In Defense of Riley Anne and Evan Marie: Ten Reasons Boys’ Names on Girls Are Not a Sign of End Times

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Feeling feisty? Head to a message board and announce that you’re naming your daughter Addison. Or Quinn. Or Mason.

Then run for cover.

Sure, some people will respond positively. But depending on the forum, you could also find yourself accused of thievery, trendiness, and general bad taste.

I’m sympathetic to parents who feel they can’t use a name they’d long loved, for fear that their son Delaney will be scarred by sharing his name with girls. But I’m not sure a girl named Ryan is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

Make no mistake, this is a touchy subject. And yet, I’m finding it easy to defend the practice of borrowing from the boys.

10. We have a long history of borrowing our daughters’ names from boys.

Before there was Madison, there was Shirley. Charlotte Bronte used it for the heroine of her 1849 novel, explaining that Shirley’s dad had wanted a son. Shirley was gaining steadily for girls in the US when child star Shirley Temple became a household name. The name peaked at #2 in the 1930s, and while she’s no longer popular, it is hard to imagine parents using Shirley for a son today.

There are countless stories like this, names that transitioned from male to female several generations back. The average, non-name-obsessed person is only dimly aware of the switch.

9. She’ll hate her name.

Yes, she probably will. But only because lots of kids hate their names at some point. Should you go the opposite route, it is possible that she’ll find her overly feminine name stifling. (Nymphadora Tonks, anyone?)

You Can’t Call It “It” featured a story of a girl named Tyson who would have much rather been called Marie. But for every Tyson, there’s a girl called Kyle who finds her boyish name pleasing.

8. Many names have an ambi-gendered past.

Purists would like every name to correspond to pink or blue, end of discussion. It is easy to believe that all names were created with a clear gender identity – Mary for girls, John for boys – and we’re the ones who have mucked it up.

Not so.

Take Evelyn, an off-cited early theft. The male writer Evelyn Waugh was married to a woman named Evelyn. Evelyn was a surname that caught on as a given name for boys. The surname traces its roots back to the feminine appellation Aveline. Aveline died out, but variant Evelina was revived in the nineteenth century. All of a sudden, Evelyn sounded just right for a girl. I’ve spotted at least one aristocratic family tree with men and woman named Evelyn over the generations.

There are more stories like that than you might imagine, from obscurities like Ismay to chart-topping choices like Madison.

7. Stealing from boys isn’t fair.

Maybe. But very often a name was scarcely used for either gender when it is first discovered by the parents of girls. Lauren has some history as a short form of the masculine Laurence, but was decidedly obscure when Betty Joan Perske chose it as her professional name, becoming a major Hollywood star as Lauren Bacall. Before Madison made a splash, she hadn’t charted for either gender since the 1950s.

The most common pattern is that a gender-ambiguous name will rise for both genders, at least for a few years – like Shannon or Avery. In fact, Avery currently stands at #23 for girls, the highest ranking for girls ever – and at #210 for boys, also the highest ranking for boys ever.

6. Plenty of families have long traditions of passing down surnames without regard to gender.

I’ve met families from the American South and New England, too, who pass on family surnames without regard to gender. When a neighbor announced that their firstborn would receive her maiden name regardless of gender, the practice seemed nicely egalitarian. If your maiden name happens to be Parker or Bailey, it would be a shame to never pass the name on just because you have daughters instead of sons.

5. Why should certain family names be reserved for boys?

In response to #6, some insist that families should reserve the masculine choices for future sons, and look elsewhere for a daughter’s name. Grandma Eleanor, maybe.

But there are compelling reasons to give these names to our daughters. Kate Garry Hudson received her masculine middle because her Uncle Garry had passed away shortly before her birth.

Why not save it for a son? Sometimes that makes sense. But in an age of smaller families, it is not always realistic. Imagine that you’re 42, and this is your first child – and almost certainly your last chance to use Cameron. It would be a shame to forgo your favorite name in favor of something less meaningful.

4. It isn’t parents using a name for girls that makes it feel feminine.

Some parents probably do look through the boys’ side of the baby name guide to find options for a daughter. But most of the choices feel appropriate because of other names that are current. Ava and Emily combined to make Avery a powerhouse. Emerson follows Top Ten picks like Emma and Madison.

