I don’t have much patience for the idea that every name is clearly and unambiguously gendered. I’ve defended borrowing conventionally masculine names for girls before, and I often find so-called boys’ names on girls downright appealing.
If there is one thing that irks me it is the idea that once a name goes girl, it can’t come back. Now this isn’t exactly true – names tend to rise for both genders at the same time. But when a name hits the big time for girls – Avery or Madison, for example – parents of boys do tend to cross it off their lists, and the few parents that had recently bestowed it on a son, well … they’re often found on baby name forums insisting that everyone needs to stop stealing Bailey.
So this week’s list are my top picks for boyish girls names we’re likely to cautiously reconsider for our sons – eventually.
Ashley – Yes, we hear this sound as feminine today – so feminine that I can’t really imagine it on a boy. But that’s true of almost any ends-in-ley or -lee name these days – they can read girly circa 2012. Think Kenley, Linley, Hadley. But before you dismiss this one as permanently assigned to Team Pink’s roster, consider that first Ashton (#126 in 2010) and now Asher (#139) have gained in recent decades. Parents like Ash- names – for both genders, and certainly for boys. Give Ashley a few decades, and he could be all Southern gentleman once more.
Madison – With the exception of Madison Smart Bell, this name wasn’t much known until a mermaid met Tom Hanks on the big screen. The fish tale made Madison a possibility for girls, with feminine short form Maddie and a similar sound to conventionally feminine – and stylish – Allison. And yet Madison feels like Harrison and Anderson – names parents have embraced for their sons. Fast-forward five decades, and can’t you imagine some of the first wave of female Madisons holding their namesake grandsons, all nicknamed Matt?
Shannon – Madison and Ashley are still school-aged, but how ’bout Shannon? It’s been ages since this Irish appellation caught on for both genders. Shannon peaked in 1976 at #98 for boys – but #17 for girls. Now that Shannon is firmly a mom name, and the 1976 single “Shannon” is gone, he sounds strangely boyish once more, a mix of Sean and all those ends-in-n boy names.
Jane – Okay, this is cheating. Jane has never been a boys’ name, not anywhere in the English-speaking world. But the small screen wants us to consider the possibility. Characters on Firefly and The Mentalist have both answered to the traditionally feminine form of John. Strong man Jayne Cobb appeared on Firefly, and wicked smart Patrick Jane helps solve crimes on The Mentalist. Could Jane catch on for boys? It’s a long shot. But on sound alone, Zane, Thane, Lane, Cain, Dane, Jane … not as out there as it seems at first.
Reese – Ms. Witherspoon, I adore you. But I was disappointed when I realized that your given name – well, actually your extra-middle-turned-professional-name – was more popular for girls than boys. Rhys is still dominant for boys, with all his Welsh hero cool. But Reese shares sounds with Patrice and Clarice and now shares a playground with Emma and Sophie. Despite the numbers, I suspect Reese is more akin to Peyton than Madison. Parents will keep Reese on their boys’ list anyhow – at least until their neighbor/co-worker/college roommate uses it for a girl.
Tracey – 30 Rock makes Tracy masculine, and Trace Adkins has made his name cowboy cool. Could Tracey make a comeback? He’s a masculine name in a Charles Dickens novel, and probably comes from a place name derived from Thrace – an ancient territory located in modern-day Turkey and Bulgaria. But today we tend to think of Tracey as a short form for Theresa. Still, Trace has been floating around the boys’ Top 1000 for two decades, suggesting that some parents like the sound for a son.
Alexis – In much of the world, Alexis is a guy – always has been. In the US, Dynasty helped cement this one as an option for our daughters, peaking at #3 in 1999. But Alexis fared well for boys in the same period, peaking at #103 in 2004, and still ranking #219. Alexander and Alexandra have been wildly popular in recent years, with oodles of spin-off names riding their coattails. Chances are that they’re all due for hibernation, but when they come back in a few more generations, I think it is anyone’s guess which gender will claim Alexis.
Courtney – Like Tracey and Shannon, courtly Courtney is firmly a mom name these days – and one of those moms is a Kardashian. It is easy to overlook Courtney’s masculine roots, but parents are using names like Corbin, Cormac, Courtland, and even Cortez for their sons.
Cary – There’s dashing Hollywood icon Cary Grant, and The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes. Of all the names on this list, Cary is among the most wearable for a boy today. Sure, we’re calling our daughters Caroline – and some will surely answer to Carrie. But boys’ names like Carter and Carson are wildly popular, and there’s Corey, too. Throw in all of those Irish surnames, like Brady and Riley, and Cary starts to feel as boyish as William.
Kelly – I’ve saved the best for last. Despite peaking as a girl’s name in the 1970s, Kelly has a long history of use for boys. Plenty of uber-masculine figures have answered to the surname: there’s Australian Robin Hood-figure Ned Kelly, and Clint Eastwood’s 1970-turn in World War II flick Kelly’s Heroes, where the good guys make off with German gold. Actress Holly Marie Combs has sons called Finley Arthur, Riley Edward, and Kelley James. In that company, Kelly is effortlessly masculine.
I’ve left plenty of names off this list. Evelyn is unlikely to ever feel boyish again, between Eve and that -lyn ending. Addison strikes me as a less-likely comeback for similar reasons. But I do think that parents are willing to take more risks with their kids’ names than ever before. If Jayden can chart in the Top Ten, surely we can consider Kelly a classic Irish surname pick for a boy.
Are there others that you think should be considered for boys? Which of these do you think is most likely to make a comeback?