Boys’ Names: A Walk on the Softer Side

For a long time, as girls marched in masculine naming territory, appropriating such boys’ names as Blair and Blake, Avery and Riley, Peyton and Parker, the boys retreated to firmly male turf, reviving such classics as William and Henry, forging into new macho terrain with names like Hunter and Stone.

It was okay, the thinking went with names as with clothing, toys, and career aspirations, for girls to adopt masculine attributes, but not for boys to take up girlish things.

Now, though, something surprising has happened. Boys’ names are getting decidedly softer, with traditional choices that include sibilant sounds and vowel endings gaining in popularity, and parents reclaiming unisex names for their sons.

Why the switch? As a society, we’re becoming more comfortable with the blurring of gender roles and identity. The rise of gay marriage, full-time daddyhood, girl power and the metrosexual has made it more acceptable not only for girls to be a little bit butch, but for boys to be sweet, kind, sensitive, even pretty.

And to have pretty names to go along with their gentle new image. Some of the long-established boys’ names on the rise that incorporate a softer sound:

ADRIAN
ASA
ASHER
ATTICUS
AUGUST
AUSTIN
CHRISTIAN
DARIUS
DASHIELL
ELIAS
ELIJAH
ELLIOT
ETHAN
EVAN
EZRA
GABRIEL
ISAIAH
JASPER
JONAH
JOSHUA
JOSIAH
JUDAH
JULIAN
JUSTIN
LUCA
LUCAS
MICAH
NOAH
SEAN
TRAVIS
TRISTAN

More parents today are telling us they’re fine with choosing a name for their sons that’s also well-used for girls. Among the unisex names that parents are refusing to cede to the feminine side are:

ALEXIS
ARIEL
AVERY
BAILEY
BLAKE
BRETT
CAMERON
CARTER
CASEY
DAKOTA
DREW
DYLAN
EDEN
EMERSON
FINLEY
HARPER
HAYDEN
JALEN
JAMESON
JESSE
JORDAN
KAI
KENNEDY
KYLE
LANE
LONDON
MARLEY
PARKER
PEYTON
QUINN
RILEY
ROWAN
SKYLER
TAYLOR
ZION

What do you think of these softer boys’ names? Would you use one for your son? Let us know.

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40 Responses to “Boys’ Names: A Walk on the Softer Side”

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Erin Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 12:33 am

I would add Jasper to the first list. I’m one who wanted a clearly masculine name for my son (and a clearly feminine name for my daughter). I wonder if it’s because as an Erin who grew up in the 70s in Ohio with a short pixie cut, I was often mistaken for a boy Aaron. Love my name now, but really, really hated that when I was a girl.

Barbara Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 1:50 am

I can’t vote in the poll, because my opinion is that most of the names on that second list aren’t unisex–they’re boys’ names that people have been using on girls. My preference would be that girls’ parents stop raiding the boys’ list, so that boys don’t get crowded out!

Pam Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 7:35 am

I’m adding Jasper — perfect one, thanks — and wish I’d thought of that option for the poll, Barbara!

Hope Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 8:13 am

I love Ariel as a boy’s name, though most people think it’s strictly femme, as well as Asher and even Ashley (which started out as a boys name!). I also love that Eden’s on your list… sooo nice for a boy, strong and grounded. Never would have thought of it.
Also; Pascal! Etienne! I love the soft french names that are still confident in their masculinity.

phaedra Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 8:25 am

Good post. I agree with Barbara. As the mom of a Wesley who has since heard of it used as a girl name, I’m ready for the girls’ side to stop plundering boys’ names. There are already fewer viable choices for naming boys due to previous generations of girls pilfering Beverley, Courtney, Ashley, etc. And while I personally don’t mind naming my boy a “unisex” name, my hunch is that, in future years, HE might. 🙂

namefan Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 8:37 am

Good timing for this post – I had a post for my own blog on how the attitudes with regards to unisex names have varied over the generations ready to go, and it’s now posted at this link:
http://millennialkelly.blogspot.com/2009/07/generations-and-attitude-towards-unisex.html

Yes, I love the idea of softer and “unisex” names for boys. From the “softer sound” list my favorites are Adrian and Gabriel; from the second list I like Avery, Casey, Riley, and Rowan. In the poll I chose the “I’d have no problem giving my son a name that was also used for girls” option.

