English: Blake Lively at the 2011 Time 100 gala.

The latest Blake Lively/Ryan Reynolds baby name rumor?

She’s named James.

If that’s true, Blake and Ryan would only be taking the unisex name trend to its logical conclusion.

After all, James has been big in the middle spot for girls for years. Sean Combs has a daughter called Jessie James, born back in 2006.  More recently, Jessica Capshaw welcomed Poppy James, Jennifer Love Hewitt went with Autumn James, and James Marsden’s daughter wears one of my favorite combinations, Mary James.

It was only a matter of time until we met a girl called James.

Wait – Canadian actor Brendan Fehr is the father of three girls: Ondine, Ellison Jane, and James Olivia. Helen Hunt played Jamie “James” Buchman on Mad About You back in the 1990s. And model Jaime King started out her career answering to James, too.  According to the Social Security Administration, 28 girls were named James in 2013. So the Gossip Girl alum wouldn’t really be first.

Still, Blake and Ryan could take this name from a rarity sometimes heard for girls to a wildly popular unisex name.

Lots of other high profile couples have given traditionally masculine names to their daughters.

No matter what you think of the trend – and let me say that I don’t think it’s truly new, or really a problem – it’s definitely an approach to naming girls that plenty of parents embrace.

Read on for a dozen of the most surprising gender-bending, unisex name choices made by celebrities this century:

Arlo – Actor-comedian-stuntman Johnny Knoxville rose to fame as part of MTV’s Jackass empire. He’s the father of three: daughter Madison, son Rocko Akira, and daughter Arlo Lemoyne Yoko. Let’s just say that his taste in names has gotten more and more daring as the years have gone by. While Arlo might seem like a wacky choice for a girl, with Harlow and Marlowe in vogue, it’s not a stretch to imagine parents considering Arlo, too.

Casper – Jason Lee and Beth Riesgraf were inspired to name their son Pilot after a song lyric. More than a decade later, Pilot is still a go-to name for wacky baby name lists. (I’m not sure it deserves that much noise.) Jason and new wife Ceren Alkac kept the name of their daughter quiet, but Casper Alice has mostly gotten positive reviews.  The couple have a second child together, son Sonny.

Easton August – Every time I see mentions of Elisabeth Rohm’s daughter’s name, I pause. I think it’s a good idea for either the first or the middle to be clearly gendered – see Casper Alice, as well as Isabelle, a middle shared by two girls on this list. Elisabeth stuck to the grey area when naming her daughter in 2008. Easton has since entered the US Top 100 for boys.  But maybe August isn’t such a surprise. Actor Oscar Nunez has an August Luce, and Garth Brooks named his daughter August Anna way back in 1994. So Easton is definitely borrowed from Team Blue, but August? Perhaps this calendar name belongs with April and June.

Fox – Mark Owen is known as a member of British pop group Take That, and he’s had a big solo career, too. In 2009, Mark married actress Emma Ferguson, and the two started a family: son Elwood Jack, daughter Willow Rose, and, in 2012, daughter Fox India. Yup, Fox is a girl. In the US, the creature name is a fast-rising favorite for boys, currently poised just outside of the US Top 1000.

Unisex NamesGray – Jenna von Oy played sitcom characters named Six and Stevie back in the 1990s. Fast-forward to 2012, and she welcomed her first child, daughter Gray Audrey. In a classroom full of girls called Scarlett and Violet, colorful Gray isn’t such a surprise. But the somber name is more common for boys, especially when you consider Grey, as well as the fast-rising Grayson – in the US Top 100 – or Greyson – not far behind, at #149. But unisex names must be von Oy’s style. Her younger daughter is Marlowe Monroe.

Hunter – Actor Kevin Rahm has had a long television career, most recently as Ted on Mad Men. He become a father late in 2014, welcoming daughter Hunter.  Like Wyatt and Lincoln, Hunter is a Top 100 favorite for boys. And yet on a girl, Hunter does feel wearable, a unisex name thanks to mythological and fictional figures like Artemis, the Amazons, and Katniss Everdeen – skilled hunters all.

Jude – Martha Stewart’s only child is daughter Alexis – a name preferred for men in many languages. In 2011, the younger Ms. Stewart welcomed daughter Jude. While Jude – as in Hey and the Obscure – is definitely as masculine moniker, plenty of women named Judy and Judith have answered to Jude. It’s not quite Chris or Pat, but I think it seems less jarring than some of the names on this list.

