Gender ambiguous given names (in Anglo-American/Anglophone culture)

I’ve been thinking about gender-ambiguous given names in Anglo-American culture (or let’s expand it to English-speaking culture in general). For some reason, I find it fascinating. I’ve worked up a list and I hope the Doper community will find it interesting enough to continue.

An overarching principal seems to be that there is some critical “feminineness” stage after which a name is no longer accepted as a masculine name at all.

It seems to me there are several categories of gender-ambiguous names (feel free to add to the list):

  1. Names that were originally exclusively masculine names that gradually made the transition to ambiguous names and are now pretty much exclusively feminine names.

  2. Names whose gender specificity was based on a spelling differentiation whose ability to differentiate has been lost and has resulted in a name becoming gender-ambiguous or almost completely feminine. (Leslie/Lesley, Valery/Valerie, Vivian/Vivienne, Francis/Frances, Carol/Carole)

  3. Diminutives that have transitioned from predominantly masculine to predominantly feminine (and are no longer treated as diminutives), or are currently in transition.

  4. Names that were originally place names that were used as masculine given names and have been transferred to use as feminine names (often by example of a famous person).

  5. Foreign names that are masculine in their home culture but have become (predominantly) feminine in Anglo-American culture (e.g., Ananda, Chandra). (I don’t include these names in the list.)

  6. Names currently in transition from predominantly masculine to predominantly feminine.

  7. Others?

Here’s the list (I don’t give all the spelling variations):

Adrian, Alexis, Ashley, Aubrey, Audrey, Beverly, Blair, Bobby, Bret, Cameron, Carol, Charly, Christy, Ciaran, Clare, Cory, Courtney, Crystal, Dale, Dana, Evelyn, Fay, Francis, Gale, Gene, Gillian, Ginger, Hilary, Jamey, Jan, Jess, Jessy, Jody, Jordan, Josie, Julie, Kay, Kelly, Kelsey, Kim, Lanny, Laury, Lee, Leslie, Lindsay, Lou, Lucy, Lyn, Marion, Nicky, Paige, Patsy, Piper, Randy, Rene, Robin, Ronny, Sandy, Shannon, Shelly, Shirley, Stacy, Steph, Stevie, Tamesin, Terry, Tracy, Valery, Viv, Vivian, Whitney, Winnie

More contributions?

The University of Hawaii’s football coach is a white man in his 50s named June Jones. He coached in the NFL for several years as well. If a guy names June can get over in this most macho of professions, I don’t see what Johnny Cash’s boy named Sue had to get so whiny about.

Some of the ones on your list like Vivian and Crystal sound unambiguously female to me. The governor of Mississippi is named Haley Barbour and that seems to work fine for him.

Both my father and my younger female cousin have the name Mallory although my father goes by Mal. I have seen other men do the same so that is one.

Def Leppard’s lead guitar player is a man named Vivian Campbell. Before Def Leppard, he played for 80s metal megastars Whitesnake and Dio.

Man, between June Jones and Vivian Campbell, I’ve now covered two of the most macho industries I can think of: football and heavy metal. :smiley:

Viv Richards (cricketer) is another very masculine use of that name…

And Wikipedia proves useful for the OP’s quest:

I’m not sure what you mean to say, but I do agree that “Haley” belongs on the list.

Rowan is an interesting name - across the pond, it’s definately masculine, and here it’s pretty definately not (if I met a male Rowan I’d be a little surprised and then remember it’s a British thing.)

American definitely seems to lead the way in feminising names. Bobby is another example where it’s still mainly masculine in Britain.

Not to mention the late, great Vivian Stanshall.

Darryl, as in Darryl Hannah
Sam (as a nickname for Samantha)
Michael (as in Michael Learned)

Bobby (Robert) is male in the US also; it’s Bobbie that might be short for Roberta.

Is Evelyn still a masculine name in Britain? My mom laughs about the earnest undergard woman who opined that Evelyn Waugh female perspective informed “her” work.

Of course I am reading ‘Prep’ by Curtis Sittenfeld.

It seems to me that “Bobby” (and not necessarily just “Bobbie”) is starting to become not unusual for “Roberta.” I do agree that it hasn’t shown signs yet of dropping on the “Robert” side though.

“Michael” seems to be one of those names that, although is used by women, hasn’t started to make a cultural movement towards feminine.

Evelyn’s perhaps still seen as masculine - but also as old-fashioned.

His first wife was named Evelyn, too.

To perhaps add another category or expand on one of those in the OP, what about “new” names which have become extremely popular in the last few years, such as Taylor and Madison? They tend to have been originally last names, and became unisex from the start.

In this context I’ve always wondered about names like Jody. I’ve always thought of it as a feminine name, yet there’s nothing particularly feminine sounding about the word Jody. It isn’t “pretty”, which a lot of feminine names seem to be, especially the common, traditional ones. Yet it’s usually the name of a female. It does exist as a boy’s name, but it’s rare.

Moved to MPSIMS.

General Questions Moderator

Isn’t this a wholly subjective, societally conditioned conclusion however? Certain names sound “pretty” because they’re used as feminine names, and then trends begin to mimic them – names that share characteristics of the most popular feminine names are themselves favored (further enhancing the “prettiness” of the former) and names that are dissimilar are disfavored (reinforcing their unprettiness). is good for seeing the (American) popularity of names over time. Jody was a true unisex name for a couple of decades, while Jodie has a much earlier presence as a male name.

My brother and his wife named their newborn son “Reese”. My first comment was “you meanlike Rease Witherspoon?” which didn’t go over well.

There is some sort of female “tainting” that goes on with names. If a girl has a masculine name, it’s usually seen as spunky and cute. If a male has a name that could be femine, he might get flack for being wimpy or effeminate. It’s kinda sad and seems to me to be a symptom of a subtle misogyny/homophobia.

I don’t think so. (Hell, I too thought the author of Brideshead Revisited was a woman until I saw the photo on a jacket.) That one’s gone completely feminine.