The social phenomenon of giving girls male-associated names

Perhaps you already know that “Stacey”, “Courtney”, “Hilary” and “Evelyn” used to be male names. What seems to happen is that a few parents give their daughters that name which gradually makes it more socially acceptable for follow-on parents to give their daughters those names. At some point, it becomes more female than male and then parents start avoiding that name for their boys.
Why parents would want to avoid giving a name that sounds female is obvious enough. What I’d like to know is more about why parents giving their daughters male-sounding names.

It seems that Irish/British surnames-turned-boys-names are particularly popular when it comes to girls’ names. Is there anything to that?

I remember reading a Steven Levitt article where he said that stereotypically black names tend to be associated with quite bad socio-economic outcomes. Although having a name like “Precious” or “Diamond” or whatever special spellings thereof did not help them, the main reason they did badly was because they were disproportionally likely to be born of single, uneducated teenage mothers who themselves were doing quite badly. The mothers wanted their children to have names that made them seem special as a way to compensate for not having much else.
Does the same phenomenon apply to parents who give their daughters male-associated names? Is it mainly lower-class or very young , unprepared parents? The opposite? Something else?


First used as a girls name in a joke in the 1984 movie (Splash (Darryl Hannah’s character, when asked for her name, said “Madison” (after Madison Avenue, NYC.) Laughs ensued.)

First appeared on the charts of American names for girls the year after the movie was released at #628, then rose steadily to become the second most popular name given girls in 2001-2002.

What does “Madison” mean? “Son of Soldier.”


That didn’t answer your question, OP, of course. As to why parents do it? Hell, only thing I can assume is maybe the people who first named their daughter “Stacy” wanted a son?

A lot of the traditional male names are really more traditionally surnames. They are often used as given names for boys and girls to preserve the mom’s maiden name.

Two, I don’t think the question is so much “Why do we give boy’s names to girls” as “why don’t we give girls’ names to boys?”. I think the answer is because it’s still a mortal insult to think for a second that a boy is a girl, but it’s ok to think a girl might be a boy. Look at clothes: a girl can wear boy’s clothes, because it’s ok for a girl to be a little “boyish”. It’s never okay for a boy to be a little “girlish”. Absent that, I think you’d see names switch genders even more often, as people happen to like a given name, or want to honor a relative, or whatever.

The little girl next door is named “Sawyer”, which is a male name. No idea why people do this.

No, it’s a last name.

I think people think it will be cute because their daughter will be so beautiful and special that she’ll be able to pull off having a boy’s name, in the same way that it’s cute for a cute girl to be a tomboy. A homely, unappealing girl named “Hunter” (there’s a female model named Hunter, which I really dislike even for a boy) is not cute by anyone’s standards.

It’s really not that uncommon for boys to have names that are more commonly associated with girls though. I know/knew guys named Diamond, Ivy, Shannon, and Whitney (I know the last two started out as boy names but usually not anymore). Oh, and I knew of a Maylin and a Gaylin (I don’t know the spellings). GAYLIN.

And he said: “Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.”
Looks like his father was grooming him for MMA championship.

My uncle Leslie’s daughter is also named Leslie. Maybe my aunt just liked the sound of it.

My wife’s grandfather is Aubrey Daniel and her father is Daniel Aubrey. We named the eldest Torqueling Aubrey Danielle. It’s a family name, is all.

Three of your four examples are names ending in “y”, so while they may traditionally be male names they aren’t particularly masculine sounding. Most English names ending with a “y” sound are either feminine or diminutive forms of a longer name. “Evelyn” doesn’t end in “y” but it looks like the feminine name “Eve” plus “lyn”, and while “Lynn” is still used as a masculine name the “-lyn” ending is used in feminine names such as “Carolyn” and “Marilyn”. It’s not really surprising that names that resemble feminine names would eventually come to be considered feminine names.

Actually, looking at the Baby Name Wizard it seems that “Evelyn” may have been used as a feminine name before it was used as a masculine name. It shows up as a fairly common girl’s name as early as the 1880s (as early as the Baby Name Wizard goes) and then shot up in popularity, peaking in the 1910s. But it doesn’t look like it was ever particularly common for boys, and only shows up on the boy name chart at all between 1890 and 1910. “Hilary” isn’t on the charts as a boy’s name. “Stacy” and “Courtney” show up as boy’s names in the late 19th century but weren’t very common until the mid-20th century – the same time that they became much more popular as girl’s names. So another factor in the feminization of these names may be that there had never been all that many men with these names to begin with.

The practice of using a surname, such as the mother’s maiden name or another family name, as a child’s first name is stereotypically upper class.* In reality though I suspect that parents who give their daughters first names that are traditionally surnames are more often middle class people who are following trends set by the upper class.

*This comes up in The Breakfast Club with the “princess” character Claire. While “Claire” is a very common girl’s name now, it was traditionally a boy’s name (often spelled “Clair”) or surname (often spelled “Clare”). Bender mockingly asks Claire about her name and she says it was a family name.

In Brazil, for an added example, you can almost divide names into two categories: 1) Biblical 2) Pretend English sounding. The pretend English sounding names are, I think, also a sort of way to increase social status. I suppose they’re considered cool. You get names like: Cleberson, Uderson, Everton, Werrington (this gets bonus points, Portuguese doesn’t have the letter W).

I might be wrong about why those names are popular, it’s hard to say.

Evelyn was a ‘male’ name?

Supposedly, the actress Michael Learned’s father was so sure he’d have a son that he named her before she was born.

Becky Thatcher, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

Probably “Galen” - it’s a really old male name; belonged to one of the founders of medicine. Was one of the top 500 male names in the 1930s, 40s and 50s according to this

In my experience, more well-to-do people tend to go with the “gender-bending” names, for both girls and boys. “Ashley” as a boy’s name makes me think Southern planter aristocracy. “Lincoln” reminds me of the little girl from Buckhead, Atlanta who I used to tutor in violin. You ain’t gonna find no little girl in Bankhead, Atlanta named “Lincoln”.

Wealthier people tend to feel more comfortable bucking gender norms in general. You’re more likely to find the husband cooking dinner for his wife when they are middle and upper-middle class, versus poor and working-class, for instance.

Personally, I like unisexual names. I don’t like any trendy names, so that means I reflexively despise “Madison”. But in a world where there are a kabillion “Mikes”, “Jasons”, “Jennifers”, and “Elizabeths”, any “different” kind of name–even a crazy one–is refeshing. IMHO.

It could always be worse.

No cite but it seems to me that Hollywood has a history of giving male names to female characters. Particularly to tough characters. I think the male writers like to give the male names to make the females characters seem somehow more exotic. How many female characters in movies and tv shows are named Sam or Alex (yes yes - I know - they are short for Samantha or Alexandra, but my premise holds)? I keep expecting a Bob or Herbert to show up eventually.

And (again - no cite) but it seems to me that a number of people take baby naming cues from Hollywood.

See post #2, Icarus. :wink: