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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2013

    What makes a place/word name male or female?

    I don't mean the (to me and many others) obvious fact that Mark and Clyde and Fred are male names and that Sophia, Catherine, and Thelma are female names.

    Where I get fascinated, perplexed, and frequently irritated is the names that could go either way.

    I don't mean Riley and Rory and Morgan, which do seem to me truly unisex.

    I mean that there are a whole bunch of word and place names that seem to me very female or very male and I wonder what forces trend them to one gender or the other.

    I acknowledge that this is quite idiosyncratic. For example, Cordovan and Pine and Russet and Auburn and Spruce and Harbor and Haven and Oak seem to me totally male.

    Possibly because these are darker, more autumnal colors (rather than say Azure or Mauve)? Possibly because they are trees rather than flowers? Possibly because Harbor and Haven seem manly and comforting?

    I can't honestly say that I have a list of similar names that I feel should be female and are not listed as female.

    I am feeling very protective of some of these new and interesting names for males partially because girls seem to have so many more name options already. And even more important, when a name swings hard to the female domain it becomes off-limits to most males whereas when a name swings hard to the male domain (Hell, even Stanley!) it only seems to entice more people to name their girls that.

    I guess I feel a bit that parents can name their daughters any name male or female and be called innovative, but if parents name their son a female name, they and the poor male would suffer for a lifetime.

    Thoughts? I am not looking for a hot debate or agreement with me, just some friendly and interesting observations.

  2. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Ontario, Canada
    Well, a lot of it is perception, especially with obscure/rarely used word and place names. What one person considers masculine, another may consider feminine, and vice versa. And personally I think that's generally fine. The rarer a name, the more leeway there is on gender bending. (Not just non-word names- a girl named Jupiter is going to have a much easier time than one named John, even if both are male names.)

    Some place names are "inherently" masculine or feminine- that is, they were names for a certain gender before they were places. Florence was a girl's name before it was a city, if I remember correctly. If a place is named after a person of a certain gender- e.g. Lincoln after Abraham Lincoln, Virginia after Queen Elizabeth I- the place's name would generally be used for the same gender as the person was. Thus making Lincoln masculine and Virginia feminine.

    Some are commonly considered "boy", "girl", or "unisex" names through common usage. e.g. Jasper has been a boys' name and Violet a girls' name for centuries. River and Rowan are being used on both, so people can see it on both a boy or girl and consider them unisex. Ireland is considered feminine because it's used more often on girls.

    Celebrities can influence this too, especially with words that have little prior use as names- Apple, for example, is considered feminine because (as a name) its strongest association is Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter.

    I'm sure some may say this is sexist, but for me names with stronger, more solid sounds skew male and ones with lighter, airier sounds female. Harsher ones male, mellower ones female. (Not to say a name can't be both strong but soft though.) For example, Rome and Stockholm to me have harder sounds than Canberra or Ravenna.

    Certain sounds are more common for names for a certain gender. "an"/"en"/"in"/"on" is a common ending for boys' names (though increasingly used on girls, and there are exceptions), so Houston and Saxon sound more masculine. Most names ending in "a" or "ia" are female, so Carolina ard Aria sound more feminine.

    I've said this before, but I'd like to see more truly unisex names. As in, people feel comfortable using them and do use them on both genders, without being judged (or without being judged any more than for any other name).

    I hope that actually makes sense, haha. I did more a stream of consciousness than organized thoughts.
    ~Love names, literature, royals and horses~ <3

    Favourite names:
    Girls: Azalea, Cordelia, Elizabeth, Rosalind, Scarlett, Felicity, Juliet
    Boys: Fitzwilliam, Sebastian, Percival, Oliver, Darcy, Orlando

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