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?
There are so many from the top of my head:
Addison, Aubrey, Alexis, Ariel, Ashley, Avery, Bailey, Beverley, Blair, Camille, Casey, Cary, Carol, Cassidy, Clair, Chelsea, Cheyenne, Courtney, Dana, Dakota, Darcy, Dee, Dominique, Ellis, Elisha, Emery, Emerson, Emile, Evelyn, Finley, Haley, Harper, Hayden, Hilary, Holly, Ivory, Jade, Jamie, Jocelyn, Jody, Jordan, Kai, Kelly, Kelsey, Kendall, Kenley, Kennedy, Kerry, Kimberly, Lauren, Lindsey, Leslie, Lynn, Mackenzie, Madison, Meredith, Misha, Morgan, Nicola, Nikita, Quinn, Paige, Peyton, Presley, Reese, Riley, Robin, Rory, Rowan, Sage, Sasha, Shannon, Shiloh, Shirley, Shelby, Skyler, Stacey, Sydney, Terry, Tracy, Vivian, Whitney…
I think half of these have a chance of coming back / staying on the blue team.
I’ve always loved Kelly on guys. Not only do I like the sound, but I’ve run into a few make Kell(e)ys, and they have all been among the nicest people you could meet. That gives me a positive feel on the name.
Sarah A says
I love this list. I’m definitely of the mind that so many of these names feel fresh on boys now. I think I mentioned on Facebook that friends of friends announced their soon-to-be-born baby boy will be named Kelly David; I just found out that their runner-up name was Gus!
I echo the suggestions of Lindsay, Loren, Aubrey, Blair, and Casey.
I have long loved the idea of Caradoc nn Cary. Brothers named Caradoc and Alisdair, Cary and Ali. A girl can dream 🙂
I like the list 🙂
My uncle is Lindsay and in Scotland and Australia it’s definitely male for his age group.
Ashley never really stopped being male in the UK – over 300 in 2010, putting it in the top 200.
My friend’s younger brother is Vivian and he wears it well, as does Viv Richards (Cricketer. What do you mean, you don’t know anything about cricket?).
Somebody above mentioned Hazel, which has always seemed more male to me, especially after Watership Down. I’d also see Holly as a boys name, after the Third Man and Red Dwarf.
Ja(y)ne is a good call, and I could also see a respelling of Kate (Kait? Keit?) being considered quite masculine.
I’ve always prefered Dara and Lynn for boys – Dara might get a shove from Irish Daragh (darruh) and Lynn was used in Wales for boys in the 40s/50s.
I’d second the mention of Loren above, and add Clare/Clair.
What about Whitney? There was a TV show with a male character named Whitney, and I’ve heard it floated around as a boy’s name. (Although in light of Whitney Houston’s fame/death, it’ll probably stay in the girls’ camp forevermore.)
Country singer Glen Campbell has a son named Shannon. I think it wears really well on a boy. I also think Alexis is so handsome for a boy!
I want to add Bailey, Darcy, Shelby, Aubrey and Loren/Lauren.
What about Aubrey? It’s one of my all-time favorite boys’ names!
LOVE Aubrey for a boy. It’s within my top five.
I think Ashley would be so handsome on a boy. I always think of Ashley Wilkes and Gone With the Wind when I hear the name, being a big fan of the movie and book.
My middle name is Madison. My mom purposefully gave my sister and me male family names as middle names so that if we went into a field like medicine, law, etc we’d have a gender neutral name we could use to avoid bias. Of course, as luck would have it, both of our middle names became extremely popular for girls. Now my mom wishes she’d given us the family names she’d had picked out for boys. I share my middle name with my great-great-grandfather, my (male) cousin, and now his little girl is named Madison. While I love having the family connections, sometimes I wonder why it HAD to be Madison that got so popular for girls.
I know guys named Shannon, Reese, Courtney, Cary, and Kelly so none of these feel too out there for a boy. Random fact: There’s a guy named Haven in my math class.
The neighbor kid who mows our lawn is named Kelly, his sisters are Lindsay, Mariah and Loren. Back in the day I’ve known men named Dana, Ashley, Addison, Morgan and Kim. Looking over everyone’s suggestions It seems like it’s the transferred surnames that have the most possibility.
I’ll throw out Sidney, Shelby and Blair as possibly boomerang names. And if a certain notorious person from Florida hasn’t killed the name outright, I’d guess Casey will be all male in the future.
One name I wish was usable for boys is Joscelin, but I’m not betting on that one coming back to team blue.
Blair is a good one. I’m kind of obsessed with Blair for a boy right now.
My brother-in-law is a Blair in his late 20s 🙂
Oh, Blair is a great addition to the list!
I don’t even think of Casey as unisex. I’ve met one girl named Kacie – all the rest have been guys, and I’ve met quite a few of them.
I also think it’ll be interesting to see Taylor’s fate. I definitely know more guys than girls named Taylor, but with the super stardom of Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner I wonder if the name will stay unisex or end up swinging one way or the other.
Sarah A says
The handsome actor Blair Underwood definitely adds a masculine feel to the name. And Casey was the name of Peter Krause’s character on the late 90s show Sports Night. Casey is also very unisex to me because I know a couple, both men and women.
C in DC says
I’ll add Kim and Jody for consideration. I’ve known boys with almost all of the names you list.
I love Shannon for a boy.
As a teacher I’ve taught 2 male Leslies, though one went by the nickname Buddy and the other went by his middle name. I went to high school with a male Lindsey. No one ever thought twice about his name.
I find Kelly, Morgan, Jordan, Jamie, and Robin to be very wearable for either sex. Though we plan on using Robin as a female nickname (for Roberta since it was originally a diminutive of Robert), I do love it on a boy. Conversely, even though I know Marion Barber is a football player, I can’t help but feeling Marion is very feminine.
I’m a long-time lurker whose phone won’t let her post on a regular basis. It’s nice to chime in for once.
I had forgotten that I went to elementary school with a boy named Leslie. Here’s the problem with the male Leslie I knew: The poor kid had a weight problem. Compound that with the fact that we were the generation that saw a surge in female Leslie’s and the poor kid got picked on all the time, for his weight and his supposedly feminine name. I felt bad for him, but due to his bad experience, I couldn’t picture Leslie on a boy. Kids are idiots.
That’s a great point, Angie. There was a kid named Fred in my class and he was as awkward as could be. His name was really off the mark for kids born in the 1970s. Every other boy was Jason or Matt and here’s poor Fred. It’s always the risk with any unusual name – will my child live up to it, or be able to live it down? I never know what to do with that question. Then I met a Henry my age, and he was effortlessly cool – athletic, handsome, smart. The fact that his name was still kind of clunky when compared to all those guys called Jason and Matt didn’t matter to him at all … I think you have to trust your gut, but yes – confident kids wear unusual names better. I’d like to say that the answer is to raise confident kids, but some of it is baked in.
Charlotte Vera says
While the trend is dying out due to globalisation and the internet (and telemarketing!) hearing names considered feminine by many parents in North America on boys/men wasn’t so uncommong while I was growing up in India. Ashley is one that stands out, and even more so Leslie. Kelly and Cary aren’t entirely unheard of either.
Shannon makes me think of the actor Michael Shannon, which gives the name a modern-day masculine edge.
What about Robin? The Robin Hood association is very strong.
I love Robin! I think I prefer it for a girl, and see it as sort of a more familiar alternative to Wren and Lark. I have this imaginary sister set in my head and they all have bird middle names: Cecily Wren, Louisa Robin, Beatrice Lark.
However, I don’t mind Robin on a boy either. I think I could grow to like it.
Isadora Vega says
How about Ariel? In Hispanic and Jewish communities, it is still stricktly a boys name and always has been. But, alas, that stupid mermaid…
I knew a boy Ariel in highschool. Do NOT get him started on the mermaid. He was very insistent that Arielle is the girl version, like Danielle, etc.
My name is Ariele and I was born before the “stupid mermaid” so, it was a girls’ name before that. And I don’t think that in Jewish communitites it is strictly a boys’ name… I’ve met several women named Ariel (or a variant of the spelling) who are Jewish. I am actually named for a 70s song (“Ariel”) that is about a Jewish girl.
I think I commented on your fb page about a friend naming her son Shannon David. I adore it.
I know a little boy named Cary (he is 10) and he carries it fine.
I was completely shocked when I learned Vivian was once a male name! I can’t see that one coming back to the blue side anytime soon.
But I totally agree with Tracy and Kelly. In fact I met a male Kelly around my age, and saw a male Kelly on the reality TV show, Top Shot, hosted by Colby Donaldson from Survivor season 2. Now after only seeing Kelly on two guys, I find Kelly completely masculine. I wouldn’t use it for my son, not because I don’t think Kelly can be masculine, but because there are just other male names I like better..
You make a convincing case for Ashley. While I can’t see Ashley coming back on boys anytime soon, in a few decades I believe anything is possible. My niece on my in-law’s side is a 9 year old girl Ashley, and when I told my Mother-in-law Ashley was originally a boy’s name, she was surprised. Apparently she never saw Gone with the Wind, but then again I haven’t either – other than one unpleasant hospital scene while channel surfing.
Jill I can see working on guys, the same way Jane might work – although I still prefer Jane on girls. I also feel Hazel could work on a guy, probably because I knew a guy with the LAST name Hazel. His first name, ironically enough, was the gender neutral, but lately feminine name, D@na.
Angie, I work with a male Vivian and a female Vivienne!
I actually know 2 male Addisons, one in his twenties and the other about 10. But strangely, I’ve never met a female Addison. Madison’s just more popular in my area, I guess.
Slightly off topic, but any chance of a profile of names like the ones Diablo Cody uses for characters? I was just thinking the other day about how fascinating Juno and Mavis (from Young Adult) are. They’ve got a lot of similarities, too, and I think there’s a lot of other names that could fit into the category.
My brother’s name is Morgan, and it fits him perfectly, and he’s a man’s man. I also have a girl cousin named Morgan, and I think it’s great on them both.
Like you, most of those names I like as much or better for boys than for girls. (I may be biased with my own name though!) You’re right on how once a boy-turned-girl name enters “mom name” territory it may give a small boost for those wanting to reclaim said name for Team Blue, since when used on a boy they generally don’t have the same dated feel (of course the same is also being said for using names like Dylan and Ryan on girls which are overdone on boys but sound fresher on girls to some). Now a word from me on a couple of the names you mentioned:
Alexis – I noticed the gender usage of this one is largely drawn along linguistic lines. The majority of male Alexises in the U.S. appear to be Hispanic (the stats generally show it higher in the states with large Spanish-speaking populations). Likewise in Canada Alexis dominates on boys in primarily francophone Quebec, but in the other provinces it rates higher on girls like it does in the States.
Ashley – Despite the popularity of other Ash- names for boys, I think due to its extraordinarily high popularity on girls for at least two decades (and unlike for example Kelly or Shannon not also being modestly popular for boys as well) this one has a greater challenge to finding its way back to the blue side. We may have to wait for the four-generation rule to kick in (i.e. once the generation of lots of female Ashleys dies out) to see it have a viable shot at finding its way back (unlike the less-lopsided-ratio ones which may have greater “more refreshing on a boy” and/or family name* appeal). On the other hand, Ashley survived as a boy’s name in places like the UK so that may also help its masculine image.
*Another sign of historical gender bias I’ve seen is the rarity of naming a boy after a female relative (other than using her maiden name, etc. as his first or middle name) as compared to female to male, female to female, or male to male honoring. If you want to name him after a woman with a unisex name, why not use her first name directly (or as a middle name, etc.)?
