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Rising Gender-neutral Baby Names (and How They Got That Way)

By michellehorton |

One of the most interesting trends in baby naming is how a name can flip-flop from the masculine to the feminine, or can be used simultaneously for either sex.

What gives a name these gender-dividing (or gender-equalizing) qualities? And more than that — can we predict whether a name is on the verge of switching sides?

Perhaps you think that it shouldn’t matter — that a girl name on a boy shouldn’t be embarrassing — but we all know the harassment that a Haley or Mackenzie (both originally boy names) could endure at the lunch table nowadays. Madison used to be a boy name, but when there are now over 12,000 Madison girls born a year, would you give that name to your son?

And although a boy name on a girl is more often seen as cutesy and off-beat, it can be a real pain (as evidenced by this blogger who recounts all of the explanations, job-interview losses, and even a jail threat because of her typically male name).

Maybe you try to avoid unisex names altogether, or maybe you just don’t care about the “rules” — and that’s absolutely your prerogative — but there are gender changes on the baby-naming front that you might not realize.

Here are the gender-neutral names that are quickly climbing the ranks — many of which are in the process of switching sides or sitting on the fence:

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Top Gender-neutral Baby Names


Back in the 1800s, Harper was strictly a boy name before dropping off the grid in the early 1900s. Then suddenly Harper was back a century later, and it’s very quickly skyrocketed to one of the hottest girl name choices of the moment. Although it’s still rising as a boy name, only 399 boys born in 2011 were named Harper, compared to over 4,600 Harper girls. Something to keep in mind.

Photo: Amazon

The trend of gender-swapping has a long history, although the boy-names-on-girls saw a sharp spike in the 1970s to 1990s — mostly with the “girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do” attitude, and quite possibly to give girls a leg-up in the job market. The surname trend also has a history in the South, where family names have traditionally been given to boys and girls for status reasons.

As of right now, male surnames are some of the trendiest names for girls (i.e. Madison, Addison, Kennedy, etc.), but it’s also becoming increasingly more acceptable — trendy, even — for ordinary boy names to be used for a girl. And this is usually because of two reasons: 1) It honors a family member or family name, or 2) parents just like the name (regardless of history or meaning). As for names firmly switching between genders, it seems like pop culture (celebrities, celebrity kids, or fictional characters) have a strong influence on feminizing or masculinizing a name.


More boy names that girls are taking (or have taken) over:

  • Reagan
  • Leighton
  • Kennedy
  • Avery (still popular for boys, but there were 1776 Avery boys vs. 7303 Avery girls born last year)
  • Reese
  • Blair
  • Sydney
  • Bailey
  • Aubrey
  • Leslie
  • Alexis (although “Alex” hasn’t lost its masculinity — almost equally used for boys and girls)
  • Brooke/Brook
  • Kendall
  • Emery (slowly drifting to the girls)
  • Taylor
  • Mackenzie
  • Madison
  • Cassidy
  • Haley
  • Lindsay
  • Riley (still very popular for boys — there were  3427 Riley boys vs. 5002 Riley girls born last year — but it’s heading in the girl direction)

More unisex names holding strong for the boys:

  • Alex
  • Rowan
  • Logan
  • Angel (popular in the Latin community)
  • Casey (falling popularity for both sexes — and I imagine Casey Anthony isn’t helping)
  • Drew
  • Ryan
  • Dylan
  • Toby
  • Jaden
  • Sawyer
  • Luca
  • Micah
  • Nico
  • Carter

What do you think of unisex names? Do you like boy names on girls? Do you avoid gender-neutral names altogether?

Sources: The Baby Name WizardNameberry, You Can’t Call It “It” (7 Deadly Trends)

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About michellehorton



Michelle Horton is the founder of Early Mama, an award-winning site that proves young motherhood doesn’t have to define or limit us. When not writing, she’s typically pretending to be a superhero in her 4-year-old son’s imaginative play. Read bio and latest posts → Read Michelle's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Rising Gender-neutral Baby Names (and How They Got That Way)

  1. Kim Q says:

    I really like the gender-neutral names. We have a (girl) Sunny. Other names I liked though were Charlie and Billie- we knew it was a girl.

  2. Stacy says:

    Love gender neutral names. Named our daughter Hudson Mackenzie. It fits her well. She is a real rule breaker!!

  3. Corey says:

    We have a son named Jesse and I’m pregnant with another boy. I would love to name him Jamie. My husband doesn’t want to use it b/c he doesn’t want two boys with gender neutral names! My name is Corey, maybe that is why I am so partial to these names! ;-)

  4. ash says:

    thumbs up to gender neutral! We were going to name our oldest Addison, boy or girl. We had a daughter, so her nickname is Sunny (love that you, Kim Q, have a Sunny as well) rather than Addy. And our second daughter is Courtland, which we would have used boy or girl as well. Other names on the table were Pennington (Penn nickname for boy, Penny for girl). Big fan of the trend. I’m an Ashley, and I love that name for a boy. And my husband is a James, and I would love to have a daughter named James, too.

  5. SirUlrichsMom says:

    I hate haveing a “gender neutral” name(Jamie), it always caused so much confussion in school. Every teacher or substitute i ever had assumed i was a boy at first. i was the only girl named jamie in 3 grades. I never go by my real name because i hate using it so much.

  6. Jacinda says:

    Of course I had to check that my little Quinn was on the list! Love the name but it has caused some confusion. I find myself calling her Miss Quinn and describing her to others as Quinn (a girl) …

    For boys I would probably avoid unisex…

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