Finn, Quinn, and Gray: Brief, Boyish Middle Names for Girls

by appellationmountain on July 12, 2013

Vintage girlBoyish first names are controversial.  How ’bout boyish middle names?

Years ago – probably before I had this blog – I remember reading about a couple who wanted to give their daughter the middle name George.  There was no real reason – it wasn’t to honor a loved one or to remember a significant place.  The parents just plain liked the name.

I don’t know the outcome, but the comments were strongly against the idea.  Name her Georgia, or Jane, the comments insisted.

Since then, the debate on giving boys’ names to girls has become a major controversy in nameland.  But I’ve noticed a quiet little trendlet: giving boyish middles to girls.  I’ve yet to see another family considering George, but I’ve seen more and more girls with conventionally feminine first names with middles that lean masculine.

There are tons of reasons:

  • For parents hesitant to use a gender neutral first name, the middle spot is a safer place.
  • The age of filler middles, like Ann and Lynn, is over, but parents are still interested in short names that make pleasing combinations with longer firsts and lasts.
  • Many of these names are more popular for boys, but have a relatively short history of use as given names – making it easier to see them as possibilities for a daughter.

Looking for a different, even daring, one-syllable middle name for a girl?  Read on for some names to consider.

Classic Boyish Middle Names That Work for Girls

These names have a long history of use.  If you’re eager to honor a male relative, but you’re expecting a girl, some of these names work very well in the middle spot for a daughter.

George - The name that inspired this post, and one that could work well for a daughter.

JamesHe’s the leader of the pack, an evergreen name for boys.  P. Diddy named one of his daughters Jessie James.  Jessica Capshaw has Poppy James.  James Marsden has Mary James.  A.J. McClean went with Ava Jaymes for his daughter.  I’ve heard James and Jaymes more and more in birth announcements for girls in recent years, too.  Blame it on Jamie Buckman from 1990s hit sitcom Mad About Youher husband nicknamed her James.

Jude – He has plenty of history as a masculine name, but Jude has also been short for Judith.  A combination like Isabella Jude could be a great combination of the extravagantly feminine and the more tailored.

Scott – Something about Scott feels like it would be surprising for a girls’ middle – but not in an unwearable way.  Serena Scott, maybe?  It feels like a family surname tucked in the middle.

Ray – Ray – and especially Rae – have been used for girls in the past, so this isn’t the most shocking possibility on the list.  It’s a great way to honor a Raymond or a Rachel.

Surname Boyish Middle Names That Work for Girls

Blake – Lovely actress Blake Lively has helped us see this as a feminine possibility.  I like her best in the middle spot, too – Genevieve Blake or Eleanor Blake.

Blair – She’s close to Claire, and with two famous television characters answering to the name, Blair feels like an option for a daughter.  In the middle spot, she’s stunning.

Brooks – Sometimes viewed as the masculine form of the feminine Brooke, I can imagine Brooks in the middle spot for a daughter, too.  The same goes for most of the ends-with-s names: Ames, Gates, and so on.

Clark, Clarke – It’s an occupational surname for a clerk, and the alter ego of Superman, too.  But if the avian Lark can be a girls’ middle, is Clark so unthinkable?

Dean - We’ve had girls called Dawn, Dale, and Dana.  Is Dean a possibility?

Tate - If Clark is close to Lark, then Tate is next to Kate.  It’s easy enough to imagine this one in the middle spot for either gender.

Reece, Reese – The lovely Miss Witherspoon put Reese on the map for girls.

New Boyish Middle Names That Work for Girls

Beau, Bo - Yes, I know.  Beau is masculine in French, and Belle is reserved for girls.  But isn’t Belle a little overexposed?  If the spelling troubles you, there’s also the very brief Bo.

Chase – Chase is big for boys these days, but could work well in the middle spot for a daughter, an active, preppy name.  Jase and Trace could be other options, too.

Cole – Respell it Kohl, and it is a color name, and feels more feminine.  Cole might also work as an update to Nicole, or a means to honor a Nicholas with your daughter’s middle.

Dane – I’ve made the case for Dean – same arguments apply here.

Drew - Hollywood’s Drew Barrymore makes us see this one as feminine, as does the ancient name Drusilla.  Using Lou as a middle name can read cutesy, even hick, especially if your daughter’s first name ends with a y.  Sadie Lou is a Southern double name, while Sadie Drew is more restrained.