3. Not every boys’ name used for girls “goes pink.”

In some cases, girls are borrowing a popular boys’ name, but it hasn’t diminished its appeal for boys. Ryan has appeared in the US Top 1000 for girls since the 1970s, but that didn’t push Ryan out of the boys’ Top Twenty. The same is true of Evan, Devon, and Jordan, to name just a few.

There are all cases where a name that temporarily seemed unwearable for a boy makes a quick recovery. Jamie rose for girls and boys in the 1970s. Today it isn’t especially stylish for either gender, but a growing number of boys named James or Jameson favor Jamie as a short form.

2. In our enlightened age, it seems possible that some names will remain gender neutral.

Plenty of nouveau coinages seem almost deliberately gender neutral. Peyton and Jayden are popular for girls as well as boys. In other cases, spelling can signal the name’s gender. I’d expect Rylee to be a girl, and chances are that’s correct – Rylee ranked #102 in the US for girls in 2010. But Rylee also ranked #723 for boys – and is climbing, just his feminine counterpart.

Depending on your perspective, Tate is either just one letter removed from Kate, or maybe a sound-alike to Jake. If you’re open to names that are new, chances are that a certain amount of ambiguity will follow. But there’s reason to believe that Tate Elizabeth and Tate Alexander can share the same playground.

1. But there aren’t any good names left for boys!

The right name can be the right name, regardless of gender. If your beloved grandfather was Courtney, you might name son after him regardless of concerns about being mistaken for a girl – even if you call him C.J. And parents do seem to be daring to consider gender-shifting choices like Robin and Kelly for their sons.

It is true that parents have always exercised a greater degree of restraint when it comes to our sons’ names. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a great option out there for every boy. The same freedom that lets us consider boyish choices for our daughters lets us pick from a wider range of options for our sons, too. That’s a good thing – even if does make you hesitate over some of your favorite boys’ names.


  1. Lux says

    I always chuckle a little when people say “I could not imagine a girl named X, but I could totally see a girl named X.” Once upon a time no one could imagine a girl named Jocelyn or Evelyn, Shannon or Kelly, Ryan or Michael. Saying that there was once a boy named Evelyn as the same time as a girl was named Evelyn is to me the same thing as saying there once was a girl named Shannon and a boy named Shannon at the same time. The more time passes, the more names almost always trend female. Over time, we can “imagine” those names on girls much more than we can “imagine” others that still retain a masculine edge.

    Either way, my biggest beef with this trend is not really about the names themselves but the societal perceptions, as a few people have already mentioned up thread. I will be all for boy’s names on girls when it is reciprocated and girl’s names are used on boys. It is isn’t “hip” “cute” or “trendy” when a boy is named Elizabeth or Jessica, it is a recipe for shunning and a lifetime of embarrassment. As a feminist, the double standard leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

  2. Noelle says

    Not rally sure if I would ever give my child a name that feels like it belongs to the opposite sex, but when it comes to middle names I’m not really sure what the problem is. They’re only middle names. At work I constantly see names of people where the middle names “oficially” belong to the opposite sex.

  3. Ebie778822 says

    I prefer girly names for girls and boyish names for boys. My friends think Ebony is a unisex name I think its 4 girls and girls only.

  4. Chelsea says

    The reaction to boys names on girls is now pretty mild compared to the opposite of using girl’s names on boys. Comments like “gross” even get used in those situations. So there is a double standard, added to an almost irrational fear around giving a boy a name that could be used by a girl, even if it’s not that common. Recently I’ve even seen people put off using Sawyer for a boy because there is a perception it is crossing to the girls even though it ranks around the 200s for boys and not in the top 1000 for girls. If a name is really “unisex” then it should be usable for both genders, and not unisex for girls and unisex for boys. What does that really mean if you start to gender differentiate unisex names? There is also this myth that a boy who meets a girl with the same name will somehow be scarred for life. That’s just irrational. Sure there may be awkward moments, and teasing too, but teasing is part of being a kid, if it’s not your name it’s something else.As a guy with a “girl’s” name I wish people would be more open minded about this. There are even cultural differences and people seem to be so ignorant of these. Ashley and Robin and Terry are common names for boys in the UK. Tracey is a girl’s name. It’s more like the opposite in the US. And recently I saw a thread somewhere about naming a boy Andrea because of Italian heritage and what the reactions would be like.

