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Giving My Son a “Girly” Name

When it comes to gender-neutral names, have we really come that far?

By Samantha Kemp-Jackson |

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.

About Samantha Kemp-Jackson


Samantha Kemp-Jackson

Samantha Kemp-Jackson is a writer, blogger, parenting expert and mother of four children who range in age from mid-twenties to three (the latter two being identical twin boys). The voice behind the popular parenting blog Multiple Mayhem Mamma,  she focuses on topics and issues that resonate with her audience of (primarily) moms, from a lighthearted and humorous perspective.

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11 thoughts on “Giving My Son a “Girly” Name

  1. Marcella Mayberry says:

    My husband’s name is Aubrey….didn’t strike me as odd at all when I met him… I love his name.

  2. Britt says:

    My brothers name is the same as your sons. He is named after his father and grandfather.

  3. Telana Knapp says:

    I have 3 boys and 1 girl and everyone thinks I have 4 girls. Raven, Cherokee, and Ryan. Ryan’s middle name is Morgan. My daughters name is Jamaica Mae Eclipse, she is the only one to not be called the wrong thing except her nickname is Jme (Jamie). I can totally relate to this. Ryan which was named for my first male best friend, I didn’t know a female Ryan until I was in my 20′s.To each his/her own I say.

  4. Courtney says:

    My parents named me after a boy, I also have a guy friend named Courtney. No big deal :) although I have known some people to hate their own names, they just go by nicknames or middle names, their choice! We named our daughter Elizabeth after my mother who passed away a year before her birth. We call her Elie pronounced L-E, some people ask where we get elie out of Elizabeth… Umm… Richard to Dick? Or William to Bill?? Lol I just tell them frankly that’s what we call her! my husband liked the idea of naming her after my mom but wasn’t too fond of Elizabeth, so we compromised with the nick name Elie! Maybe when she is older she’ll go by Beth, Betsy, Liz or Lizzy! Or maybe she will be proud of her name and go by Elizabeth! Her choice!

  5. tanya f says:

    My sons name is Gabriel and every time people think I have a girl . I don’t pay attention anymore

  6. Wendy says:

    Well, Aubrey is way better than a name I heard of for a child. And I swear I am NOT making this up for everyone to say WTH??? The parents really named their child ABCDE. It is, I was told, pronounced Abs-Said-ee. Forget being thought of as a girl or a boy. Imagine how difficult it will be for this child to get a job when an employer thinks the applicant is fooling around and giving a fake name?
    Or a speeding ticket? Cops will love this name. I am all for being unique, but at what expense to the child? Honestly hope when the child becomes older, he will change his name to something like Aubrey. A name that is wonderful and makes sense.

  7. Jayme says:

    An ex boyfriend of mine from high school was good friends with a guy named Aubrey and a basketball player at my school was also named Aubrey and he was a guy. A classmate of mine, a girl, was named that too but I always heard of it being a boys name originally. Like the name either way but definitely agree with you – it’s origin is for boys.

  8. Aubrey King says:

    I think Aubrey is a great name. I am all man and 67 years old. I remember when I was a boy, people wanted to call me Audrey. Now days girls are named Aubrey or Aubree. When I was in the Navy, it was last name first, first name last. I am proud my mother named me Aubrey. Tell your son to wear his name proudly! Aubrey from Kentucky

  9. Tiffany says:

    I feel your pain wholeheartedly. =/ I took the chance and named my son a unisex name. His name is Sana, btw. It doesn’t help that his facial features are pretty and that his father and I keep his hair long past his shoulders. People are always referring to him as a “she”. So we try to dress him in only “masculine” colors and clothes.

  10. Amy says:

    I have met 2 girls names “Abcde” pronounced Absydee and yes, I thought both sets of parents were insane. But to each their own, I guess. My 11-year-old so has 3 little girl friends named Aubrey, Aubree and Aubreigh, so even though it was originally a man’s name, those girls are trying to take it over!

  11. Madison says:

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know
    such detailed about my problem. You are wonderful!

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