Lincoln – Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell had a favorite name for their first baby. And even though Lincoln is much more popular for a boy, the couple named their daughter Lincoln Bell Shepard in 2013. It’s too soon to say if Dax and Kristen’s gender-bending choice will influence others, but there’s already a tiny minority of girls by the name – 61 born in 2013 alone.

Mason – Veteran actor Kelsey Grammar is much-married, and father to six children.  Two of his daughters have conventionally masculine names – Spencer and Mason. Spencer’s acting career has flourished in recent years, and little sister Mason was in the spotlight when Kelsey’s former wife, Camille, was featured on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Mason was born back in 2001, when the name ranked a mere #53 in the US. 

Maxwell – Jessica Simpson surprised everyone when she announced the arrival of daughter Maxwell Drew in 2012.  Jessica and retired footballer husband Eric Johnson explained that they’d chosen family names for Maxwell, and later for son Ace Knute.  It’s a very Southern thing to do, and yet, Maxwell still seems like a solidly masculine name. Or is it? That same year, actress Lindsay Sloane named her daughter Maxwell Lue.

Owen – Back in 2005, musician Michelle Branch welcomed Owen Isabelle. While plenty of conventionally masculine names are steadily used for girls, like Dylan and Ryan, Michelle’s Owen is one of the few girls given this name. Middle name Isabelle softens the unexpected first.

Wyatt – Speaking of Isabelle, that’s the same middle name Aston Kutcher and Mila Kunis gave to their daughter, born in 2014. Wyatt Isabelle’s middle name honors Mila’s grandma, but Wyatt was just something that came to the couple at a Lakers game.

Are you a fan of unisex names, or do you feel like they’re just boy names used for girls? What do you think of James as a girls’ name?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I realize I’m late to this party, but I think it really depends on personal preference. Why has Jamie been accepted for girls before this, but James is a surprise? I know a female teenager named Hunter and she pulls it off really well. Unfortunately, I think our society still has a slight preference toward the masculine side of things. I can’t deny that I would like to give a daughter a slightly more equal chance of getting a call by having an androgynous name on a resume, although I love the sound of feminine names. If the HR person is surprised when she shows up or answers the phone, so be it. There are also lots of traditionally female names that are strong and scream CEO or scientist, etc. For the record, I wouldn’t name a daughter James, but I can see the reasons someone might. Why won’t someone name a baby girl Roxanne instead of Ezra? The first sounds stronger to me, even though the latter is traditionally male. My name was a masculine name/surname but it has clearly gone to the female side. (I’ve never met a man named Brooke/Brook/Brooks). Nothing surprises me anymore. I think it’s a little fun to keep people on their toes. I also think people need to keep perspective and realize we’re talking about celebrities who are more out of touch. At least the kid isn’t named Banjo.

  2. I’ve been meaning to get back to this, and today’s announcement seems to be a good cue! What are you taking as the criterion for a name to be a “unisex” name? That is, when does a name move from being “a girl’s name given to a boy” or “a boy’s name given to a girl” to “a unisex name”? (I see a few other commenters have also raised this question.)

    1. It’s a huge question, right?

      Not sure if I can do it justice in the comments – maybe this needs a post … but let’s start here.

      In English, there aren’t any meaningful rules about names and gender. There’s Emma and Norah, but also Noah and Ezra. And Lauren is a girl, but so is Logan. Kate’s a girl, Nate’s a boy – but there’s no reason it has to be that way. My understanding is that many other languages are much more definite, and, of course, there are places like Germany, where it’s more or less mandated that names be clearly assigned to one gender.

      For a while I thought that we were seeing the emergence of new feminine forms, just like Josephine replaced Josephe and Josepha and Samantha is now considered a feminine form of Samuel, even though it’s really quite new compared to Samuel. Would Jordyn become the feminine form of Jordan? But the numbers don’t really back that up – at least, not strongly, and not across enough names to feel like it’s a real trend.

      It all comes down to usage. If aliens arrived on Earth and had to puzzle this out, the only way they’d know that Jane is traditionally feminine in English is to count up the number of women named Jane. (But if they watched Firefly or the Mentalist, with male characters named Jane, they might have another idea.) And the same is true for James – they’d only know it was traditionally masculine by counting heads, and headlines about baby girls named James might convince them otherwise.

      I titled the first draft of this post “Celebrities Who Gave Boy Names to their Girls” or something like that. Only that feels insulting. If you name your daughter Larry, then Larry *is* a girl’s name – at least, it’s the name of that one girl. And while many predict dire consequences for women with masculine names, I’ve known plenty – none seem to have lasting scars from their names. (I almost always manage to ask – eventually.) And I’ve known men with names that have “gone girl” – men my age named Shannon and Sidney and Leslie. I’m less often in a position to ask men what they really think of their names – but when I can, it doesn’t seem to be a huge source of angst for them. (At least now, as adults. Rewind to all of us at age twelve or so, and all bets are off.)