Abby Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 10:27 am

You might think I’m crazy, but I kinda think some of this goes back to the 80s hair bands. All of a sudden, hyper-masculinity was married to heavy eye make-up, Aqua Net and flat-out feminine names – Nikki Sixx, Jani Lane.

Our 4 y.o. answers mostly to Aly. I suppose if he were a scrawny little thing I might’ve thought twice about the potential burden of calling him by an ambiguously-gendered nickname. He’s big for his age and athletic, so it hasn’t been an issue.

I think the old conventional wisdom that once a boys’ name has been used for girls, it is tinted pink forever is probably fading. Which celeb was it that just named her son Kelley?

Samantha Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 11:03 am

I love so many of the ‘softer’ sounding names on the list, like Adrian, Asher, Atticus, Dashiell, Elliot, Ezra, Gabriel, Jonah, Judah, Luca, and Micah. They’re some of my favorites. Some of the names from the second list I would be cautious using. I think that society sees Alexis, Ariel, Avery, Bailey, Casey, Harper, London, and Skyler firmly in the ‘girl’ camp, and even if I disagreed, I’m not sure I could do that to my son. However, I really wouldn’t use these for girls either- I’m not big on unisex names in general!

tikicatt Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 11:21 am

Travis is softer? Maybe in NY or the East, but in Texas that is a rough and tumble name. I was at a job that was getting a temp one time and we were told the name would be Travis and we all groaned we knew exactly what we were getting and all the way down to the red neck we were right. I really would move the Travis off that list.
Now Tristan – that has recently hit the unisex name down here, heard of 2 girls in the last year. Tristram is much softer and I think will stay on boys list.
Great post!

olivegreen Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

I agree 100% with Barbara! I know females with the names Stewart, Ryan, Noah, Kyle, and Earl (yes, Earl!). With so many wonderful girl names, I don’t know why parents need to steal from the boy’s list. Although I would make an exception for family names–sometimes you want to honor a family member and that’s fine by me 🙂

Boston Girl Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I actually like most of these names (I’m pretty picky about names, and have very strong feelings about what I like and dislike). I know a boy named Adrian; I have a male friend named Austin; I went to school with a boy named Taylor; one of my cousins named his son Julian; if I have a son, I’ll name him Christian (I also went to school with a Christian, though he went by Chris); and my younger stepson’s middle name is Carter. Austin, Chris(tian) and Taylor, like me, are 60s babies, and Julian is now 22; so maybe this trend goes back a little farther than it appears to.

Elle Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 6:57 pm

I have always loved aleksander, but I prefer less popular names. Lately I have fallen in love with Sasha for a BOY (as a diminuitive of aleksander). I haven’t asked anyone whether or not they think it is too feminine, because I know they will say it is. I am fairly certain if we have another boy his name will be Sasha, and frankly I am not worried about the femineity issues at all, probably because I tend to prefer softer “girlier” names. My younger son is Milo, and other names that I love are Luca, Asa, Lucian, Rivers, August, and Romilly.

Chesleigh Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I think people who give their daughters boy names, are trying to give unique names, but in some cases, they go to far, giving names that most people would think are definately masculine. Adrian and Ryan are pretty common for both genders, but I know some girls named Austyn, Carter, Carson, and Hunter. I think that is going too far. Those names should be for boys only.

Chesleigh Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I also know a girl named August

Veris Says:

July 10th, 2009 at 1:23 am

I would use names that are commonly used on girls on my sons. “Softer” sounding boys names take up most of my list, and Ashley is my favorite name for a boy.

There really aren’t any names on this list I find very feminine, except Eden. Eden, I know, made the charts this year for boys, but I’m thinking it might be an Aidan off-shoot.

Elizabeth Says:

July 10th, 2009 at 2:00 am

Robin is one of my top names for a boy. I also like Morgan and I don’t mind Kelly too much, it is not a favorite, though.

Charlotte Says:

July 10th, 2009 at 2:49 am

I adore Beverly as a boys’ name — ever since I read Montgomery’s The Story Girl. Sadly, I know that that is one that no boy could get away with in North America right now.

Pam Says:

July 10th, 2009 at 8:10 am

OK Tikicatt, I think you’re right about Travis. Despite the soft final s, he really doesn’t belong on that list. But Elizabeth, Robin definitely does belong here — it’s certainly one that’s becoming more acceptable for boys again.

