Why I Named my Son Jayne
I’m going to talk about my son Jayne.
Jayne is a sometimes happy, sometimes whiny, always snuggly terror of a two-and-a-half-year-old. Basically, he’s a typical toddler. Jayne is also big. He’s tall and very dense, and people constantly think he’s older than he is. I’m giving you this detail for a reason that will make sense in a bit.
He also has a traditionally female name: Jayne. There is no difference in how it is pronounced and no, we don’t shorten it and call him Jay, or Arthur (his middle name) or Wyatt (another middle name). His name is Jayne.
He was named after Jayne Cobb, the badass mercenary on Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” People who know the show and movie recognize it immediately and are usually in a bit of happy disbelief that he really is named after Jayne Cobb. Jayne Cobb is awesome. He’s not a good guy. He’s not exactly loyal, or kind, or tactful, but he is an awesome character with a fantastic name.
Those are the responses we love to receive. People have started singing “Jayne’s Song” to us, or asked if I ever sang it to him (which I do, on a regular basis) and then of course we all break out into the first verse and chorus. No joke. The other positive reactions we get to his name are from the people who pause and then ask how we spell it, then pause again and comment, “Oh, I really like that!” with full sincerity. (Trust me, I can tell the difference.) These two responses make up the majority of our interactions regarding his name.
And yet somehow, the negative ones stick out:
“Oh really? You named your son Jayne? Why would you do that to him?”
“Have you thought about what it will be like for him in school?”
“What does your husband think of this?”
“He better grow up to be a big boy to make it through school with that name.”
“What’s his middle name? Good thing, at least he can go by one of those.”
“Were you secretly hoping for a girl?”
“I’ll just call him Jay.”
“That poor boy.”
I’ve heard all of these responses more than once. All of these comments have been from family or random people, rarely from our friends (we have awesome, progressive friends).
The one thing these commenters all have in common? They’ve all been adults. Not once have we heard anything about his name from a child.
Jayne was a Roots of Empathy baby starting at three months old, and in the class of grade one and grade two kids we visited monthly, not one questioned why my baby boy had the same name as a girl in the class. He was just baby Jayne.
So when adults then ask me, “Have you thought about what it will be like for him in school?” I can’t help but ask them what they mean. Wouldn’t it be best to teach our children not to pick on a child based on his or her name? By asking this question in front of your own children, you are perpetuating the idea that it’s OK to question, make fun of, or single out my son for his name—which it definitely is not.
The two comments that bother me the most are, “What does your husband think of this?” and “He better grow up to be a big kid!” Apparently it’s incomprehensible that a man could give his son a feminine name.
Truth is, naming him Jayne was my husband’s decision. He loves the character, there was no arm-twisting, no convincing and not once did he have any second thoughts. So that’s what my husband thinks about this.
And about Jayne’s size: Really? He has to grow up to be big and burly just because his name is feminine? If he’s going to go through life named Jayne, apparently he can’t be too small in stature, or too sensitive, or too emotional. Do people understand what they’re implying here? They’re basically saying that he needs to be a tough, masculine guy to counteract having a girls’ name.
Because it’s not really about a name, and it never was, whether our critics realize it or not. In fact, most people love the name Jayne: It’s a classic, beautiful choice. For us, it’s also a strong name.
When people imply that our son will be hurt—physically or emotionally—because of it, they are doing so because they have been trained to think of femininity as inferior to masculinity. It’s one way of demonstrating the view that females are somehow worth less then men. That to be feminine is to be considered weak. Most people would never admit how sexist this is—and they argue fervently with me that no, they’re not sexist—but they are. Their comments are.
We need to educate the parents who don’t let their sons dress up as princesses for Halloween even though they want to. We need to reach the moms who are attached to their daughters’ long hair and won’t let them cut it, and somehow get through to the men who thoughtlessly retire to the living room after a big family meal while all the women tidy up. All of these smaller examples—and this kind of thinking—is what leads us to larger issues, and to rampant sexism. It’s what allows society to ignore and deny the gender pay gap, it’s what allows rape culture to persist, for women’s health organizations to be chronically underfunded and over-scrutinized, and for the vicious online attacks of female journalists and female politicians. It’s what allowed Judge Aaron Persky to hand down a six-month jail sentence (reduced to three) to Brock Turner, a convicted rapist, because anything longer would leave a “severe impact” on the rest of his life.
With the events of the last few months in the US, I fear that our access to equal rights will only get worse. So we need to push back, and call people out for their ingrained sexist behaviours—even the seemingly minor or insignificant ones. It matters.
That’s why I challenge my son’s critics to reconsider how they think about sex and gender. (Yup, those are two different things.) I want to make people question how we treat young girls and boys, how society expects us to dress them, and yes, what we name them.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 4:12 am
I love this! Everything you said about gender rings true; I wish more people would be aware of the subtlety of sexism in our society – all those microaggressions add up to do a lot of damage. I can’t believe that this behaviour even starts before birth: pink for a girl, blue for a boy, etc. And gender reveal parties?! My goodness.
