Casey can be spelt Kacie or KayCe both of which seem more feminine to me while Skyler can be spelt Schuyler which appears more masculine. I’m surprised at some of the names I consider to be quite gender neutral did not appear on this list (Taylor, Jordan, Avery)

Tamparays8 Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 9:11 am

It’s Channing Tatum, not Tatum Channing. I’m shocked Taylor, Peyton, Jordan, and Avery didn’t make the list.

JulesBerry Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 10:25 am

@Readingclaygirl: I don’t know how one can get Skyler from Schuyler? My maiden name starts with Sch, so I always see is as ‘sh’, though it can obviously be ‘sk’ as in ‘school’. Unique spellings that aren’t obvious are going to be difficult for everyone to pronounce. If parents want to be unique, an uncommon name is, in my opinion, much better than an uncommon spelling.

LoveBugsMama Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 11:40 am

Great post. I’ve always liked boys names on girls and unisex names (on girls) and I’ve noticed now that I’m starting to prefer some on boys. Rowan had always been one of my top favorites for girls and now I’m pretty torn on if I prefer it for a boy instead. I do prefer Taylor and Kelly on boys when I used to think they were all girl.

Readingclaygirl Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Julesberry- according to Nameberry, it is the orginal Dutch version of Skyler. It’s not a name I would use but I do know of 3 or 4 boys with that spelling

JulesBerry Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Huh, you learn something new every day!

kennamoon Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Skyler was given to 1111 girls and 902 boys and 9+0+2= 11………………………………………

Readingclaygirl Says:

August 19th, 2016 at 9:46 pm

I think Emory looks to be gender neutral but doesn’t necessarily sound that way. Em- mar-ree It sounds like a combination of Em and Marie and therefore very feminine

eveyalecia Says:

August 20th, 2016 at 12:54 am

@Maple10: “It may be cute to have a boy’s name on a girl, but I doubt a boy wants to have the same name as a girl.” HMM. Double-standard much? This is why it’s refreshing to see truly gender neutral names, instead of a “boy’s name” turn into a “girl’s name.” It’s a sign that parents are becoming less concerned with boys having ~feminine~ names, which will soon be children and adults alike not being concerned with whether a name is feminine or masculine, or whether ANYONE is feminine or masculine regardless of gender. I’m glad to see this trend progressing.

tfzolghadr Says:

August 20th, 2016 at 12:21 pm

I think this is an interesting article, but slightly misleading. It’s not “post-gender” for all of these names. The issue is that you are defining “truly unisex” based on current usage, then saying that people continuing to use these names even though they are split. However, the issue is how do you define “truly unisex”? Emerson has an inherently masculine meaning and usage. Remy has a historically masculine usage. For these names, it seems more like the case is that females are starting to use them, and moms are simply continuing to give them to their sons, also. These names are not unisex in the same way as Phoenix or River. Nor is it “post gender”… Post gender would be names like River, or would include borrowing both names (not simply male names borrowed for girls that moms don’t abandon for their boys).

clairels Says:

August 21st, 2016 at 2:08 pm

“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.”

See, Nameberries? The Namepocalypse is not imminent.

AldabellaxWulfe Says:

August 22nd, 2016 at 9:42 am

Girls’ Name? Boys’ Name? Who Cares?

– Well… the creators of this entire website do, actually. All you have to do to prove that is click on the boy pages of so called ‘unisex’ names:

Kimberly: “For a boy, don’t you dare.”
Allison: “This shows up on the Social Security data for boys, but no longer appropriate.”
Reese: “On the rise for girls, thanks to the high-profile Ms. Witherspoon. For boys, better stick to Rhys.”
Courtney: “Since this courtly old southern name has been used mostly for girls for decades, it’s now out-of-bounds for boys.”
Ashley: “Even if it started as a strictly male name, when a name has been on the girls’ most-popular list for decades, it becomes somewhat more difficult for a boy to carry, despite the lingering memory of the sensitive Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. Some alternatives are Ash, Asher and Ashton.”
Christy: “Common nickname for Christopher in Ireland, too feminine for use here.”
Regan: “Going, going, gone to the girls now.”

There are countless others like those above. I referr back to this post made last year (http://nameberry.com/nametalk/threads/185593-Why-is-everything-feminine-to-Nameberry), where dozens of Nameberry users pointed out the many sexist and hypocritical comments that the site’s creators bear towards ‘unisex’ names being used on boys. Pam in particular seemed to take great interest in it, but ultimately changed about… two or three comments. And that was all.

