Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
I lost my sister, Jordan Marie, to cancer when she was 17 and I was 13. I’ve missed her at lots of moments in my life, but especially now that I’m expecting our first baby in September.
I’d always thought I’d name my daughter Jordan or Jordyn, maybe. But it’s a boy, and I feel like Jordan is still the right name.
My mom was excited by the idea of a granddaughter named for Jordan, but can’t get on board with it for her grandson. She keeps saying “but it’s a girl’s name” and “I’m sorry, but he’ll be teased.” Things like that. When I ask around, people do seem to think of Jordan as a girl’s name.
My husband thinks it’s no big deal and just wants to go with Jordan. But I’m not sure he’s really giving this a lot of thought, either.
I’m hoping for an objective opinion: can I name my son Jordan? How should I explain it to my mom?
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your baby on the way!
First things first: yes, I think you should absolutely name your son after your sister.
Jordan isn’t a new name by any means. It was first used in Europe during the Middle Ages, after Crusaders returned from the Holy Land. After all, Jordan is the name of the river the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, and later, the river where Jesus was baptized. More broadly, it can symbolize transformation and freedom.
F Scott Fitzgerald used the name for a female character in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. At the time, Jordan was used in small numbers for boys and very rarely for girls.
Let’s look at the actual data.
It wasn’t until 1978 that Jordan entered the US Top 1000 for girls, even though it had appeared on the boys’ list as far back as 1880. From 1982 onward, it ranked in the boys’ Top 100. In fact, it still does. As of 2020, came in at #82 for boys.
While Jordan also appeared in the girls’ Top 100 from 1989 through 2006, it didn’t last. By 2020, Jordan fell to #435 for our daughters.
So … while your mother obviously strongly associates Jordan with her beloved daughter, and thus finds it feminine, that’s not a completely unbiased perspective.
A Jordan born today – and over the last decade – is overwhelmingly likely to be male. Jordans in their teens, 20s and 30s? That’s more of a coin flip.
So naming your son Jordan after your sister seems perfectly reasonable – really quite thoughtful and lovely!
Is it really so awful if someone mistakes your newborn’s gender?
I suppose that within your family, Jordan is feminine. And so people who know you – friends and cousins – might certainly be surprised to learn that you’ve named your son after your sister.
My guess is that any surprise will quickly be replaced by tears of joy.
So maybe an uncle or long-time neighbor will blink and say, “Oh, but I thought you were having a boy?” There’s really no harm done in those few seconds of confusion. By the time your son enters the wider world of kindergarten, he’ll be surrounded by a broader group of people who will have a different image of the name.
And here’s the thing: with names, as with so many other things in life, we tend to get locked in to a particular opinion. If our oldest friend is a girl named Charlie, then we’ll think of Charlie as feminine … even though we can think of Charlie Brown and Charlie Chaplin and dozens more boys and men by the name. It’s not rational, but then … life would terribly dull if we were always rational, right?
Now about your mom …
I cannot imagine what your family must have went through, and how that pain and loss remains part of your family’s story. Welcoming a grandchild and handing down this precious heirloom name must be quite an emotional roller coaster. Could it be that your mom is just working through so many feelings that she’s not thinking about this quite straight? Or has more reservations about the name’s use than she’s expressing?
Or, to put it bluntly, Jordan isn’t a girls’ name. But it is her girl’s name.
How to proceed really depends on your relationship. If she admitted she was uneasy with using Jordan for your child, would you make a different choice?
Will numbers sway her? Looking up the data on the US Social Security Administration site might help demonstrate that your choice is perfectly in keeping with current name trends.
But only if that’s what’s really got her worried.
All of that said, I’d probably use the name.
It sounds like there really isn’t another name as meaningful to you as Jordan, and your husband is on board.
Maybe choose a classic masculine middle – Jordan Alexander, Jordan Michael, Jordan Henry … you get the idea – and it will emphasize that you’ve welcomed a son when you share his birth announcement.
And give your mom some time. Most grandparents, even when they really object to their grandchild’s name, soften a little when they meet their new family member.
If you do need a little breathing room between your sister’s memory and your son’s identity, I wonder if your mom might call him Danny as an affectionate nickname? Or something else that works for everyone?
