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Giving My Son a “Girly” Name

My son’s name is Aubrey. That’s right: Aubrey.

Do I sound defensive? I am. Even something as simple as booking an appointment for my son has engaged the mama bear in me. On more than a few occasions, I’ve been asked how old “she” is over the phone by unsuspecting medical staff who don’t know any better.

“It’s he,” I correct them. “Aubrey. He’s a boy.”

Typically, the staff member on the other end either falls silent or responds with some kind of apology: “Oh, sorry, I just thought …”

Just for clarity, I add, “Aubrey is actually a boy’s name,” with, I admit, a bit of harshness. I know I can’t be alone in this role of defending my son’s gender to strangers, right?

There’s been a growing trend among parents to use names that have been traditionally male for their baby daughters. Ashley. Charlie. Taylor. Now my son’s name, too. I’ve seen girls in my sons’ play groups and daycare named Alex, Andy and Morgan. Add to this Hayden, Peyton, Parker, and more, and we’ve got the makings of a bona fide trend.

Some names have been so popular among girls that it’s hard to forget they were ever attributed to boys in the first place. I know some of you may be aghast with the news that Ashley, yes Ashley, is traditionally a male name (meaning “ash meadow” or “forest clearing,” in case you were curious). If you’ve seen the classic film Gone with the Wind, you’ll recall that Ashley Wilkes was a male character who never had to explain why his mom gave him a “girly” name. Yet, in the past 25 years or so, the traditionally male name has been increasingly given to females.

We never sought to give our kid a name that was purposely obtuse.

Aubrey, like Ashley, also started off as a boy’s name, meaning “elf king” or “ruler of elves.” But lately I’ve seen more and more female children named Aubrey (or variations thereof, such as Aubree, Aubreigh and Aubrie) and now I’m the one who has some explaining to do — grudgingly.

On more than one occasion, I’ve encountered surprised and confused looks when I tell people that my son’s name is Aubrey. I’ve even heard from more outspoken folks that “Aubrey is a girl’s name,” and they had never heard of it being given to a boy before. Strangers will call my son “she” or “her” despite the fact that they can clearly see he is a BOY. While I do make sure I set the record straight with these people, explaining the meaning behind the moniker (king of elves, not queen of elves, ahem), I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me a little each time it happens.

My husband and I never sought to give our kid a name that was purposely obtuse. In fact, we made a concerted effort and took our time with the process. We didn’t even reveal possible choices to family and friends, lest we receive unwanted input, suggestions, or otherwise. Naming a child, for us, is intensely personal and subjective: a parents-only decision. So ultimately, we were inspired in part by the fact that my husband and I appreciated the sound of the name. We liked that it wasn’t on any top baby name lists. We also both love the work of the artist Aubrey Beardsley, and that sealed the deal.

In an age of Blue Ivys, Rumers and Apples, the issue of baby names and the act of naming children has made me take pause. I say live and let live when it comes to the names of other children and remember that the decision to give a child a particular moniker may have a lot more background and meaning than those outside the family circle may understand. It’s a personal choice for the parents, and we should all respect that. While I still believe Aubrey is a solidly male name, I now realize not everyone does. Accepting that people are going to mistake the gender of my son has been a tough lesson, but I’m learning that while I can’t control other people’s opinions, I can control my reactions to them.

For this reason, I’m working to curb my defensiveness and will take on the task of educating those about the history and meaning behind my son’s name. After all, my little elf king is worth it.

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