I much prefer Ashley on a boy, possibly because it’s so worn out on girls. On the flip side, I once knew a girl named Tristan.
I can see Tristan on a girl – especially thanks to the popularity of Kristen. I think there’s a (female) blogger named Tristen.
There was a girl named Aidan who graduated a year before I did (so she’d be around 33-34 now)
My stance on this issue is well-known — I love most of these names, for boys/men only.
I absolutely, unabashedly ADORE Jane/Jayne for a boy/man, and I REALLY wish I could use it for my own son. Firefly debuted a few months after my husband and I started trying to conceive, when we were in the heat of name-choosing, and I immediately fell for the name Ja(y)ne. Then The Mentalist came along, further cementing my feelings. I don’t ‘name after’ characters, but when I hear a name that I already like on shows/movies repeatedly, they tend to grow on me even more — I suppose because then they seem more wearable.
I very much agree with you about names and the issue of gender, but I do tend to think of names that begin with Mac- or end with -son or -sen as being masculine names (not that I don’t approve of their use on girls but they do tend to mean ‘son of …’), so Madison has always sounded quite masculine to me. I know a male Kelly (it really suits him), which is a name I much perfer to see on a guy, and all the Ashleys I’ve known have been boys.
I love Reese, Cary and Kelly so much more on boys than on girls… Jamie is another one that I far prefer on boys and wish it would come back.
Jamie is so cute for a boy! It’s the main reason I like James as much as I do, simply for that potential nickname. I don’t know if I could get away with it as a full name for a boy.
I know 2 little boys under the age of 1 named Reese. Although, I do live in OK where it fits in with the all the one syllable cowboy-sounding names.
I love a lot of the names you picked 🙂 (this is Catherine Dee on FB btw :)) I suspect that the fiance would probably veto all of these, sadly. His favourite boy’s name atm is Cinder. I’m hoping to play the “I’m going to have to get fat and give birth” card and -sticking with the fire theme- modify it to Blaise Something Lastname. We’ve already agreed on Ember Josephine for a girl. (My firstborn is 10year old Stephanie Elizabeth Lastname). I’m secretly hoping to sell him on Peregrine as a mn for a boy as I’ve loved the name ever since meeting the dashing Peregrine Lovat in The Adept series by Katherine Kurtz. Given that we’re still saving up for IVF, we still have a bit to debate names and since I am a total name nerd… 😛
Oh, I thought of another couple for the list – Dana and Stacy and maybe in a couple of generations there’ll be little boy Evelyns named for grandma Evie/grandpa Everett.
I still pine over the loss of Evelyn as a boy’s name, but will admit that it isn’t exactly feasible…however, as a middle name, I like it because if you look at Evelyn Waugh’s full name- Arther Evelyn St. John Waugh- it works, has a certain flow to it. Also, think about Ted Evelyn Mosby on “How I Met Your Mother”. Granted, the other characters poke fun at him about his middle name, but it adds a certain charm.
Or I’m just nuts.
Also, for Ashley, there’s a former member of a boy’s pop group that was quite popular when I was in middle school… Ashley Parker Angel. I can’t even remember what group he was in, but his name stuck with me 🙂
That, and he was really good looking.
Ashely Parker Angel was in the hear one minute gone the next boy group…O’town. Named for their home town of Orlando, FL. Is it sad that I remember that? In my defense I am originally from Orlando.
I actually went to school with a few guys named Ashley, Shannon, Courtney, Kelly & Tracey! (I’m only 25). And I grew up across the street from a Cary (younger brother to Curt, Chris & Carl). So I don’t think these names are too off the map. I think Rhys has definitely seen a resurgence for boys. And I love the name Jayne for a boy (I’m a big fan of The Mentalist & Firefly)…I think this is one of the few add-a-y spellings that makes the name seem more masculine…or is that just me?