Kai - A handful of girls have been named Kai or Cai in recent years.  It’s a twist on conventional feminine middle Kay.

Lane - I think “Penny Lane” immediately, and that’s definitely a girl-friendly reference.  While this one is far more popular for boys, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than gender neutral.

Finn – I’ve heard this one on a girl, paired with a very traditional, feminine first name.  It made Finn feel fresh and surprising again.  The carefree spirit of Huck Finn shouldn’t be exclusive to a boy, should it?

Flynn – Rising on the heels of Finn, Flynn is close to that once-popular girls’ middle, Lynn.

GrayJenna von Oy named her daughter Gray Audrey.  It’s okay, but Audrey Gray strikes me as perfection.

Quinn - Glee’s head cheerleader Quinn Fabray has helped boost the idea of Quinn as a girls’ name.  Turns out that the fictional Miss Fabray’s parents were a fan of this style.  Her full name is Lucy Quinn Fabray.

Zane - I’ve put this one on the list and taken it off – then added it back again.  On the plus side, Zane rhymes with Jane and shares sounds with Zoe and Zara.  On the negative side, Zane feels more decidedly cowboy to me – and those are that names that I’ve tended to avoid on this list.

Unusual Boyish Middle Names That Work for Girls

Ash – There are lots of moms out there answering to Ashley, a name that now feels ready for a rest.  But how ’bout Ash in the middle spot?  It takes the 80s favorite and lends it a nature name twist.

Blue – The most famous Blue is a girl, but given the color’s connection to all things baby boy-related, it fits on this list.

Coe – Trade Joe’s J for a C, and you’ll have Coe, inspired by the jackdaw – a kind of crow.  That might not be the best avian reference, but Coe seems like a mix of Cole, Bo, and Jo – and worth considering.

Fife – Looking for a musically-inspired middle?  I’m a fan of Fife, as in the simple flute with roots in the Middle Ages.  It’s also a place name from Scotland.  Patrick Dempsey has a daughter called Tallulah Fyfe.

Keir – It’s Gaelic, a place name found in the both the last and first name spots.  Keir rhymes with sheer, and in our age of Keira - and Kyra, Ciara, and Kira - there’s something striking about this simple choice in the middle.

West – Direction names are stylish, and West works.  Dare I add North to the list?

Would you consider a short, gender neutral middle for your daughter?  Do any of these appeal?  Are there any that should be added to this list?

Original photo credit: jbguess via Flickr

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

C in DC July 16, 2013 at 1:26 PM

George is Nancy Drew’s BFF!

I went to college with a woman who went by her mn Gregg. It was a family name. I don’t remember her first name, but it was something that didn’t fit her at all.

My BFF Jennifer went by Jeff for a few years, which makes me think that Jeff/Jeffrey/Godfrey could work well as a girl’s mn too.

I think a lot of these work because they are also common surnames.

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Julie July 17, 2013 at 5:01 PM

When I lived in Tx, I knew a Keith and a Kevin… both who were women going by their middle names. Keith’s name was her grandmother’s maiden name and I believe Kevin’s name was also a family name. Anyways, I always think of boyish middle names as Southern naming tradition.

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appellationmountain July 19, 2013 at 6:39 AM

Interesting – and you may be right about the custom being more prevalent in the South. Certainly family names seem to be more common …

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Caitlyn July 13, 2013 at 9:47 PM

My little sister’s middle name is Michael, after my father’s first name. She’s always disliked it but is growing more fond of it the older she gets. I cannot imagine her with another middle name. It just fits.

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Mia July 13, 2013 at 11:37 PM

My youngest daughter had a female Mychael in her class. They differentiated her from the male Michael in the class by calling her “Miss Mychael” and him “Mr. Michael”.
FWIW, Michael was my FEMALE name of choice for child 2, with the frilly and locally geographic Christiana for the middle… But I had a Geoffrey.

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Mia July 13, 2013 at 11:32 AM

I liked Quinn for a girl in 1989. I ended up having a Nick, though. ;)

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Julie July 13, 2013 at 12:57 AM

My cousin’s daughter is R___ Dean. She’s my brother’s godchild (he’s Gary Dean) so I guess it always just felt “right.”

I have a friend whose daughter’s middle name is Seth. They chose it because it’s a combination of the parent’s initials, and they would have used Seth as a first name if she had been a boy.

