Campbell and Collins: The New Unisex Names for Girls

by appellationmountain on November 8, 2013

New Unisex Names for GirlsHere’s an ever-so-familiar tale: you’ve named your son Jordan, and now there’s another tot at playgroup with the same name.  Except she’s a she, and the other moms call your kiddo “boy Jordan” to differentiate.

You take your son for his first soccer practice, and realize there’s another Charlie, one sporting pigtails and pink shinguards.

Or you’re thumbing through the boys’ section of a baby name book, realizing that you know two girls called Avery and another called Bailey - or was it Baylee? Plus your sister’s best friend named her twin daughters Sawyer and Skyler.

Cue frustration, for a bunch of reasons.

Most of us are enlightened enough to accept girls who love trucks and boys who prefer dolls.  But we still fear schoolyard bullying if your son is the only boy named Riley in sea of female classmates with the name.

It’s tough to find a great name that strikes that right note between too common and too out-there.  If girls are borrowing from the boys, that means an even higher chance that your favorite name will be popular.  Yes, the same thing happens when your college roommate, colleague two cubicles over, and the neighbors in the next block all use your favorite girls’ name before you get a chance.  But somehow it feels especially unfair if they used your favorite boy’s name for a daughter.

Cry unfair, but the fact remains that many parents embrace this style, in various forms:

  • Laura Wattenberg has called choices like Emersyn “andro-girly” names.  They tend to go to extremes – have you seen this image, featuring one family’s shortlist for their daughter?  After crossing out Nayvie and McKarty, the couple settled on Lakynn, a little sister for Titan.
  • At the other extreme are names so popular for girls that we tend to think of them as feminine, like Harper and Madison – if only because the majority of children we meet with these names will be girls.

Unisex names for girls fall between the extreme andro-girly creations and those that have become accepted as feminine choices.  They still feel unusual, and we wouldn’t be surprised to meet a boy wearing these names.  But for various reasons, they’re on the rise for girls:

  1. A name was rarely used for either gender, but an actress, fictional character, or other event has made us think of it as a possibility for our daughters.  Think Madison and Reese.
  2. The name is solidly established for boys, but has some characteristics that make parents consider it a possibility for a girl, too.  Think Ryan.
  3. The name is a nickname for traditional masculine and feminine names – but now that nickname is bestowed independently for both boys and girls.  Think Charlie and Alex.

There’s another category of true unisex names, and it seems to be growing.  This one is especially powerful when we consider spelling variations – those andro-girly choices like Camryn, as well as modern favorites like Peyton.  But that’s for another post.

Read on for the unisex names that we are likely to hear on more and more girls in the future.

Unisex Names for Girls: New Discoveries

Sloane – Before she married the Prince of Wales, Lady Diana Spencer was a Sloane Ranger, a privileged Londoner with a specific 1980s style.  Then came Ferris Bueller’s effortlessly cool – and kind – girlfriend.  Who didn’t want to be Sloane Peterson – and have her jacket?  Sloane rhymes with Joan, and as children of the 80s become parents, they’ve adopted this name for their daughters in growing numbers.  She entered the US Top 1000 in 2009, and had climbed all the way to #480 by 2012.

Sutton – Sutton seemed likely to follow boys’ choices like Preston, and was rising slowly for boys.  Then along came ABC Family.  In 2011, The Lying Game featured a female character called Sutton.  A year later, the actress Sutton Foster starred in Bunheads.  Foster has had quite the career on Broadway, winning two Tony Awards.  Suddenly, Sutton switched sides.  In 2012, 240 girls and 159 boys received the name.  She feels a little bit like a successor to the equally tailored Susan.  It’s possible Sutton will be more like Peyton – truly gender-neutral – but for the moment, Sutton has me thinking pink.

CollinsSandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, the story of NFL player Michael Oher and the adoptive family that took him in.  Collins is Leigh Anne’s daughter, in real life and in the film.  Sharing her first syllable with names like Colette and Colleen, Collins seems wearable for a girl, though most of the ends-with-s names, like Brooks and Ames, have gone to the boys.  The movie has claimed this name for Team Pink – there were 263 girls called Collins in 2012, to just 43 boys.

Campbell – CNN anchor Campbell Brown was born Alma Dale Campbell Brown in Louisiana.  She’s been a big name in news ever since the 2000 presidential election, and Campbell has been given to more girls than boys every year since 2002.  Chalk it up to her -bell ending, but her first syllable also picks up on another unisex name – Cameron – as well as traditional feminine choices like Camilla.