  5. Maggie says

    I dislike many unisexual names on girls because I think it implies that a girl can only be equal to the boys if she’s got a boy’s names. I’ve read so many times in forums that giving a girl a boy’s name will give her an edge later on in life and I can’t even describe how much I resent that view point.
    I agree that many names that seem dated on a girl sound fresh on a boy, like Kelly, Shelby, Ashley.
    I think it’s good that newer unisexual names like Jayden, Riley and Peyton aren’t being completely given up by the boys although.

  6. says

    I totally agree with you about using one gender-bending name per child. I hate the birth announcements that don’t list the sex of the baby, because sometimes it is really hard to tell.

    Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. I love the names Sawyer, Emerson, Avery, Sage, and Taylor for boys and that didn’t stop because they are being used on girls too. I went to school with boys and girls named Casey, Jamie, Leigh/Lee & Aaron/Erin and it didn’t scar anyone. Plus, even the popular names aren’t used as much as in the past so the chance of a boy and girl with the same name being in the same class (especially the further down you go on the list) is slim.

    If you look at the soc sec list, you will find nine boys named Elizabeth, thirteen boys named Ella, seven boys named Grace, twenty boys named Emily, & seven boys named Victoria so there are some parents who will use girl names on boys.

    Good post, Abby. I enjoyed reading this and everyones’ comments.

    Happy 4th!


    • says

      Many of those obviously “wrong gender” names that are very low on the list (this goes both ways) are more likely than not errors in the SSA recording the person’s gender. (Before the early 1990s or so in the days before computers were prevalent these errors were more common, with many of the most popular names having enough errors accumulated to show up in the top 1,000 of the opposite gender.)

      • says

        Yeah, I figured some of those were mistakes, but I’ve run across baby boys named Emily, Evelyn, Haley, and Grace when searching through birth announcements for my blog so some of them are true. You could tell that Emily’s parents were foreign so maybe they just didn’t realize that they gave their son such a feminine name. I shouldn’t have used such extreme examples to show that some parents use “girl names” on boys, just not to the extent of “boy names” on girls.


  7. says

    So-called girls names that I would give to a son:

    Traditionally Maculine names that I would give to a daughter (so, a shorter list):

    …Something tells me I’m the odd one here. This happens to me all the time, where I either see a name and think it would be cool for a boy, or meet a man or fictional male character with this name, and then I look it up and it’s only listed under girls. So as it turns out, my tastes for boy’s aren’t solidly masculine to the rest of the world. But looking at the list, it’s not really the same thing as naming a boy Elizabeth.

    The thing don’t like about girls being named Barkley, Ryan, Emerson, and Kyle is that I didn’t find them particularly appealing as boy’s names to begin with! Charlie for a girl? That’s kind of cute, I guess.

  8. Lemon says

    This is really interesting, Abby, and I guess I’m not sure how I feel because I agree with so many different points! Yes, there are names and surnames. And, yes, many a surname has a quote-on-quote masculine meaning (i.e., son of), but then again many don’t! And, what if it is your maiden name and you love it and want to use it regardless of gender? What if it’s the last name of your favorite character ever in your favorite book from childhood? What if it’s your best friend’s last name? What if it’s your grandma’s maiden name, long since lost in your family tree? I say go for it. Girl or boy. But, what if you’re expecting a girl, likely your only child, and you want to honor your brother…by using his first name. And let’s say it’s Richard. Should you be able to? Well, yea! Same goes for baby boys. If you want to honor your mother Madeline with your son’s name, do it. And if you’ve loved Evangeline forever and can’t think of calling your child anything else, use it. Even if you are having a boy. But, don’t be naive and expect everyone to love it! I get the argument about not wanting to use “boys’ names” for girls until we can use “girls’ names” for boys without getting a second look, but the reality is that many people still frown on “boys’ names” on girls and the thought of “girls’ names” on boys is, for whatever reason, epically more horrifying for the general public. I don’t know why, and I don’t really want to concern myself with it, but it’s a reality. I think if you, as the parent, don’t have confidence in your choice and don’t love it enough to deal with the likely distaste from others, then you probably shouldn’t pull a gender swap on your child’s name. But, if you can take the heat, why not fuel the fire?