      So here’s where I begin: going with the dictionary definition, unisex means suitable for both sexes – and on sound alone, a great many names are suitable for both sexes.

      But other comments raise a good point – Rebecca would never be described as a unisex name. And I cannot imagine parents naming a son Julia or Amanda or Cecily, even though a great many boys’ names feel like they could be given to girls, at least in theory.

      My best guess is that we’re moving towards using names more like Israel does – where there many names that are used in similar numbers for boys and girls, though some are still strongly gendered. (Lior is unisex, but Liora is just for girls.)

      I think I’d describe a name as unisex after I see a steady trendline or a history of use for both genders, even if the numbers are very lopsided. Celebrities don’t count more than ordinary folks, but it would be a mistake to think that it’s only celebrities borrowing freely from the boys from their daughters’ names – the numbers almost always suggest that it’s all of us.

      Which reminds me – James actually has a long history of use for girls. (You can see the graph and the numbers at Nancy’s site.) My best guess is that’s because James is such a common surname, and lots of families have handed down surnames without regard to gender for generations.

      One of the other issues is that the statistics are flawed – there are plenty of mis-recorded births over the years. Were there really 243 girls named George in 1930, or was that a mistake? I’ve found some in Census records, and it seems like they were often actually named George Ann, and maybe known as Georgeann in everyday use … it’s a change in how we record, not how we name.

      But ultimately it’s about more than names, isn’t it? Why do we have girl Legos and boy Legos? How come girls are princesses and boys are superheroes? Why are the Doc McStuffins toys my nephew loves in the girls’ toy aisle? Everything is strongly gendered – more strongly gendered than I remember it growing up in the 1970s and 80s. Even though my life experience is that gender is much less of a limiting factor than it was for my mother or her mother, you wouldn’t necessarily know it by walking through a store. (Again, if an alien landed at my local Target.)

      So … rambling. But I tend to see unisex names as a huge group, and when I say unisex, it isn’t code for “such a cute name for a girl!!!” It’s a free-of-judgement assessment that we’re likely to hear the name on girls as well as boys.

      One last thought: while they rarely comment (and I don’t blame them), the data tells me that plenty of parents LOVE this style of name, for boys and girls. So they’ll name their children Parker and Lincoln and Collins and Chase, and they’re not fussed if you can’t tell which name goes with which kid on the Christmas card. It isn’t my personal style, but I kind of love that.

      1. I would disagree on the statement in reference to things being more gender oriented today than in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Dolls and dresses were always for girls, pants and cars or cork guns were always for boys which clearly pre-dates the 70’s. Women wearing pants in the 1940’s was risque and Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis received a lot of scoff about it. I see more men wearing womens clothing and women wearing mens than I ever did in the 1950’s-1980’s until at least the early 90’s. The heated topic of feminism is what brought his/her legos. The ideology that girls can think, act, and are exactly physically the same to boys, which lead the change and different interpretation to the 14th amendment. What we see today, really is the long term consequenes good or bad as they may be but the push has gotten more more pronounced. We can see this changed in Women’s position in the military, Plus, the movement/exception on homosexuality lead to more heated discussion toward gender differences Or more gender neutrality. In the 1980’s and prior, media, conversations, and liturature wasn’t open or willing to talk about it or acknowledge any of it. Some feel this is an accomplishment others not. So much. Goodness in the 50’s you were kicked off screen for mentioning the use of the bathroom and one bed in scene featuring a couple, OH boy, now that was risque. While the south held tradition on surnames for either sex, I get and respect that, let’s be honest here, not much of the southern’s habit took off across the world, which gives the southern practice its distintive and unusual tone. Unisex names just wasn’t widely practiced And gender differences was widely practiced and acknowledged in a common sense everyday perspective.

  3. I am not a huge fan of boys’ names on girls.

    But James on a girl bothers me way less than a lot of the ones I often see described as unisex on name sites that traditionally are not. Non-Anglo background names tend to get a breezy ‘well they’re odd anyway and who knows…’ but oh no not the *classics,* those are *real* boys names and that’s sooo different. There’s some kind of baggage there.

    https://nameberry.com/babyname/Indra <—wtf.

    So yeah fine what's good for Rory/Alyosha/Ezra/Asher is fine for James as far as I'm concerned.