I’m so sorry for everything you’ve gone through, and I think that remembering your sister with your son’s name is a lovely, fitting tribute that you’ll all feel good about – in time.
The idea of Jordan being only a girl’s name, to the point that a boy would be teased for having it, is completely untrue. Jordan is a very unisex name, but it’s significantly more a boy-leaning unisex than a girl-leaning unisex. This isn’t like Ashley, this is like…like Lee? If you see the name Lee most people will assume boy, but won’t be overly surprised by a girl walking in.
Also, the famous basketball player, Mr. Michael, keeps this name in people’s head.
I think naming him after your sister is the absolute loveliest thing. If you’re unsure, put it in the middle, but I wouldn’t let these reactions sway you. Unless your mom is uncomfortable with _either_ sex having the name.
Stick with Jordan. It is the perfect name for your family.
I think the fact that you are having a boy not a girl is great. Nothing will ever replace your sister. And if you had a girl, people may have all kinds of expectations for what your daughter “should” be. Instead, your boy Jordan can pay homage to his aunt without having to be constantly compared to her.
And, lastly, Jordan for me is like James – a boy’s name that girls sometimes use. There is no drama on gender here. Just a lot of pain that your family has endured. Your Mom needs time.
You are doing a beautiful thing by honoring your sister, and your husband is doing a beautiful thing by supporting you.
Jordan is, to me, one of the only absolutely unisex names. Growing up, I knew both female and male Jordan’s and nobody ever batted an eye over it being used for both. Jordan has a lot of meaning for you, which I think makes it the perfect choice, for a first OR a middle. Remember, while your pregnant people will spout off their opinions because it seems fair game; once he’s born and his name is firmly his, they’ll (thankfully) keep them to themselves.
I’m Team Put-Jordan-in-the-middle. The name has a lot of baggage (I’m so sorry for your loss) so I think if using what your mom thinks is a girl’s name (yes, her girl’s name) on a boy, that just seals it as non useable in daily life for your family – in my humble opinion.
Yeah, i wonder if your mom can’t imagine calling someone else Jordan, even if she did love it if your baby was a girl. But if you name him Jordan Caleb or Jordan Robert, she could call him JC or JR if she was more comfortable with it. Jordan sounds like an amazing name for your son, I’m so sorry for your loss
Echoing what others have said. I’m married to a (male) Jordan, and while I know a few female Jordans, I still think of it primarily as a boys’ name. I think this sounds like a wonderful way to honor your sister!
Alison Doherty says
I am so sorry for your family’s loss.
I think of Jordan as a boy’d name that girls occasionally have, so I think it works great for a boy. i would talk to your mom about if her issue is the gender or her fear it will be painful to have a family member with the same name and then depending on her answer decide how you want to proceed. <3
I actually think of Jordan primarily as a boy’s name! (It helps that I have a male cousin called Jordan). It’s a lovely name for either gender, and an incredible way to honor your sister. Jordy, Jed, Jojo, or Joey are all creditable nicknames, if you feel the need to make it even more decidedly masculine. I suppose you could also consider using it in the middle spot instead, but I get the impression that it would feel like a less impactful tribute there. Congratulations and best of luck!
Megan Irene says
There’s also the possible nickname Jordy which reads all-boy to me thanks to NFL player Jordy Nelson.
Of course your mom thinks Jordan is a girl’s name: she chose it for a girl!
But objectively, it’s more common for boys and, honestly, I picture Jordan as a boy and Jordyn as a girl.
Maybe a nickname like Joe or Jon will help?
Or maybe your mom’s issue is about using her child’s name for another person, which might be too painful for her?
Iris, that last point is excellent and so, so important. As much as the name is an honor, it’s also a reminder – and it’s worth trying to tease out whether that’s the real hesitation.
Lauren Steenkamp says
Jordan was super common for boys in the 90’s here in the UK, it was in the top ten in 1994 and was still in the top 100 (albeit in the lower 25) in 2004. In comparison Jordan only charted in ’94 (even then only just above 100) for girls, also when in doubt put it in the middle particularly when it’s a family name
Everything that Abby said. Judd could also be a nickname option if you decide to go that route. Congratulations on Baby Jordan!