    My own personal taste? Probably a little too classic and on-the-beaten-path to really want to fuel the fire. But, do I like those “unisex” names? Sometimes. Do I like surnames? Yep. Do I like occupational names? Yes! So, bring on your Quinn’s and Ellis’ and Halsey’s. Bring on your son named Shelby and your daughter named Toby. I’m not gonna bat an eye. But you know who is? My grandma. And maybe your next-door neighbor. And maybe even your best friend.

    Another interesting thing to bring into this debate – word names. Is it me or are word names, be they nature-inspired or just plain words, more acceptable on girls? Rain and Melody and Fable and Dahlia and Serenity and Diamond. I’d say those are all girls. Sure, there are celebrity baby boys named Story and Morocco and Egypt and Sparrow and whatnot (well, not literally Whanot, I hope!), but Honor? Liberty? Satchel? And the newly-named Willow Sage? Girls. And, again, this is the celebrosphere we’re talking about. How many little boys do you know with word names? How many little girls?

  9. Rita says

    Like I said, this wouldn’t bother me if it was done both ways (like it is in other languages, like French or Japanese). I do find it extremely sexist that it is socially acceptable naming their daughters Alexis, when a little boy named Margaret (or even a masculine name like Hilary or Jocelyn!) would be seen as child abuse.

    As it stands, it’s just a reflection on our own society, where masculinity is something positive and femininity a weakness – hence it’s fine for girls to be like boys, but not the opposite.

  10. says

    Good post! It’s not the use of names like these on girls that bothers me, but rather those who don’t want to use them on boys once they become “girly” fearing the worst for their sons. Hence why when someone asks about a name like Avery or Harper for a boy I usually mention that you should still consider it because continuing to use such names for boys helps keep them masculine. Having a GN name (and being male) myself, I think the hype of a unisex-named boy being doomed in school and throughout life is exaggerated. Sure, I have had a fair share of “Isn’t that a girl’s name?” comments and letters mistakenly addressed to “Ms. Kelly Lastname” but the only full-fledged “teasing” I got was from someone who found anyway he could to tease people. With the current generation of babies and children having more names used both ways than ever before I think many of the names mentioned here can be comfortably used for either gender (and in the future expect more situations like what happened with the “Kelly Hildebrandt” couple in 2009).

    About reason #9: From my experience the same is true for the guys with unisex names I know. I love my name, but I’ve also talked to another male Kelly who dislikes his name and goes by his MN instead. Whether it be for a boy or girl, some people like having a gender-ambiguous name while others don’t. A good compromise, like waltzingmorethanmatilda said, is to use a gender-specific middle name that can be used in addition to or instead of the unisex FN.

    About the surnames comment: That’s why I feel a bit more defensive about names like Rory (a traditional Irish/Scottish boy’s name, with a masculine meaning on top of that) on a girl (Pam Satran, I forgive you though), while names originating as nature names/place names/surnames/etc. are more loosely gendered IMO (hence why I think names like Bailey, River, and Shannon are more doable either way). OTOH, the bias still creeps in with names like Savannah and Summer generally being regarded as strictly feminine.

  11. Joy says

    I just may blow a gasket… About 99.9 percent of these so-called “boys” names being used for girls are SURNAMES. Surnames are not male. Calling a surname masculine strikes me as sexist.

    Nearly all of the names discussed above are surnames, everything from Addison to Riley to Kelly and Jordan. Hilary, Lindsay, Tiffany, Kelsey and McKenzie are ALL surnames. Same for Ryan, Avery, Cameron, Madison, Allison, Tyler, Logan, Parker, Taylor, Blake, Quinn, Owen, Irving, Peyton, Kendall, Dexter, Meredith, Casey, Reese, Delaney, Scott, Todd, Travis and Bailey. Even my own name, Joy, is a surname.

    Furthermore, many uber-male names have become surnames: James, Roberts, Richards, Williams, Patrick, Andrews, Thomas, Francis.

    People have had surnames for hundreds of years, so they aren’t inherently masculine. (And, yes, I know that many surnames above have been used mostly for boys, and using surnames for given names is not new, but the explosion started around the 50s.)

    • says

      Surnames are mostly masculine in etymology (since in most cultures the transmission of surnames is patrilineal). Therefore, most of them originate in male names – Addison (Adam’s son), Avery (same as Alfred), Madison (Maud’s son), Taylor (a tailor), Owen, Reese, Scott (masculine Welsh names). Plus they were traditionally used as a middle name, not a given name – usually in honour of the maternal family, a godparent, etc. The child would always have a “proper” given name.