When you think about all the women whose middle names are Lou, Jo(e), Ray and Lee this type of middle name has been around for decades… And if you look at the SSI lists from 100 years ago an awful lot of women had these names as first names! I don’t have a problem with boyish names in the middle, but I wouldn’t do a combo like Morgan Blair or Skyler Flynn.

Other ideas:
Cal
Brynn
Cass
Claude
Glen
Dale
Joss
Neal

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Emily July 13, 2013 at 12:08 AM

When can we expect the companion article “Brief, Girly Middle Names for Boys”?

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Olivia July 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM

My 2 year old is Audrey Gray, and it was my planned babyname since my girlhood. My paternal grandmother was Audrey, and Gray is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Gray is also my mother’s middle name and my middle name, which is how I came up with Audrey Gray. Reading this post warmed my heart! Thank you!

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Jess July 12, 2013 at 2:30 PM

When we decided on naming our daughter Mira, I thought she needed a short but strong sounding middle name. We talked about June, because it was cute but it didn’t have any meaning for us. Since we knew she would be our only child, I decided I wanted her to have my husband’s middle name. (I also love that James is a name shared by my awesome Father in law & my much loved late Uncle.) Some people seem put off by her middle name but I love the sound of Mira James.

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Hettie July 12, 2013 at 12:46 PM

In the 90’s I had a girl in my class with the middle name James which was so unusual at the time! Now I feel like I hear it everywhere! She used to tell us that her parents only wanted one child so they planned to use both names in some configuration no matter what the gender. Of course, her first name wasn’t very feminine either so it seems as though her parents were more intimidated by the thought of giving a potential boy a “girl’s” name than they were giving their daughter her masculine name. I think that’s why I embrace the girlier side of girl’s names. I don’t really like the idea that a boy name is allowed on a girl, yet a girl name would never in a million years be used on a boy. But I’m not brave enough to poke that hornet’s nest and call a boy Olivia. Olivier maybe ;)

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Kelly July 12, 2013 at 2:07 PM

How about as an antidote to Abby’s blog post, using a middle name like Marie (used in some cases on boys in French-speaking cultures) or Grace (since a virtue name by origin technically gender-neutral but of course now used virtually only for girls)? In a name game I once used the combo David Marie, and one year for an April Fool’s joke I once suggested some first names that are unusual with Grace and mentioned combos like Ethan Grace and Oliver Grace. Just don’t pair such middles with anything that could at all construed to be unisex (e.g. no Ryan Grace or Sawyer Marie).

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Ette July 12, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Kristen Stewart, born in 1990, has James as her middle name too!

I totally understand what you mean about boy names on girls being more socially acceptable than girl names on boys, and I find is frustrating as well. I love the idea of of more “feminine” names being used on boys and becoming acceptable, but it’s such a hard balance, because you don’t want to make your son a political statement or make his life unnecessarily difficult.

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Madelyn July 12, 2013 at 12:31 PM

I rather like this trend. I’ve considered George, James, Jude, and most recently Lane, my father-in-law’s middle name, for a future daughter’s middle name. Each are family names and sound great with many first names.

I couldn’t agree with you more about Gray Audrey! I remember reading the announcement and thinking the names should have been switched. Audrey Gr(e)y is even dreamier, to me.

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Havoye July 12, 2013 at 10:37 AM

Hmm, I can’t say any of the names you’ve listed appeal to me for a girl, although clearly there’s something I like about the concept since I gave my daughter a boyish-sounding middle name – Alix. I guess I prefer names that have some history of use for girls or both sexes to out-and-out boys’ names like James or Scott, e.g., Rowan, Dale, Robin etc. I see Sage used as a middle name for girls fairly often and I don’t know whether it’s considered feminine, masculine, unisex or what.

The trend you describe seems to be basically a reversal of the whole ‘Jordyn Rose’ phenomenon (masculine or boyish-sounding first name with frilly feminine middle name) which perhaps is on the brink of being played out.

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appellationmountain July 13, 2013 at 12:45 AM

That’s an interesting point, Havoye. I do see more BAs where I can’t guess the gender, instead of the Jordyn Rose combinations that were big in recent years.

One of the things that fascinates me is that I know that Alix is a girls’ name – and probably lots of people reading this thread do, too. But to the non-name-obsessed, Alix probably seems like Jaymes – a respelling of a masculine name to indicate gender, not unlike Jordyn. It really emphasizes how much the history matters – and how it is tough to think about names without the information.

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Diana July 12, 2013 at 10:04 AM

There is a well-known female YA writer by the name of Coe Booth.

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