Friday, February 3, 2017

Girls Like Boys - Feminizations of Male Names

It's no surprise to most name nerds that "unisex" names often begin on boys and end up on the girls' side - Leslie, Kelly, Jordan, and even Riley have been claimed in one way or another by the parents of baby girls. It's also true that masculine nicknames - like Charlie, Bobbie, and Frankie - end up on girls more than their longer forms do (have you met a baby girl Charles, Robert, or Frank?)

But what about less-obvious masculine choices for girls? Charlotte, Brianna, and Gabriella are part of this group. In fact, let's look at the some of the masc-turned-fem names in the top 250:

Charlotte Alexandra Angelina Stephanie
Gabriella Valentina Adriana Angela
Caroline Andrea Michelle Georgia
Brianna Josephine Daniela Noelle
Gianna Nicole Gabrielle

While some of their origins are unclear, what is clear about these names is that there's an easily found masculine equivalent. Many names just add an "a", "anna" or "ella" to the end to emphasize the chosen gender. So then, what really makes a name "feminine"? Is it ending on an "ah" sound? Is it embellishing an established name in unexpected ways?

You may be wondering, "Emily, why does this matter?"

There are plenty of reasons to use feminizations: naming a child after a beloved male friend or relative, honoring a hero or ancestor, or heck, even just liking and wanting to use a particular name. But there are also plenty of reasons NOT to use a feminization.

Today, there are thousands of unique names in common use for girls. Never before have parents been able to pick just about any name/noun/adjective/verb they like and write it on a birth certificate. Simultaneously, women currently have the most power they've ever had in society - assuming, of course, that the current administration doesn't set us back 50 years.

With so much freedom, why not go outside the box? Make up a name for your daughter that has significance for you. Name your daughter the girliest thing you can think of. We should be celebrating femininity for its own merits, not as dressed-up masculinity. The prevalence of masculine names for women is a direct result of misogyny in our society - engage with that dilemma, and figure out where you stand. When you read articles, search databases, and study names, look at their origins. What meanings come with the name, whether direct or indirect? What does a name make you think of, how does it make you feel?

If you love Georgia, pick Georgia. But if you also love Abigail, and wouldn't give it to your son, ask yourself - why not?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. My son is named Gabriel. New teachers and substitutes at school always, without fail, read his name from the rolls as Gabrielle. The name Gabriel came first and was a not-uncommon male name but people are only familiar with the female version now. It surprises me. I bet boys named Adrian, Andre, Valentine, and others, engender similar confusion.

  2. "The prevalence of masculine names for women is a direct result of misogyny in our society"

    I disagree.

    In England at least, for many centuries the name forms for men and women were not distinguished in Middle English -- Philip, James, Jone/Jhon, Alexander, Adrian, Julian, Andrew, Oliver, and many more were used by both men and women. These were "men's names given to woman" but simply "names". It was only when they were recorded in Latin -- a gendered language in contrast with English which is not -- that the linguistic gender of the name matched the gender of the person bearing it. But linguistic gender is not a product of the patriarchy. It was in the 16th C that people started actually using the Latin documentary forms in the vernacular that you start getting women called Juliana, Philipa, Alexandra, etc., instead of Julian, Philip, Alexander. It's not clear what the causal mechanism is that led to the adoption of the Latinized forms in the vernacular (it is probably connected to the rise of Humanism and the Renaissance, with the corresponding penchant for the adoption of classical tropes), but it certainly wasn't the patriarchy.