It seems like you and your husband have thoughtfully considered Jayne’s name, and will raise children with a healthy and inclusive understanding of gender — hooray!
on February 23rd, 2017 at 4:34 am
Yes!!! Love the “Firefly” series! I’ve always liked Jayne’s name and secretly wished someone would be brave enough to gender-bend the name. Honestly, I signed into Nameberry (after a long hiatus) to comment on how cool you are and how cool your son is, just for his name!
(Also, there’s a “Patrick Jane” on the tv series, “The Mentalist” who is a cool character. So your little guy gets another win!)
on February 23rd, 2017 at 5:24 am
Great name, and yes, I immediately thought of Firefly. There’s such a double standard for unisex naming – if girls can be named James, Arlo, etc., why not a boy named Jayne? And in the US (I’m assuming you live there) you have the freedom to do it. Here in Germany, there’s a law the given name has to be clearly male or female, and the registration office can reject your name if it’s unclear.
Also, in some cultures, isn’t the middle name sometimes female for traditionally religious reasons? Like Jean-Marie or Jose Maria.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 6:03 am
Loved this article! Everything you said was so true. Kids are taught prejudice and gender roles- no child hates someone who is different than them unless their parents tell them to.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 7:29 am
Love this! I’ve always hated “unisex” names, but mostly because it only goes one direction. The internalize misogyny is a huge contributing factor. I’ve actually heard a father justify giving his daughter a traditionally masculine name by saying it is “strong”. The same couple described my daughter’s name as “weak”. They purposely dressed their daughter in unisex clothes, and seemed obsessed with the fact that my daughter loves dresses and hair bows. She’s just really girly, and she chooses a lot of her clothes. However, she also loves dinosaurs, Totoro, and robots. She has a collection on miniature airplanes, and regularly tears her dresses. Fine with me. If I had a boy, I’d let him choose hair bows if he wanted… because the goal of parenting is to let your children develop independently and naturally. I absolutely love that you named your son Jayne. Hopefully other people can come to be more open minded.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 8:29 am
I’m glad you’ve found a name that you love and I’m sorry that people have been rude about it. I think it’s important to remember that whether you named your son John or Jayne there would be a handful of rude people who give unasked for negative opinions. I think it’s rather unwarrented to assume that sexism is the only reason for their concern. Unless these people are bringing you down while also naming their own daughters James or Elliott, they probably just view the sexes as different, not necessarily one being inferior.
Nameberry was literally the only blog I had left that had not turned political. I love to read the motivations behind naming decisions, but I would really prefer to hear “his name meshes with our progressive feminist views” instead of having to read through a litany of leftwing talking points and a condemnation of US politics by a writer who doesn’t even live there.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 10:20 am
I love this! It is such a fresh perspective here too! I have seen many comments with the opinion that a traditionally male name going to too many girls will ruin it or tarnish it in some way and that always left me a bit uneasy.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 11:15 am
Great article, great name, I love it!
on February 23rd, 2017 at 11:30 am
For all the people who claim that ‘names have no gender’ to justify slapping the likes of James, Rowan, Elliott and Rory on girls, there is no such defense when it comes to using a girl name on a boy. Hell, there’s a HUGE backlash against using any name that isn’t perceived as being 100% manly – you only have to look at some of the comments the nameberry moderators have left on names like Gwyn and Hartley to see that. And that’s why I hate so called ‘unisex’ names. There’s nothing unisex about them, they’re simply a byproduct of the rampant sexism that western society is still plagued by, albeit in different, more subtle ways.
It’s not just the assumption that girls are weak and that masculinity is strong and desirable, there’s misandry in there as well; this assumption that men can only be ‘real men’ (even as babies and children) if they wear certain clothes and hairstyles, play with certain toys and stay away from certain colours and behaviours. And this spreads to names as well. The idea that a boy cannot be strong if he wears a girl name, or a name that is less manly than your average boy name is absurd. The attitude that people have towards boys indulging in femininity is positively disgusting.
So I’m glad to read this, and am very happy that people are starting to push back against the BS. Until now, I admit that I was still on the fence about giving a son the name Evelyn or Shirley (traditionally masculine but now regarded as solidly feminine). But after having read this, in spite of the uncalled for and unwarrented judgement and criticism these parents have faced, I’m personally inspired by their decision and will likely take the same path. Because Jayne for a boy is an awesome and truly progressive choice that takes a stand against the shamelessly one-sided trend. Best. Blog post. Ever.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 12:37 pm
I don’t see how “Jay” is a “boy name”, it’s a letter spelled out! But Jane and it’s variations are the *feminine* variation of John so…. it is what it is. Girls out here are being named Emerson and there are more boys than girls named Elizah.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 3:16 pm
Great article, really loved to read it. You are so right with everything you write about sexism.
