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Unexpected Unisex Middle Names

September 20, 2020 Emma Waterhouse
unisex middle names

What’s hot in the middle spot? Cool unisex middle names, of course!

Are Baby Names Getting More Gender Neutral?

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 a gender-neutral name (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.

Unisex Middle Names are Rising

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.

Why Choose a Unisex Middle Name?

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 JamesKannon 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!

Gender Neutral Middle Name Ideas

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.

1. Place Names

A world of possibilities beyond Brooklyn and Camden:

Albany
Avalon
Cairo
Eden
Everest
Galilee
Havana
Holland
Indiana
Jericho
Jura
Monaco
Penzance
Phoenix
Rio
Rome
Salem
Shiloh
Tennessee
Veryan

2. Nature Names

Fresh finds from the natural world:

  1. Auburn
  2. Bay
  3. Briar
  4. Cedar
  5. Cypress
  6. Dove
  7. Frost
  8. Indigo
  9. Kestrel
  10. Larkspur
  11. Lumen
  12. Meridian
  13. North
  14. Rue
  15. Sable
  16. Sequoia
  17. Tempest
  18. Viridian
  19. Yarrow
  20. Zephyr

3. Virtue Names

From the aspirational to the inspirational:

  1. Allegro
  2. Amity
  3. Bliss
  4. Bodhi
  5. Endeavor
  6. Ever
  7. Fidelis
  8. Halcyon
  9. Hero
  10. Honor
  11. Jubilee
  12. Justice
  13. Kindred
  14. Kismet
  15. Marvel
  16. Pax
  17. Sage
  18. Solace
  19. True
  20. Zen

4. Hero Names

Notable namesakes from science, literature, music and more:

  1. Angelou
  2. Apollinaire
  3. Auden
  4. Austen
  5. Bowie
  6. Darcy
  7. Faraday
  8. Harlow
  9. Lorca
  10. Lovelace
  11. Matisse
  12. Monet
  13. Monroe
  14. Picasso
  15. Poe
  16. Sojourner
  17. Sundance
  18. Varo
  19. Wilde
  20. Zeppelin

5. International Names

Meaningful monikers from around the globe:

  1. Adair
  2. Akira
  3. Ariel
  4. Blaise
  5. Bryn
  6. Caro
  7. Evren
  8. Joss
  9. Lior
  10. Loveday
  11. Nico
  12. Noa
  13. Noor
  14. Ren
  15. Rumi
  16. Shea
  17. Valentine
  18. Wynn
  19. Yael
  20. Zennor

About the author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse — better known as @katinka around these parts — joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from where to find a cool vintage boy name to why some names become popular memes. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active Forums community ticking. A linguist by background, Emma speaks six languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and three young children. You can reach her at emma@nameberry.com.

View all of Emma Waterhouse's articles

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