What you’ve written for this article and what you’ve written about specific ‘unisex’ names on your website severely contradict each other. Not only that but this article is incredibly misleading. People using boy names on girls is not ‘post gender naming’. And people ignoring the one-way gender bending trend by continuing to use boy names for their boys also cannot be deemed as ‘post gender naming’.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m disappointed in this post.

bandgeek10182 Says:

August 22nd, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I have to agree with @AldabellaxWulfe a bit. I mean, I support everyone being able to state their opinion, the creators of this site included, but I feel like some of the descriptions of the names make the whole Nameberry site meaningless. Isn’t this Web site supposed to be a place for people to discover new names and learn the meanings of new and old names alike and find names that sound similar yet different to please a picky spouse? It saddens me to see parents discouraged from names they love because of a negative comment from the writers.

It’s not just the unisex names either. Neptune is on my personal baby name list. I love it. But if you look up Neptune, it says “This Roman mythology name would be very hard to handle. ” Then if you look up Poseidon, it says “This version of the sea god’s name may be more ready for prime time than the Roman version, Neptune — slightly.” They still don’t like it, but they’re essentially saying, “If you’re gonna name your baby after a water deity, better go with this one!” I personally would never consider using Poseidon though. I think Neptune is a great name for a baby. I get it though. Not everyone is going to like your baby name, no matter what you pick. It’s preparing me for potential negative comments from friends and strangers in the future.

If you look up the Welsh name Ieuan, you find “Ieuan is a Scrabble-rack full of impossible vowels. Consider Ewan, Ian, or Owen instead.” But if there are Welsh parents looking for traditional Welsh names for their kids, this might be the perfect option for them. When looking up Agung, you’re met with “This name may be ‘great’ in Bahasa (the main language of Indonesia), but the sound does not sit lightly on the English-speaking tongue.” Americans and English-speakers are not the only people using this site, and it is not the job of people who do not speak English as a first language (or at all) to make sure they pick a name that’s easy for Americans to pronounce, even if they are living in America. I know some people prefer to pick more American-sounding names, and that is perfectly fine but certainly not expected. There may also be English-speaking parents who are adopting a child from another country or culture who may want to honor their baby’s homeland by using a name that is traditional there, and seeing comments like this from the site’s creators may be sending the message that their baby is somehow “less” because of where they’re from.

I don’t mean to tell anyone how to do their job (especially since some people specifically pick names that are unpopular so their child has a unique name, so your comments may be helpful to some), and I certainly don’t want to promote censorship, but I do want to point out the fact that these comments may deter people from reading your Web site. Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave the opinions to the questions and comments in the forum? That’s where people go to ask what people really think of a name or if they need help deciding.

Other than that, I think Nameberry is a fun site and a great tool, but having a baby-naming Web site promote some names, be indifferent towards others, and criticize some seems arbitrary and unhelpful and the opposite of what the site is supposed to do, which is just provide a resource of existing names to pick from and their meanings.

Nimwey Says:

August 24th, 2016 at 5:54 am

Yeah, I agree with the two above comments that some opining about the gender associations of various historically unisex names on this database is uncalled for and is really at odds with your expressed awareness of the fluidity of naming choices and trends. If a currently unusual choice (in some localities, mind; even within the US the consensus varies culturally and geographically) might at some point come into favour, why dismiss that possibility by appearing to enforce a status quo?

I think this is a general problem with a lot of database entries that discourage using various names based on current associations and tastes (or just those of the editors). Especially when an entry is only a sentence or two long, such comments gain unreasonable prominence. You’re putting baggage on names for no good reason, and it really spoils a database that is otherwise very comprehensive and open for the discovery of hidden gems.

Also, this inconsistency seems to imply that it’s only acceptable for celebrities to make bold choices, and that trends are only started or validated by high visibility babies. Probably not your intended message, but it comes across when you compare these blog posts to database entries.

In regards to the study of true unisex names, I’m really curious how many parents now are actually considering unisex names regardless of their baby’s sex, vs how many just have different primary gender associations for a unisex name and don’t mind (or consider) that there’ll be kids of the opposite sex with the same name. This would be some interesting data to have.

charlesokuku Says:

December 11th, 2016 at 7:05 am

In most cases nobody cares about what you are named or what you have named your child. We should ensure we use. Take a look at some on these site http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_african_girlname_lindiwe.html
names that are cool

The Ill-Advised Blending of the Sexes, including Gender-Neutral Names | CartaRemi Says:

January 15th, 2017 at 12:08 pm

[…] monikers have increased by 88 per cent in the past 30 years — in the past decade alone, unisex names have risen by 60 per cent.”  From “Baby Names 2016: The Most Popular Unisex Names Revealed,” by Isabelle Khoo, […]

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