Finley - Jaunty, Irish Finn is big for boys, along with Finnegan, Fintan, and lots of other longer forms.  But Finley is more popular for girls, and has been since 2004.  That’s one year after actress Angie Harmon and NFL alum Jason Sehorn welcomed daughter Finley Faith.  The -ley ending makes nearly any name fair game for a daughter, from Ashley to Riley.

Emery - Angie and Jason are also parents to Avery and Emery.  Emery was born in 2008.  In this case, the Harmon-Sehorns weren’t trend-setters.  Emery has been given to more girls than boys since 1998.  Ranking #211 in 2012, she almost fits in with Harper and Madison, rather than Collins and Sloane.

Emerson - Another Em- name, again with a celebrity kid connection.  In 2002, more girls received the name for the first time, probably assisted by Terri Hatcher’s daughter, Emerson Rose.  While Emerson Rose was born in 1997, Hatcher’s career was on the rise in the early 2000s – and by 2004, as one of the Desperate Housewives, Hatcher was everywhere.

Ellison - With the popularity of Ella, any El- name feels like fair game for a girl in 2013.  Ellison also benefits from her similarity to Allison, still a Top 100 name.  She’s been given to more girls than boys every year since 1995, but is still outside the US Top 1000.

Ellington - Rarer than Ellison, but still benefiting from the El- effect, is jazzy surname Ellington.  In 2009, more girls received the name for the first time.

Henley - H surname names for girls are the hottest of the hot, from Harper to Harlow to Hadley.  A few of them might belong on this list, but Henley surprised me the most.  Probably because she rhymes with Kenley, Henley has gone from rarely used, but just for boys, to gaining for girls.  In a big way.  She’s been given to more girls since the 1990s, but in 2012, 179 girls received the name versus just 53 boys.  Make no mistake – Henley is catching on for both genders.  But so far, girls are in the lead.

Quinn - Blame Glee.  For years, the boys were solidly ahead of the girls with Quinn.  The situation flipped in 2010.  She doesn’t quite fit the model of New Discoveries – Quinn had ranked as high as #264 for boys.  While he’s still wearable for a son, the cheerleader character Quinn Fabray on Glee has changed things.  In 2012, Quinn stood at #153 for girls and #321 for boys.

Unisex Names for Girls: Borrowed from the Boys

Parker – Ranked in the US Top 100 for boys, Parker has been solidly established as masculine ever since The Hardy Boys became a television series in the 1970s with actor Parker Stevenson played the older brother.  Today, Parker’s similarity to Piper and the appeal of actress Parker Posey make this name wearable for girls, too.  In 2012, Parker charted at a solid #80 for our sons, and a not-too-out-there #315 for our daughters.

Sawyer – Another name well-established for boys, Sawyer isn’t exclusive to Team Blue.  In 2012, it was the 147th most popular name for boys, and the 548th most popular for girls.

Logan - I’d be surprised to meet a girl called Logan, but a recent comment made me look at the numbers.  Between 1995 and 1999, Logan was given to more than 1,000 newborn girls every year.  That’s tough to ignore!  While Logan was – and remains – masculine, ranking #21 for boys, girl Logans are out there, too – for whom Logan ranked #456 in 2012.

Elliot, Elliott – The single-t spelling is  more popular for both genders, though Elliott is only slightly behind for boys.  The -t might resonate with parents of girls thanks to Scrubs’ Dr. Elliot Reid, played by Sarah Chalke for nearly a decade.  Either way, this name is far more popular for boys, but no longer surprising to hear on a girl.  Actress Marla Sokoloff has a daughter named Elliotte, which takes the name into andro-girly territory.

Easton – Ranking #96 for boys in the US, Easton is solidly masculine.  And yet, with the arrival of North West, directional names are hotter than ever.  Actress Elisabeth Rohm has a daughter called Easton, and 52 girls received the name in 2012 – many fewer than the nearly 4,000 boys.

Ryan – His heyday is over, but Ryan remains #26 for boys in the US.  Girls continue to receive the name, too, some now in honor of fathers – or maybe even grandfathers.  For girls, Ryan ranked #607 in 2012, and Ryann came in at #789.

Dylan – Like Ryan, Dylan is a few years past his peak popularity.  But interestingly, Dylan has climbed slightly for girls in recent years.  It first struck me as a girls’ name when Drew Barrymore wore it for the 2000 and 2003 Charlie’s Angels movies.