@rbtr4: If it isn’t sexism then why is it so much more respected for girls to have names that are mostly given to boys? Should we all pretend sexism doesn’t show itself in baby naming just so you don’t have to think about it? I don’t think that would be right. Also yes, even non Americans are allowed to have an opinion about things happening in the US, thank god.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 3:46 pm
I love this so much I sent it to my best friend. I needed this today! We had a discussion about sexism in my politics class this morning and this would’ve been perfect to bring up.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 8:32 pm
I think I get where @rbtr4 is coming from, my parents are very traditional and recently a cousin of mine mentioned making her future daughter’s middle name Wray, after our grandfather. My Dad a double take, “Wray? On a girl?” He was very confused by that. What @rbtr4 is saying is that to people who aren’t particular into names, most names do have gender especially in older generations. Perhaps 80s babies and onwards are a little more open because many unisex names emerged during that time. However, if you speak to most people born in the 60s or before, they do tend see names as strictly gendered, simply because those are the name associations they have. When they were young, a Linda was definitely a girl and a Billy was certainly a boy and also, the qualities of names were sort of specific for genders when my Dad was born in the 60s. I truly don’t believe it’s sexism at all my parents, both progressive 60s-born people, would genuinely be confused if I named my son Jayne or my daughter Harry. Most unisex names are surnames (which originally would’ve carried masculine standing on societal level) anyway and the remainder tend to be names that have begun to be used on girls. It simply doesn’t match up with their experiences and understanding based on the society they were born into. If they haven’t heard of something, it tends to be unusual or a strange choice, it comes down to exposure.
on February 23rd, 2017 at 10:08 pm
@SoDallas3, thank you. You worded it so much better than I did. To immediately assume sexist intentions seems harsh, when they just maybe find it unusual or out of the realm of things they’ve heard.
@Aryaclove The people I know who would hate Jayne as a boys name are also the people who hate Charlie as a girls name. In their minds, there’s a list of boys names and a list girls names and they don’t overlap. Some people just feel that way, and I have a hard time labeling that sexist. I’m not denying that sexism exists, I’m questioning whether this is really an example of it.
The hardest part of everything being political is that I feel like we’ve lost civility and assume the worst intentions of people we disagree with. I thought that the author’s jump from style disagreement to claims of sexism were a pretty big jump based off the information here. She can disagree with them without labelling them as bad people.
on February 24th, 2017 at 2:36 pm
Hi rbtr4! I understand your aversion to politics in blogs, but unfortunately politics and naming are inherently intertwined (especially when it comes to identity politics.) Our ideas about race, class, and gender have deep connections to our taste in names, and if you don’t believe me, ask in the forums about the name Tyshawn.
The author was discussing something called internalized misogyny, a recognized sociological concept extensively studied by academics. All sociologists know what it is and it is almost universally recognized as a truth of modern America. People objecting to Jayne for a boy but not accepting an explanation like “well, people use Mackenzie for girls” would absolutely be an example of internalized misogyny.
And just because someone doesn’t live in the US doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid opinion on American politics. It’s very common for American political leaders frequent the covers of newspapers in other countries. The US’ political climate is so globally consequential that people all over the world keep up with it. I’ve actually found that many Canadians, Australians, and Europeans I’ve met are vastly better informed than the average American.
on February 26th, 2017 at 12:31 am
I agree with @rbtr4. I congratulate you on choosing a name you love. Anyone who knows me knows I’m 100% in favor of having entire classrooms full of boys named Jayne and Elizabeth and Mary. I really am. I think names should for the most part should be genderless and the kind of judgment people place on parents for their choices is inappropriate.
However, this post quickly devolved from a measured take on a hot topic in naming into a screeching political rant that had little to do with the original subject matter. You’re quick to pat yourself on the back as “awesome and progressive” (describing your friends, but let’s face it, actually describing yourself), then characterize anyone who would dare to question your choice as a Trump-loving fascist perpetrator of rape culture. That’s where I tune out.
I’ll agree to tune back in when you stop name-calling parents who choose to name a little girl Wyatt or Elliott without waiting to hear their reasons, and stop ascribing evil, sexist intentions to people without trying to see their point of view. If you don’t, I’m afraid you’re just as guilty as those who have questioned your choice.
Tolerance. Goes. Both. Ways.
on February 26th, 2017 at 10:17 am
I love Firefly! I would be thrilled to meet your little guy named Jayne after Jayne Cobb. However, I also agree with @clairels. This post makes several good, valid points, but I didn’t need the author to preach their political views to me. I get enough of that on Facebook.
on March 29th, 2017 at 9:04 pm
I love your son’s name, and I love that you were brave enough to use it.
on October 23rd, 2019 at 12:24 pm
Thank you!! Mine and my SO’s thoughts exactly. Boys need to be allowed to be feminine.
The problems that exist in this society, and tbh on this planet, are the result of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. These affect everyone negatively, INCLUDING men.
on November 13th, 2019 at 11:07 am
I wish I had read this earlier, Daisy451 – your comment is brilliant! I agree completely
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.