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20 Gendered Baby Names That Should Be Unisex

by Shana Aborn and Cat Bowen
Originally Published: 

Recently, my son and I laughed over the story of a man who vowed revenge on the dad who gave him an ultra-girly name in Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.” Though it made me think that there are some baby names that deserve to become unisex, even if “Sue” might never be one of them.

If you think that standards of masculinity and femininity are unchangeable, consider this: Just a century ago, pink was actually considered a boy's color, according to Smithsonian magazine. It was thought to be a stronger, bolder shade, while "delicate and dainty" blue was reserved for girls. The article also pointed out that back then, American boys traditionally wore dresses and long hair until they reached school age.

Name associations change with the times, too. Sidney and Marion were among the most popular names for boys in the 1910s, according to the Social Security Administration. Today, you'd be more likely to find them on a girl's birth certificate (though the spelling might be changed to Sydney and Marianne).

So with gender-neutral names so trendy today, it's time to expand the baby name pool by letting go of some of our preconceived ideas about which monikers are strictly for girls or boys. OK, maybe it's a little much to expect that parents will choose Madeline for a boy or Arthur for a girl, but here are some suggestions for parents looking for options for either their pink, blue, or neutral-colored nursery.



You'd think that we'd have seen more girls with this name which is Scottish for "narrow valley," since Glenn Close came on the scene. Alas, Glenn doesn't even crack the SSA list of the top 200 girls' names of this decade. It's time to change that, and bestow this strong-sounding name on our future female movers and shakers.



More popular as a girl's name than a boy's, this Hebrew name meaning "paradise" suits both. For a boy, it sounds close enough to Aiden to be a less-common substitute. It is full of symbolic meaning for many cultures, and it’s equally interesting for John Steinbeck fans, who undoubtedly love his 1957 classic, East of Eden.



Ashley Young, former winger and fullback for Manchester United (now Inter Milan), certainly shows that the name Ashley is just as masculine as it is feminine. The name is a classic, and the nickname “Ash” has a sort of earthy and rugged quality to it that few nicknames possess. It’s proper and prim, but not too serious.



Friends made this a unisex option 20 years ago (on "The One Hundredth" episode), when Phoebe gave birth to her brother's triplets and discovered that the baby she'd meant to name for BFF Chandler Bing was actually a girl. Either way, could it be a better name for any child?



This British name, meaning "son of the bailiff," is an impressive #34 on Nameberry's boy-name rankings. But why not give it some equal time for girls? Its first syllable sounds identical to Grace, and as for that boyish "son" ending, that doesn't seem to matter to all those female Madisons out there.



With a slightly different spelling, Johnnie actually enjoyed a period of popularity as a girl's name back in the '20s, according to the SSA. Its friendly, trustworthy sound makes it a fine choice for any gender of person. Cheerful names have been making a big comeback, and Johnny could eek up the list of sweet names for all genders.



Since it's derived from the Norse war god Thor, this name has been pretty much reserved for boys. But with the softness of the beginning "s," it's not too out-there as a girl's name, and if you're a Comic-Con-goer, you'll appreciate this for either gender. Beyond that, I think it’s high time we rethink how we’ve undervalued the Norse canon for names. (Hela, anyone? OK, maybe not that one.)



Meaning — what else? — a running brook, it's become more associated with girls, especially when you stick an E on the end. But it's not too frilly for a boy, and deserves to be put back into circulation as a unisex name. I actually knew of a gentleman named Brook when I was in high school, and he really wore that name — die hard LL Bean devotee that he was back then. (He works in finance now, so I’m going to assume he’s moved on to Patagonia.)



Traditionally given to boys, this British name meaning "burnt meadow" is another one for nature-lovers looking for something less common for girls. (Brook and Brinley would be a great pair of twins!) Also, you could 100% tell your children that you named them after the “diabeetus,” guy — even if you didn’t.



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Practically unheard of in girls (it was all the way down to #18,947 last year), this name that means "champion" is a contender for a little winner, boy or girl. It sounds enough like “Nell” that it has a neutral flavor already, but if your last name ends in the “elle” sound, like Belle or Campbell, and you want an N name, this is great.



Even though you'll hear it more often in boys, this is totally adorable for all genders. It can either stand alone as a name in its own right or as a nickname for Frederick or Fredrika. Plus, it means "peace ruler," so this would resonate with parents who love meaningful names.



For a name that means "fighter," it's surprising that Tracy ever came to be thought of as more of a girl's name. Still, actors Tracy Morgan and Tracey Ullman serve as proof that it works for anyone, and Trace is a fun variation for both genders. And who knows, maybe your Tracy/ey will end up being super hilarious and talented as well?



Honestly, I never thought of Jax for a girl until I met one at the park. I thought, “yeah, that just works.” It’s a name that is full of spunk and spirit, and like Johnny, it’s remarkably cheerful. And seriously, it is one of those names that just doesn’t hold gender, and that’s pretty perfect.



Yes, you could name your child William or Wilhemina, but I truly believe that “Wil” is enough. We all get so hung up on having “full” names, but aren’t we past that by now? Surely. (Full disclosure, I say this as someone whose family has named their children Tom, Sam, and Joey — not Thomas, Samuel, and Joseph. Rebels since the 1940s.)



Toby is one of the cutest names in the history of names and this is a hill I’m willing to die upon. No, none of my kids are named Toby, but that’s only because I needed three syllables. It’s a cute name for any child, no matter how they identify.



Yes, we’re all thinking about the good doctor right now, but hear me out. How many Andreas do you know that were called Dre? I know several. Why add the extra letters if you don’t want to? Sure, Andre and Andrea are stunner names, but they all have the same root name anyway. This is simplifying things.



Danielle, Daniela, Daniel — all of these are great names, and all of them can be shortened to Danny. I think of Danny Tanner in the best way when I hear the name Danny, but I also think of Danica Patrick, the boss of the racetrack. They all harken back to the biblical Daniel in the lion’s den, and if that’s not a strong story to attach to your child, I don’t know what is.



If you have any Jewish friends, you’ll know that this name is used equally among boys and girls, but if you aren’t, you probably only think of the mermaid. Well, journalist Ari Shapiro would like to introduce himself to you, if that’s the case. The name is strong and a little sexy — not a bad way to get through life, if you ask me.



I simply adore the name Charlie for any child. It sounds almost sporty to me. Like you’d see Charlie figuring out how to jump from the trampoline to the pool as a kid. (You might also see Charlie in the ER, but hey, they’re adventurous.) It’s a sweet name that works for every gender.



Sawyer is so playful and spunky for both a boy or a girl, and has great literary ties if you're into that sort of thing. In popular culture, it's been used by Steven Spielberg for a son and by actor Sara Gilbert for a daughter, so it's definitely considered unisex, according to The Bump.

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