Blake – He continues to climb for boys, but a growing number of girls answer to Blake, too.  Two reasons: first, short B names for girls have a certain appeal.  Think of Brooke, Blythe, and Blair.  But more than anything, think of attractive young actress Blake Lively.

Kai – He reads all boy to me, probably because, at #195 in 2012, he’s a fast-gaining choice for our sons.  But Kai also sneaks into the girls’ Top 1000 at #919.

Unisex Names for Girls: Short and Sassy

Charlie – Some girl-Charlies might be Charlotte or even Caroline, but a growing number are just Charlie.  It’s been a time-honored way to feminize a name for generations – think of girls called Billie or Bobbie.  Charlie ranked #305 for girls in 2012, compared to #233 for boys, not counting any of those kids named Charles who answer to Charlie.  But factor in Charley, Charleigh, and Charli and this name can lean surprisingly feminine.

Alex – Alex doesn’t rank an an independently given girls’ name, but all of those Alex- appellations: Alexandra, Alexa, Alexis, Alexia and more can logically lead to Alex.

SamSamuel ranked #25 in 2012, and Samantha came in at #26.  Blame the television.  The name was exotic when it was chosen for the witch in the suburbs on 1960s sitcom Bewitched.  Ever since the days of Alyssa Milano playing a tomboy on Who’s the Boss and trouble-making Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives, Sam has been a staple for girls, with Sam an easy, go-to unisex short form.

Joey - Joseph is for boys, Josephine is for girls – but they both share Joey.  With Josephine on the rise, we’ll doubtless hear more of this one.

What do you think of unisex names for girls?  Are there others that should be on this list?

Photo credit: allthecolor via Flickr

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Medr1e November 12, 2013 at 12:08 PM

My son’s name, Rowan, seems yet more popular for girls than for boys. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but it seems as though we run into girl-Rowans everywhere.

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Megan M. November 10, 2013 at 1:32 PM

I know a girl Logan in her twenties.

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Bryony November 10, 2013 at 11:08 AM

I love a lot of these! :)
Collins is a new one I have not heard – very cute!
I think my least favorite category is the “borrowed from boys” one. I like the new surnames. I like some of the nicknames. But the slightly-dated-on-boys-turned-girls names I do not like at all.
For the first category, I also like Hanley! It’s kind of like Henley, but a little cuter, IMO!
For the last category, I’ve had a love affair with the NN Scotty, always thought it’d be an adorable NN for a Scotland or a Scotia.

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Zena Eve November 9, 2013 at 3:58 AM

I always thought that Morgan and Robin were good uni-sex names.

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liz November 11, 2013 at 5:54 AM

Yes loved Morgan since forever…or until I met my man. Mr freeman :(

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appellationmountain November 11, 2013 at 7:48 AM

Oh no, Liz! Well, there are lots of other names to go with Freeman, right? ;)

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Havoye November 9, 2013 at 3:47 AM

Campbell is the name of the rich Manhattanites’ daughter in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which was published in 1987. Either Wolfe was ahead of his time in discerning naming trends among New York’s elite, or the trend isn’t as new as it seems.

I don’t think the current popularity of Sloane is related that strongly to Ferris Bueller fans being old enough to have kids. There is the rising tennis star Sloane Stephens, as well as the character Sloane Sabbith played by the gorgeous Olivia Munn HBO’s The Newsroom. I don’t see much evidence that people having babies today are influenced by names that figured prominently in their youth.

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Hettie November 9, 2013 at 12:34 AM

Oh MAN. That shortlist for baby Lakynn…….I can’t.
I gotta ask though, did you read the comment section? Holy smokes are there a lot of “unique name fans” out there. Best Worst sibset of the year award goes to brother Guinness and his sister Guylee.

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Laura Rose November 9, 2013 at 1:45 AM

To make it even better, it seems they named her Laikynn with an i.

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Hettie November 9, 2013 at 1:53 PM

Laura Rose, I totally missed that! *shudder* I wish people could grasp the concept that adding a letter does not make it a new, more unique name. It just complicates the same name! I’m totally going to find the post and read why they felt the extra letter was necessary. I must know…

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appellationmountain November 9, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Oh dear … I need to go back and read all of the comments. I’m off …

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Photoquilty November 8, 2013 at 2:41 AM

I blame Daria (the 1990s cartoon) for Quinn for girls, not Glee.

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Jess November 10, 2013 at 11:05 AM

I blame Weeds!

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