Why do parents choose a unisex name for their child?
The use of unisex names for babies is on the rise and has been a growing trend among young parents recently. Why do they pick a gender-neutral name? The most popular reasons are:
- To give a female child a name that is recognized as being “stronger”
- They want a name that is different and possibly unique
- To embrace the possibility of gender fluidity and head off sexism
The current generation that has reached the average childbearing age is openly voicing their opinions about sexual discrimination, sexism, and gender-neutral trends. It is no surprise that this would also apply to baby names. This has become very popular in the US as well as other countries. However, there are still some countries that find it unlawful to choose a gender fluid name. In Portugal, Denmark, and Iceland it is forbidden to give your child a name that is considered to be gender-neutral. In Germany, the local registrars can decide if an unusual or non-gender name would have a negative impact on a child’s life.
Until recently, unusual and unique unisex names seemed to be limited to children of well-known actors or musicians. This is changing! Today you will find new parents choosing names that are far from the traditional ones that their parents and grandparents had considered. Some of these young moms and dads-to-be are picking names that are related to places that have traveled to, words that have a special meaning to them, last names of ancestors, or names with unusual spellings. When asked, parents stated they made this choice in order to give their child more room to define themselves as they get older. They believe that a child’s gender should not be defined by their name.
What makes a name unisex?
A unisex name is one that can be used regardless of the birth sex of the child. In other words, these can be considered androgynous names or genderless names. In order for a name to be truly unisex, you need to deviate from the traditional names and spellings of those names, that have been popular in society for so many decades. The goal when picking a unisex name is to choose something that does not have any connotation of gender.
These can include names of places like Dublin, Hudson, Camden, Phoenix, Salem, Dallas, Bronx or London.
A common practice is to choose the last name as the child’s given name, such as Anderson, Hutton, Beckett, Cohen, Sutton, Devlin, Finley, Monroe, or Grey.
Different spellings can make them genderless names. Some that are in this category might include Aubrey, Blair, Charlie, Cameron, Finley, Jordan, Kelly, Logan, Landry, Mason, Parker, Payton, Reed, Sawyer, Skyler or Tracy just to name a few.
Some parents will pick names that are inspired by nature such as Rain, Apple, Breeze, Clover, Ember, Lark, Maple, River, Sage, Sky, Moon, Timber, or Winter.
Other parents will choose what many might consider being random words from our language, to assure that they are names for both genders. These may include Red, Love, Justice, Mace, Lyric, Navy, Ever, Scout, Halo, Jazz, True, Royal, or Banks.
It should be noted, that the practice of choosing unisex baby names is far more common in English-speaking countries, particularly in the United States. To ensure that the parents are choosing unusual unisex names, many will make up one. Some couples have been known to choose a word and spell it backwards as the child’s name, to add hyphens or an apostrophe, or come up with a completely new name by combining others.
How can male and female names be differentiated in English?
It has been shown through the generations (particularly in the US), that boy names have stayed fairly traditional. Many male babies are named after their father, grandfather or another male figure within the family. Names for girls, on the other hand, have changed in popularity and tend to be less traditional. Several articles and studies have shown that in the English language, it is usually the last spoken sound or last letter(s) that usually differentiates between male and female versions of names (Slepian & Galinsky, 2016). One common “rule” with English names is that female versions of names typically end in an “a”, “ine”, “ey, ie, or ee” or are “flowers/plants”. Examples of these are:
- A — Laura, Sophia, Emma, Ava. However, some masculine spellings also end in “a” like Joshua and Luka. The theory is that most female names were derived from Latin and the feminine form of a word in Latin ends in an “a”. There has also been a tendency for female names to be formed out of male names such as Roberta (Robert), Daniella (Daniel), Georgia (George), and Alexandra (Alexander).
- Ine — Christine, Pauline, Josephine, Francine. These names are derived from the masculine versions of the similar names, Christopher, Paul, Joseph, and Francis.
- Ey, ie or ee — Kelley/Kellie (masculine/unisex form is Kelly), Abby/Abbey, Molly/Mollie, Baily/Bailey/Bailee, Emily/Emilee, Jamie (masculine form is James), and Toney (masculine form is Tony or Anthony).
- Flowers/Plants- Rose, Daisy, Violet, Holly, Ivy, and Lily just to name a few.
How to know if a name is a male or female?
Some names are rather obvious as to whether they are male or female. These tend to be the traditional, very common names that we have seen since biblical times and beyond. However, when it comes to gender-neutral names or unique unisex names, the rulebook doesn’t work. I can be very difficult to determine, for example, if Dakota is a boy or a girl or if Charlie is a man or a woman.
The best advice is to ask. This is particularly important if it is a newborn because the last thing that you want to do is to offend the parents by assuming the name belongs to a certain gender.