      Anyway, since they are literally “family names” I think it’s strange to use them as given names, especially if they have no relation whatsoever to your ancestry.

    • says

      Most of them are SURNAMES with MASCULINE meanings. Anything starting with Mc like MacKenzie means “son of”! How is that appropriate on a baby girl?

      • appellationmountain says

        I suppose I read “son of” as “descended from” – after all, if my last name were Jameson, odds are that my father’s name isn’t actually James, right? Because parents generally don’t call their kids James Jameson or John Johnson. (Though I guess Alfred Avery and Adam Addison are more plausible.) Still, you’d probably have to go back dozens and dozens of generations to find your original James … and so while I am, at some point, descended from my ancestral James, the meaning is softened.

        On the other hand, James naming his daughter Jameson seems potentially more meaningful than James naming his daughter Emily or Olivia or Grace. In the absence of an English-language equivalent to denote a female descendant, “son” stands in for both, just like “mankind” is inclusive.

    • Joy says

      Guess I didn’t make my point very well. I just don’t feel that a name has been swiped from the boys if it’s a surname to start with. Show me a raft of little boys named Sabrina or Andrew shooting to the top 20 for girls and then I’ll be more sympathetic.

      And I AM in the camp of uber-feminine names for girls. My own personal favorites are Caroline, Louisa, Georgiana, Genevieve, Suzanne, Madeleine, Eva, Chloe, Elizabeth, Katharine, Jane, Natalie, Marianne, Jeanne and Sabrina.

  12. Panya says

    “…What I do have a problem with is how unbending our conceptualization of gender is. When the day comes that I hear/read someone suggest Aidan for a girl and then suggest Olivia for a boy, I

  13. caroline says

    I have more of a problem with surname-napping. Probably because I am from the South where giving your maiden or other meaningful name is a custom, it drives me NUTS when people choose random surnames that they have no connection to. So when someone complains about Addison, Avery or the like going to the girls, I find it rather ironic. Most of these gender-bending names are actually surnames anyway (and yes, I know that line is blurry and my stance is somewhat flawed), and so haven’t been included in the canon of “Boys Names” for long anyway. And the argument that “there aren’t any boys names left” doesn’t really wash either, since there have always been far fewer boys names than girls. George, Charles, Thomas, Henry-these names have no risk of being taken over by the girls. It’s only when parents want to choose unusual, original names-and thus generally resort to the surname style-that they run into parents considering them for girls.

    • appellationmountain says

      That’s fair enough, Caroline – I know someone who has a Very Significant Surname on her short list for a girl. It is also a name that reads gender-neutral, trendy, and is frequently subject to respellings. Her attitude is that it doesn’t spoil the meaning for her, and that’s great, but I can imagine a parent feeling like the name was ruined by its overuse.

      I think all of us could name a Duggar-sized family of boys without feeling like we’d run out of options!

  14. Sara A. says

    I tend to like gender crossovers in the middle slot as in, say Amelia George A. The names that really bug me are the 97 rhymes-with-Aiden names that are everywhere right now. Part of the problem is that I’m playing the Sib Set game over at YCII and so I’ve seen every permutation of the name as it goes from 1-799. Bah, what everyone else said.

  15. says

    Give it a few years and names like Riley, Avery, Peyton, Dakota, Reese, Emery, Finley, and Skylar will be fully feminine. That’s just how is works, it happened with other names, it will happen with those. Its different with Ryan, Cameron, Logan and Parker for example, because those names were always a lot more popular for boys than girls, so people’s perception on those names are that they’re firmly masculine.
    I do not like boy names on girls, I just think what’s the point really? We dont see parents rushing to the “baby girl names” section of the book to name their son. And whether we like it or not, its VERY unlikely you’ll meet a male Whitney, Vivian, Hilary, Cassidy, Kelsey, Lindsay, Courtney, Jody, Lauren, Kimberley, Beverley, Leslie, Paige, Shelby, etc, especially under the age of 5.
    You already see this happening with modern unisex names that parents already perceive as mostly feminine, like Addison, Madison, Aubrey, Bailey, Mackenzie, Haley, Ashley, Kenzie, etc, parents have ditched these for their sons because they’re “girly”.
    Yes new unisex names arrive, almost always boy names in origin, and 95% are tipped feminine once they’ve run it’s course.
    The same happens in the UK, but at least over there things are a little bit more balanced with names like Mackenzie, Bailey, Riley, Morgan, Sydney, Taylor, Finlay, Jamie, Ashley and Aubrey still seen as masculine.

