Unisex Middle Names
by Emma Waterhouse
Over the past decade, we’ve seen starbabies named Wyatt Oliver and Wyatt Isabelle, Babyberries called Harbor Alister and Harbor Aurelia, and unisex options like Skyler and Peyton, Arrow and Linden crossing gender lines in both directions. And the number of babies receiving truly gender-neutral names (one with at least a 35:65 gender split) is up more than 60% compared to a decade ago.
We’re also seeing the question of “post-gender” naming cropping up more and more on the Nameberry forums. Whether it’s name fans playing with gender norms for fun, prospective parents keen to settle on a name for their baby regardless of sex, or adults considering changing their given names as part of a gender transition, it looks like this phenomenon is far more than just a passing fad.
With all of these unisex first names flying around, you’d think that conventionally gendered middles would be holding firm, if only for practicality’s sake. And you’d be right — to a certain extent, at least. Although the SSA doesn’t record data on middle names, anecdotal evidence tells us that traditional picks like Rose and Elizabeth, James and Michael still reign supreme in the middle spot (although James has recently been creeping into an increasing number of girl birth announcements, too).
But we’ve also seen more adventurous — and ambiguous — options like Fox and West, Campbell and Milton, Artemis and Jupiter used for babies of both sexes, both on Nameberry and out in the “real world”.
In many ways, current name trends lend themselves to this. Some of the most fashionable sources of baby name inspiration in recent years — from novel word names to family surnames to brand new coinages — lack the long-standing gender associations that more conventional choices carry. But it’s also indicative of a broader cultural shift towards deliberately gender-neutral baby naming: after all, spelling variations aside, it looks like Ray/Rae could be both the new James and the new Rose in that historically conservative middle name slot.
It’s easy to see the appeal. A unique unisex middle name can add an unexpected twist to a mainstream first name, as in the case of starbabies Penelope Scotland and Jonathan Rosebanks. It can help to tone down the frilliness or machismo of a strongly gendered first name: think Alyssa Milano’s Elizabella Dylan, or Kevin James’ Kannon Valentine. Or it can reinforce the deliberate ambiguity of a truly gender-neutral first name choice, like Megan Fox’s Journey River or Alanis Morrissette’s Onyx Solace.
And while monosyllabic monikers — from Ann and John to Wren and Gray — have always ruled in the middle spot, there’s room for more elaborate options, too. It can be fun to pair a short, simple first name with a more dramatic middle, or to balance out a fancy first with a more tailored middle name. This trend is all about thinking outside the box!
Here are five of our favorite places to look for fresh inspiration for the middle name slot, plus some of the most unexpected unisex options in each category.
Nature Names — fresh finds from the natural world:
Virtue Names — from the aspirational to the inspirational:
Hero Names — notable namesakes from science, literature, music and more:
International Names — meaningful monikers from around the globe:
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on November 12th, 2018 at 9:54 am
I love Arrow and Cedar so much. I don’t think I would ever actually use them as first names, but for sure as middles. They are so great! My favorite place name is Arlington. It’s my oldest son’s name, and he gets complimented on it frequently!
on November 13th, 2018 at 8:38 am
My partner and I both want to include a unisex middle name, in order to give a child space to use a given name if their more explicitly gendered first name doesn’t work for them. Currently, we’re planning on using Lore for our first child, regardless of sex. We wanted to honor a number of family members with L names, and were initially talking about Lauren/Laurence (traditionally unisex), which led to the suggestion of Laure ( traditionally feminine, but would totally work on a boy), which led us to the Lore spelling, which also honors our interest in stories and storytelling (my wife is a published author).
I would also love to pass on my middle name, Rae, which I share with my mother. My grandmother chose it not as a derivative of Rachel or Raymond, but as a feminine spelling of the noun ray, as in a ray of light.
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