Abby Says:

July 10th, 2009 at 10:08 am

Elle, we have an Alexander, named after his grandfather Aleksander. They’re from Poland, so Sasha was veto’d as way too Russian. Aleksey/Alexei was a possibility, but as it happened our kiddo named himself Aly.

But there is an Alexander called Sasha in our daughter’s daycare. With Liev Schreiber/Naomi Watts choosing the name for their son, I think it is absolutely fair game for a boy – especially with Alexander on the birth certificate.

Sebastiane Says:

July 11th, 2009 at 10:41 am

Personally, I don’t find Atticus, Asher and Jasper to be “soft names,” rather, quite the opposite.

Lindley Says:

July 13th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

As someone who has a baby girl with a “boy” name (Logan), and has a traditional male name herself, I am always perplexed by how vehemently opposed people are to using some boy names on girls. Maybe it’s because I only have a daughter and therefore haven’t experienced naming a son, but I think a lot of boy names can work for girls and vice versa. I tend to adore boy names for girls-Avery, Riley, Logan, Harper, Sage, Reese, etc., but if I were to have a boy, I’d go with a very boyish name, not one that crosses over into the girl camp. I think part of my bias is that I’m an attorney and it’s hard to be taken seriously if you are a girl and your name is something like “Lilac.”

Maren Says:

July 13th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Every name I considered for a boy is on the “soft” list.

everett Says:

July 16th, 2009 at 3:28 am

I was named a very traditional masculine name, Everett (which means wild boar or something) and my middle name is King, and I have always appreciated that my parents chose to give me a strong name. I love soft, feminine names (I’m often called Evie), but I feel empowered by the strength my name conveys. My daughter’s name is Jude (after my father). I don’t think I am encroaching on anyone’s territory by naming her directly after an incredible and important man in my life, and I don’t think anyone should ever feel they have to dilute a name to make it girly (like Judy) if they don’t want to. Remember: many girls’ names were adopted as feminine versions of boys’ names and I just don’t think we should have to modify if we like the original form!

ailsa gray Says:

July 17th, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I have a son called Douglas. This was originally a surname of course, but also in the sixteenth century, it was more commonly used for girls than boys. Plus ca change!

Tom Says:

September 5th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

I agree with Charlotte that Beverly is a great name for a boy and I would have no problem giving my son that name. I have known men named Beverly and they have had no real problems with it. Other names I like for boys are Kimberly, Gail, Dana, and Adrian. I wish I’d been given a softer name like that. I particularly like Kimberly.

Andrea Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I love alot of those names! I’m expecting baby #4 and had decided on Avery Elizabeth for a girl. Turns out I’m having boy #4–I like Avery for a boy too, but wouldn’t use it due to the climbing popularity for girls. I have three boys already who’s names are considered unisex. Devon, Logan, and Hayden. I can’t find a name that fits. I’ve been searching the unisex lists and am surprised by some of the names that are making the cross for girls. Does it look like this trend is ending any time soon??(the using boy names for girls) It’s making so hard to choose a name.

Andre Says:

December 23rd, 2009 at 11:58 pm

The trend will never end. Back in the early 20th century, boys were named Pearl, Alva, Pink, Hilary, Holly, Shilery, etc. It’s always gonna happen, and I hate the trend. I love boy names like Dakota, Shannon, Kelly, Shelby, Kimberly, Courtney, Casey, Kailey, Madison, Lesley and Meredith. If parents stop giving them to boys, they’ll never make a comeback

Ali Says:

January 4th, 2010 at 9:36 am

I love unisex names and some of these names are great. Our son’s name is Morgen and our daughter’s name is Quinn. It really confuses some people because they think their names should be reversed. I know my son will have girls his age with the same name, but it doesn’t bother me whatsoever. Hopefully it won’t bother him either! 🙂

5012 Says:

January 22nd, 2010 at 9:59 pm

” I think that society sees Alexis, Ariel, Avery, Bailey, Casey, Harper, London, and Skyler firmly in the ‘girl’ camp”

Skyler ranks higher for boys than girls in the SSA lists and has been rising for boys and dropping for girls so I don’t Skyler should be on the list at all.

