The Pros And Cons Of Gender-Neutral Naming

A Canadian professor reports a rise in gender-neutral names. Which is awesome — maybe.

Though the top baby names in Canada this year are the solidly gendered Ethan and Olivia (according to the National Post), Canadian studies professor Paul Stortz says that over time naming has begun to "de-emphasize the component of gender." A peek at BabyNames.com's most popular baby names of 2010 reveals this may be a trend outside Canada as well. Addison/Addyson and Bailey/Baylee were both in the top 10 for girls, and gaining in popularity, while Riley/Rylee (the given name of Riley Keough, pictured) climbed the charts for both boys and girls. In a lot of ways, this seems like good news — it would certainly be nice if we didn't treat a person's gender as so obviously the most important thing about them. And I've always been a fan of gender-neutral or masculine names for girls — I think Charlie and Frankie and Danny and Darcy sound appealingly tough and fun.

Which sort of illustrates the less-awesome side of gender-neutral naming: it doesn't usually go both ways. Naming your daughter Charlie supposedly makes her ballsy and can-do, but naming your son Sue turns him into a murderer. I'm far from the first to criticize this double standard — Dr. Lisa Wade of Sociological Images has a helpful explanation:

Femininity is just for chicks. When men do feminine things, they are debasing themselves. Masculinity is awesome and for everyone. When women do masculine things, they're awesome. This is sexism: Masculinity rules, femininity drools.

And then of course there's the disturbing phenomenon of women encouraged to use gender-neutral names or initials in order to be taken more seriously in their publishing or professional lives. So while I'm somewhat heartened by the rise of Bailey and Addison, I kind of wish more traditionally female names crossed the great gender divide — maybe more parents should start naming their sons Anna.

New Parents Want Baby Names To ‘De-Emphasize' Gender [National Post]
Most Popular Names Of 2010 [BabyNames.com]