JossIt’s a short name made famous by a celebrated director. But is it better for a boy or a girl? And is this enough name to stand alone?

Thanks to Kathryn for suggesting Joss as our Baby Name of the Day.

Joss: From Jocelyn

Jocelyn has been used as a girls’ name in the US over the past century. It’s been very popular , too, peaking at #50 in 2007 and ranking in the Top 250 since 1988.

But it was originally masculine, yet another name with German roots brought to England by the Normans.

Back in the day, a tribe called the Gauts or the Geats occupied parts of modern Sweden. Ptolemy referred to the Gautoi in the second century; in the 500s, they’re called the Gautigoths. The earliest recorded forms of Jocelyn are Gautselin or Goscelin, from the name of the tribe.

Gaut may come from a word meaning “to pour.” There’s a river known as the Göta älv – River of the Geats – in Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast.

It’s found as an element in Nordic Names. The Dictionary of Medieval Names lists related names, like Gautbert, too.

It is also recorded in Latinized forms, like Gaudenlenus and Gozelinus.

So how did we go from medieval men called Gozelinus to twentieth century women called Jocelyn?

I’m guessing, but I’d credit Joyce.

Joyce entered the US Top 100 in 1924, and was rising quickly when Jocelyn debuted. Both names have masculine roots in Norman-England. The earliest recorded form of Joyce was Josse.

Evelyn, Marilyn, and Carolyn were Top 100 names in the era. Jocelyn would have seemed like a logical girls’ name, too.

Joss: Recent Years

A handful of famous bearers have boosted the name ever so slightly in recent years.

  • English actor Joss Ackland, born Sidney Edmond Jocelyn, probably inspired the use of the name for boys in the 1970s.
  • Arguably the most famous bearer of the name today is The Avengers director Joss Whedeon. He first made a splash as the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the 1990s. Whedon is a genius namer, but he was born with a buttoned-down classic of a name: Joseph.
  • English singer Joss Stone – born Joscelyn Stoker – helped claim the name for girls.

As of 2014, there were 21 newborn boys named Joss and 18 girls in the US. That’s a pretty even split. Joss shares sounds with traditional names for boys – think Ross – as well as girls – think Tess.

Joss: Sticks

Here’s a curious association: another name for incense is joss sticks.

Incense is big in religious ceremonies and rituals. In China and India, the term “joss sticks” evolved from the Portuguese word for god – deos. It was dejos in Javanese, and eventually just joss.

It’s not a negative association, however, and in our age of Bodhi and Nevaeh, a hint of spiritual meaning doesn’t necessarily hurt a name.

Joss: 2015

Joss is rare as a given name. And yet, if parents are opting for Jake and Kate on the birth certificate, why not just Joss?

It works well as a nickname for Jocelyn, Joseph, Josiah, Josephine, or any name with Jos- sound. It could be an interesting middle name possibility to honor a loved one with any Jos- name, too.

If you’re looking for a short, unusual, gender neutral given name that feels familiar but is rarely bestowed, Joss is one to consider.

Do you like Joss better for a boy or a girl?

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.

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What do you think?


  1. I am not sure about the Joyce theory – the name is pretty steady in England – British baby names has an interesting post on the name for those interested in the use of the name. I have liked the name since I heard it on a pg Wodehouse character (male) as a child. I have also once seen it as a surname. In my head it is feminine and if I had used it I would have called her Josie.

  2. I have a grandmother Joyce, which is kind of dated. I love Jocelyn nn Joss as a nod to my grandmother. One of my favorites, on my very short list. I like the alt spellings Joscelyn and Joscelin too.

    I think it works well for boys too, but I prefer it as a nn, and I don’t like the formal names for boys as well.

  3. Even though I’m a huge fan of Buffy and Firefly, Joss Whedon actually ruined this one for me. I used to have Joss on my list as a nickname for Joseph, but now that I’ve heard stories about him and how much of a feminist he is NOT, it’s… off the list. It is a cool nickname though! I hope more people who aren’t big nerds like me will use it.