Jessica Says:

February 1st, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I am pregnant and due in June 2010. My husband I are having our second son. We are very excited but when it came to picking out a name, we had a really hard time – just like we did with our first boy. We decided on the name Taylor after my Grandparents. It’s their last name. Well we started telling people we were naming him Taylor – we told our Grandparents. They were tickled pink! But we started getting a lot of people saying to us that it’s a girls name. I am so upset about this. My husband wants to use it anyways but I am so worried he’s going to get teased in school and I don’t know what to do. My husband likes Taylor Dean. But you rarely hear anyone’s middle name- What should I do????

Pamela Redmond Satran Says:

February 1st, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Hi Jessica — I’m afraid no one’s going to see your post here because this is an old blog, but I would encourage you to go to the forums on Boys’ Names and gather some opinions. Last year, there were 7 times as many girls as boys named Taylor — 8000+ girls to 1300 boys. If you decide you’re just not comfortable with those odds, you can use it as a middle name….or save it for a daughter! You might also think of a nickname that’s a bit more masculine. I’m not sure whether Tay does it for you, but that’s one idea.

Andre Says:

February 8th, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Hey Jessica, just go with Taylor. It’s an all boy name to me, and parents shouldn’t give up on it

namefan Says:

February 10th, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I agree with Andre; I think that Taylor is still usable for a boy. I do like the idea of a clearly masculine middle name in case your DS feels uncomfortable with a unisex first name. The way to help keep these names at least somewhat masculine is to continue use them for boys!

namefan Says:

February 10th, 2010 at 7:55 pm

P.S. (just thought of this as I clicked “submit”): Taylor for a girl has started to become somewhat dated (with its peak in the ’90s), and I think that it has less of a dated feel on a boy (other examples of names that I think are dated or getting there for a girl but fresher on a boy are Kelly and Morgan*).

*The opposite of Pam and Linda’s “Geezer Names for Girls” in which they like names such as Seymour and Stanley for girls.

Sparkle Says:

March 16th, 2011 at 10:12 am

You could call him Taylor-Dean though that is a little hyphen last name-ish

thelifespark Says:

March 9th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Well Kai would have to be the top of my list since that’s the name I have picked out if I have a boy but I also love Noah (it was the second highest contender after Kai), Asher, and Ariel. I also find Zion and Rowan very appealing.

ajenemie Says:

August 11th, 2012 at 10:31 am

A lot of traditional masculine names sound feminine to our ears; perhaps though it is more depending on their origin. Imported names ending with a’s stuck for girls on lists for many decades in America. While boys names eventually became more americanized, eventually getting “tougher”. I mean Spike? Guy? Cole? Bad choices unless you are naming a guard dog… Here’s a good rule- when naming a little boy, keep it classy.

QTPi Says:

September 15th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

The names in the second list are definitely soft. The first list has a few names that I don’t agree are soft at all. Atticus is the opposite of a soft name in my opinion. It may end in a soft “s” sound but the hard ‘t’ sound in the middle, along with the middle of the word hitting a hard ‘c’ makes this name anything but soft. Compare with the name Asher. Asher sounds very weak and soft in comparison. It starts with a very soft ‘Ash’ and ends with the even softer ‘er’. The whole word had a very light, soft and almost breathy sound. Atticus in contrast is almost “hard’.

Pink Peonies Says:

October 15th, 2012 at 10:40 am

Apparently this is my common thread of boy names! We have a son named Noah and are expecting boy #2. I love the names Asa and Ian – both of which seem soft but masculine to me. I also had Judah on my list and hubs had Jonah on his.

Haili73 Says:

October 16th, 2012 at 9:54 am

The only name I truly have a problem with on this list is Ariel. I know Ariel started as unisex with Shakespeare, but the poor little guy’s going to be identified with a little mermaid for the rest of his life. Ari might be a better choice if you like that sort of name.

Other than that, the only other one I have a slight problem with is Harper. Now, I love Harper on a boy. Love it. My first time seeing this name was on a male character in Palace of Mirrors, and I loved it. But so many girls are being named Harper (it’s like in the top 15 or 20) that naming a boy Harper now would be cruel, and I wouldn’t do that to a kid, no matter how much I love the name. It’s different from names like Skyler and Taylor that are equally distributed as far as what gender has them, so there’s not much of an issue there.

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