If this is not the case, and you are confused by the name, there are numerous websites that you can consult to try to help determine the gender of the person in question. These can be very helpful if the person was born in a different country and you are not familiar with common names
Good unique baby names for both genders
The US Social Security Administration (USSSA) releases the top 10 names each year, based on their data related to newborn registrations. In the past, we have seen trends based on names of political figures, babies born to royal family members, a return to traditional (old-fashioned) names, and even character names from books or blockbuster films released that year. You, yourself, may have even experienced this as a child. It cannot be much fun being one of six Joshuas or Hannahs in your class at school. However, unique or gender neutral names can be difficult at times, too. Many times, the individual will need to spell or pronounce their name for people, in order to get it right. As a child, this could ultimately lead to nicknames, wanted or not. The most popular baby names for 2017 according to the US Social Security Administration are as follows:
Popular boy names:
Popular girl names:
As you can see, these do not appear to be very uncommon or unique. So what names are we seeing that fit this category? Here is a highlight of just some of them:
- A — Alber, Arden, Anja, Apple, Arizona
- B — Bee, Binx, Brooklyn, Beckett
- C — Cara, Caspar, Cleo, Coco
- D — Demna, Devon, Dree, Dries
- E — Elettra, Elin, Erdem
- F — Finn, Flynn, Freja
- G — Gareth, Gia, Gucci
- H — Haider, Harlow, Harper, Haven, Honor
- I — Iman, Indra, Issey
- J — Jil, Josep, Junya
- K — Kacper, Katja, Kingston, Knox
- L — Lachlan, Lake, Lapo, Liya, Luca
- M — Maddox, Mert, Marlowes, Miller, Misha
- N — Nan, Noor, North
- O — Olympia, Orbie, Oscar
- P — Paola, Pax, Pernille, Prabal
- Q — Queen, Quinn
- R — Reed, Rei, Renzo, Ripley, Rumi
- S — Shae, Skyler, Sparrow, Suki, Suri, Sydney
- T — Tamu, Tanner, Tenzin, Theirry, Toni
- U — Uylianna, Uma, Utah
- V — Vera, Victoire, Vika, Viktor
- W — Waris, Wes, Wren
- X — Xandra, Xavier
- Y — Yasmin, Yigal, Yohji
- Z — Zaha, Zuma, Zac, Zander
Uncommon genderfluid names
This is a hot trend in the process of naming babies these days. If you are looking for an uncommon gender fluid name, you might want to consider one of these:
Presley — This has been a common last name for some people including the king of rock‘n'roll, Elvis Presley. Social Security records in the United States have shown that this name has been used predominantly as a female name. In recent years, it has grown in popularity as a male name as well.
Harley — The name has been a girl’s name in the United States mainly because of the comic book hero Harley Quinn. However, it has been traditionally a boy’s name in Old English and New Zealand long before its popularity in the US.
Ariel — This well-known Disney character name from The Little Mermaid has long been a masculine name. The name is from Hebrew meaning “lion of God” and was used in Shakespearian writing. This makes it a unique gender-neutral name.
Rowan — According to Norse mythology, the first woman came from a type of tree known as a Rowen. This name has been used as a gender-neutral name for several decades. Famous people with the name Rowen include Rowen Atkinson (British actor) and Rowen Blanchard (American actress). The name dates back to ancient Gaelic times. The Rowen tree was thought to have mystical powers.
Paris — This name has grown in popularity because of the socialite Paris Hilton. It has just recently been used as a feminine name. Its roots go back to Greek mythology. Paris (aka Alexander) was the man who eloped with Helen the queen of Sparta and was one of the causes of the Trojan War.
River — In the 1990s this name became popular because of the actor River Phoenix. It has since become a popular non-gender name including well-known individuals such as Rivers Como (musician) and fictional characters River Tam (The Firefly and Serenity) and River Song (Dr. Who).
Ashton — Many people might associate this with a male name because of Ashton Kutcher. It has been used as a genderfluid name since the 1980s and was originally an English surname meaning “ash-tree-tun (settlement)”.
If none of these seem to be the right fit, there are many more listed above. If you are still not finding the perfect unisex name, do as others have and create one of your own.
Costanzo, R. (2016). Unisex baby names are illegal in these 4 countries. The Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/09/19/banned-baby-names_n_12090708.html
Harper’s Bazaar. (2017). The Most Unique and Fashionable Baby Names For Girls and Boys. Retrieved from https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/g4984/unique-baby-names/?slide=26
Meyer, R. (2015). Why do so many girl's names and in 'a'? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/08/why-do-so-many-girlss-names-end-in-a/402823/
Pilcher, J. (2017). Names and “doing gender”: How forenames and surnames contribute to gender identities, difference, and inequalities. Sex Roles, 77(11-12) 812-822. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0805-4
Slepian, M. L., & Galinsky, A. D. (2016). The voiced pronunciation of initial phonemes predicts the gender of names. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 110(4), 509-527. http://www.columbia.edu/~ms4992/Pubs/2016_Slepian-Galinsky_JPSP.pdf
United States Census Bureau. (2016). Most Popular Surnames in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-tps154.html
United States Social Security Administration. (2018). Top 10 baby names of 2017. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/