    • appellationmountain says

      It is frustrating that the perception is that names can only go one way … but Peyton has held steady and Jayden has skyrocketed for boys without girls’ use derailing it. Some spellings tend to signal gender – Payton is more popular for girls, as is Jaidyn. I do think this new bunch of names has some staying power on both sides of the chart.

  16. says

    I should also add, just to be clear, that I wasn’t trying to imply that only people in Wales would or should take issue with Emrys on a girl. Anyone who had first been introduced to the name as “masculine” first could find it uncomfortable to see it on a boy and might speak out about it on the internet. Equally, there are plenty of people in the country of origin who wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow about it.

  17. says

    Surname-firstnames have been used for both boys and girls for centuries, often on both genders within the same family. So Mason, Tate, Logan, Reeve, Cloudsly, Healy and the like have all happily sat on girls and boys in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

    I agree with Waltzing that there can be issues with cultural cross-over. As pointed out in Point 7, “very often a name was scarcely used for either gender when it is first discovered by the parents of girls”, and this is where people get tetchy in such an international forum as the internet. Because, “new” discoveries for parents in one country, are old established classics in others.

    Lets say a couple in Ottawa see the name Emrys on a list and think it sounds really great for a girl and use it. They have no previous exposure to the name other than it sounds a bit like Emma and a bit like Alice. No one else they have ever met, or even in their state has used it or heard of it either and they get very positive feedback out it. In their own social context the name is perfectly acceptable and not at all shocking. However, once put on the internet (“my daughter is called Emrys”) the parents will be coming into contact with people on the other side of the pond for whom Emrys isn’t an unused new discovery but a crusty old reliable. They see Emrys and picture the old man next door, that cute male actor from that TV program, or their great great grandfather’s name and “Why didn’t you just call you daughter Albert?” comes back the response. Celtic names in particular (both Riley and Evan were used as an example), having been quite isolated for a long time to the British Isles, get used in this way quite a lot.

    “Boys names on girls” is often perfectly fine and acceptable IRL, in the context of their own cultural and social situation,and not in any way scarring. The issues come when projected onto an international forum like the internet.

  18. says

    Oh and I’m not a fan of the two unisex names trend either – Riley Anne and Evan Marie, is one thing, Riley Blair and Evan Lee is another. Remember that quiz on unisex names For Real Names had on her blog? I don’t think anyone did better than about 60% at guessing which were male and which were female, while many of us didn’t even get half right.

    • appellationmountain says

      I hear you! I do think that you get one unisex/gender-bender name per child. William Lynn is great. Blair Elisabeth? Go for it! But if your name would make ForReal’s quiz, well … that’s a signal to rethink. Hmmm … there’s a post in that …

      • Charlotte Vera says

        I’m becoming more and more accepting of traditionally male names becoming unisex, but I agree that giving a girl two of these unisex names will just cause confusion because it makes the name look quite distinctly masculine. I also tend to be rather more in love with unisex names on boys — I had a serious crush on Cassidy for a boy while a teenager! I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to go that route with my own son though.

      • Chelsea says

        I agree that if you do use a unisex/gender bender name then you should definitely go with a gender specific name to avoid some of the confusions and to give the child an option to go with that name if they wish. But it can also be hard to predict ahead of time what names might shift or become popular. When my mom chose Chelsea for me it wasn’t really popular at all, at least not in the UK that she knew of, but it was listed in the girl;s names in her book. But my middle name Kieran was most definitely a boys name and I have only ever heard of male Kierans, but now rather suprisingly (and worrying to me LOL) is that at least on the forums in the US this name seems to be trending girl now too. So you can try and avoid problems but might still get caught out.

  19. KatieB says

    I’m going to go with Sara A. on this one…I don’t have a problem with boys names on girls or vice versa…but there are quite a few unisex names that I dislike (Jayden, Peyton ..)… just like there are quite a few (currently singularly) masculine and feminine names that I dislike as well. I myself adore the name Laurence for a girl (traditionally its the feminine version of Laurent) and I’d like take back one for the boys and honor my mother in the process by using Lynn for a boys middle name. Some might argue that I should use Lynn for a daughter in order to honor my mother, but I feel that Lynn as a girls middle is rather contrite where it feels fresh and viable for a boy.

    • appellationmountain says

      If our second had been a boy, I would likely have used Clare in the middle spot to honor my mom. (Though it might’ve ended up being an extra middle.) And I agree – often a name feels fresh for a boy again when it still sounds dated for a girl. Kelly, for example – love it on a boy, but it feels like a mom’s name on a girl.

  20. Guest says

    I realized I just contracted myself in the above post saying that Luca is too feminine yet I like unisex names on men. I should clarify that it all really comes down to the name but that Im certainly not against unisex names on men.

    Abby I hope you address this topic on the nameberry blog, I think it would be beneficial for some of the conservative namenerds to see the points you made in the article. Its always good to see both sides.

  21. Guest says

    Wow, great article and Im really impressed that someone with Abby’s stature in the name world, would be fair about unisex names. I am all for unisex names on girls, so long as they have some familiar use in the real world already with girls using them. If its a name like Parker, Sulliven, Miller, even Kyle….Im just not keen on it. The name has to feel either somewhat feminine to my ears or be neutral. A name I do like is Luca, its to feminine for my taste to use on a boy (unless we lived in Italy) and its not used on girls in the US (at least enough to be familiar) so although I love the name, I will likely not use it for either gender. Lastly, I do like unisex names on boys as well. Kelly, Tracy, Shannon…yes I think these give off a very cool vibe. Ive known a few and they never seemed to have any issues.

  22. says

    I guess another issue is “foreign” names that are masculine or feminine in their own countries, but do a gender-switch when they move to an Anglophone country. In France, Anne and Marie can be male names, Claude and Laurence are female names. Misha is a boy’s name in Russian, but is seen as feminine here. Cruz is unisex, but traditionally mostly feminine in Spain, but very masculine here so far. This often seems to be a cross-cultural sore point.

    My nephew has a unisex name, and it’s quite common, so he’s used to sharing a classroom with boys and girls that have his name. It never seems to have bothered him or his family at all.

    I don’t mind unisex names, but I do wish parents would introduce them as “my son Peyton” or “my daughter River” rather than just saying their names, as I worry I’m going to make some massive social faux pas at some point and give them a complex or something. If I ever pick a unisex name (which I’d probably only do on a boy), I promise faithfully to say, “my son Leaf” (or whatever) until he’s well into puberty and his masculinity is hopefully no longer in any doubt.

    • annamaria says

      I have to agree with the “my son/daughter River” point especially after meeting people who are offended that you didnt automatically know their little Ryan was a girl. Im sorry but if you are going to use a unisex name be prepared for people to make mistakes…if your child is four months old, bald, wearing a white onesie and named Ryan Im not going to know shes a girl…

      • appellationmountain says

        Very true! Aly has this wild, curly hair. He was constantly mistaken for a girl, and I suppose being called Alexei and Aly confused people, too. But I can honestly say that it never bothered me. Really, kids don’t know if they’re boys or girls until, what – 2? – so your 4 month old will NOT be scarred for life.

    • appellationmountain says

      That’s an excellent point, Waltzing – in fact, I think I need to reshape some of these bullets to get that in there. There are plenty of examples where the masculine form would be feminine in English, and a few that go the other way, too.

  23. Havoye says

    You make some good points, and I do agree that the world is not going to come crashing down because of an increase in the use of traditionally masculine names on girls. However, I agree strongly with Sarah A that as long as the borrowing remains unidirectional, it seems a reminder of our discomfort with the notion of boys who have anything feminine about them. I’m particularly bothered when I hear of parents who chose a masculine name for their daughter because they wanted her to have a ‘strong’ name, as though it would be impossible to find a name that is both strong and feminine.

    I actually like masculine-sounding nicknames for girls, such as Nick, Sam or Jo, but only as short forms for feminine names. I just find the whole surname-or-masculine-name-on-a-girl to be a trend that was played out a long time ago and would be happy to see it die out. But with young, attractive female celebrities named Hayden, Taylor, Evan, Blake, and Leighton on the scene, plus fictional characters like Glee’s Quinn, I doubt that’s likely to happen any time soon.

    • appellationmountain says

      I agree, Havoye – it is frustrating that almost anything goes for girls, but it is VERY easy to trigger “he’ll get beat to a pulp” comments with so many boys’ names.

      On the other hand, we have loosened up at least a little when it comes to boys’ names. Popular choices DO end in -a, like Noah and Joshua. So that’s something. And while the rise of the -aidens still confuses me, it does signal a greater willingness to be creative with our sons’ names – sort of.

  24. says

    My daughter’s name was picked partly because it was medieval French in origin but still familiar to the modern ear (Stephanie) and feminine without being frilly. All the boys names I like are firmly masculine. Aaron, Dexter, Peregrine.

  25. Julie says

    I look at it differently since it’s likely we’ll move to Germany sometime in the next 5-6 years, we need to keep the German naming conventions in mind. Our youngest daughter’s birth name was a newly unisex, surname name. Germans not only see the name as male but as “Amerikaner.” I wanted my daughter to have a name that could easily cross borders and a lot of the new unisex names scream “I AM AN AMERICAN!”

    My neighbor kids names are Loren, Kelly, Casey and Mica. They’re a blended family, but I find it fascinating that Kelly the only boy.

    • sarajessica says

      So you were keeping German naming conventions in mind…but still gave your daughter a unisex name that reads as male and American to Germaans? How does that make sense?

      • Julie says

        Sorry I wasn’t clear there…
        We adopted our youngest daughter and we changed her name because her birth name didn’t met German naming conventions.

    • sarajessica says


      Ah I see. Sorry if my orginal response came off harsh. After re-reading, it seems judgemental. I do think it makes sense to take into consideration where your child will grow up when choosing names.

  26. Sarah A says

    I’ll admit that this is one of those issues that really started sticking in my craw only after I became a name nerd, go figure ๐Ÿ˜‰ I personally don’t have a problem with it if it’s a nice enough name.

    I like the names Kyle, Shannon, Kelly, Meredith, Casey, etc. so to see them on girls isn’t a big deal because I find them attractive already. But Riley, Peyton, Jayden, etc. I’d rather not hear on anyone (no offense).

    What I do have a problem with is how unbending our conceptualization of gender is. When the day comes that I hear/read someone suggest Aidan for a girl and then suggest Olivia for a boy, I’ll feel better about the gender flipping. I really dislike how it’s often those who suggest boy names for girls that balk at girl names for boys.

    I agree that if it’s a name you really love and is important to you, then go for it. Noor and Farah both have history as boys names and they’re still on our list!

  27. says

    Well, I clearly prefer my kids to either be boyish or girlish, but don’t have a major problem with most boys names on girls/ girls names on boys. I just think some of them sound ugly on either: Kyle’s got an ugly sound, period. There’s a host of reasons why I prefer girls names on girls & boys names on boys but the main one is simple: I was mistaken for a boy between the ages of 7 – 11. Short hair, a stick- like figure and a penchant for jeans & tees did it. I still get mistaken for a guy on the phone, even now! Yes, I have a low voice for a woman, think Lauren Bacall and you’ve got my tone, perfectly.

    If someone on a board asked for thoughts on a boy named Rex, I’d say “That’s my top boy name”! And probably add that I think a girl Rex might cry more than she ought because of her name. But might is just that, a big maybe. All I know is what I prefer both on my own kids and what I hear on others. But I’d never shun someone because They named their kids something I dislike nor would I shun them because of their name. We have good friends named Carol & Kelly. Go ahead, which one’s which? ( for the record, Carol’s the guy, Kelly’s the gal). we also know a guy Kelly and a girl Wally. So, it really doesn’t hinder my progress in the world. I just don’t like doing it myself! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • appellationmountain says

      Thanks, Lola! And I cannot imagine a girl named Rex – but I can imagine a girl named Ryan or Reese, just as easily as I can imagine a boy with either of those names.

    • appellationmountain says

      BTW, love Carol on a boy – not so much on a girl. But I do think that if I can say that, someone ought to be able to say the opposite – that they like it only for a girl.

      • Joy says

        Back in the 90s, my parents’ church had a male pastor named Carol. And he must have been born in the early 1940s, I think. Just a different spelling than Carroll, really.


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