Your name must make your gender clear

(58 Posts)
AmandaPayne Fri 01-Feb-13 14:49:40

I was interested in this news story from Iceland. Authorities decided that a girl had been given a 'male' named and denied her official use of it for her entire childhood.

It got me thinking. For all our increasing obsession in the UK with pink bumbos, blue nursing covers, do you think we are becoming more comfortable with unisex names? And is it a good thing for feminism that you can't always judge someone's gender from their name?

ouryve Fri 01-Feb-13 14:51:57

We have some very old names in the English language which at least sound unisex, even if the spelling is different. I'm not sure that there's that many that are popular at the moment, though.

AmandaPayne Fri 01-Feb-13 15:04:24

No, true. But we do have a lot of the 'surname as first name' unisex names. Bailey and the like.

Writehand Fri 01-Feb-13 15:18:51

During the previous debate about transgender people, I linked to a transwoman whose DD isl called Dylan. I've never come across Dylan as a girl's name but when I checked on the Mumsnet Baby name finder it came up as unisex. Has anyone come across a girl called Dylan?

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 15:21:38

Not in RL but on atv program yes, american family. Have also seen a girl called Elliott.

My ds3 is Dylan so to merits a boys name but I woukdnt find it odd as a girls name.

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 15:22:08

To me its a ..

Jux Fri 01-Feb-13 15:38:21


Those are unisex names which surprised me when I first came across them. Old as the hills, very traditional.

We have a long history of names being used in whatever way takes our fancy, it seems. I even know a girl called Pullan ..... poor thing was horribly ribbed about her name all her childhood, but it's a family name and had been used for generation after generation.

CailinDana Fri 01-Feb-13 15:47:19

I have a unisex name, albeit one that is spelled differently for each gender. It's never caused me any problems except that people always spell it the male way.

What's interesting is that unisex names that are popular for females tend to stop being male names over time as though by being associated with female contaminates it as a male name. For example, where once Hilary and Evelyn were unisex names, the tendency for them to be used more for girls means it's really really rare to hear them being used for boys any more. Yet when there are two distinct versions of a name for each gender - eg Michelle and Michael, they tend to both survive. My name is one of the few unisex ones where there seems to be more men with it than women.

What's the justification for needing to know a person's gender from their name?

FloraFox Fri 01-Feb-13 15:48:27

There seems to be a bit of a trend for girls to have male names like Dylan, Elliott but not for boys to have female names.

tethersend Fri 01-Feb-13 15:48:43

It wouldn't be a problem if being identified as female didn't single you out for discrimination.

tethersend Fri 01-Feb-13 15:51:09

Don't Icelandic surnames signify gender anyway?

My name is a female name in Britain, but a male name in several Eastern European languages. I've never had any problems with people mixing it up.

Schooldidi Fri 01-Feb-13 16:08:25

There are a lot of kids at school where i have no idea whether they are a boy or girl until I meet them. Sometimes I don't even know then as they are all wearing the same uniform and their hairstyles can be quite unisex too. All I can do is wait for clues from the other children and hope i get it right if I need to know their gender for any reason (not very often).

I know quite a few Ashleys, which I'd only known as a girls name before I moved here, there are a few surnames as forenames girls and boys around as well, before I even get started on the names I didn't think were names.

I don't know whether it's good or bad to have your gender identified by your name. It's more whether people treat you differently based solely on gender, that definitely IS a problem.

AbigailAdams Fri 01-Feb-13 16:09:57

Men are the default Flora. Women can aspire to being men but not the other way round. Tis shit.

TeiTetua Fri 01-Feb-13 16:19:03

Cynical me says, unisex names are usually male names in the process of becoming female ones. "Being associated with female contaminates it as a male name" seems all too true.

But I thought the case in Iceland was about the use of a name that wasn't on the official list of approved names, not because it was a boy's name rather than a girl's one. If that's what it was, the government there is fighting valiantly, and apparently failing, to keep parents from stealing all the boys' names to give to girls.

The writer Evelyn Waugh was married (temporarily) to a woman also named Evelyn. Their friends used to call them "She-Evelyn" and "He-Evelyn".

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 16:22:21

My dd is merryn it is used as a boys name as well but spelt Merin or merren and there is a boy at my elder sons school called this and my ds3 was told that his sister couldn't be merryn as its a boys name. She is and I think its a unisex name but we like the spelling with a y.

bringmeroses Fri 01-Feb-13 16:24:23

Yes its a good thing, IMO for job applications as much as anything. I would guess that some employers, wrongly!!! still favour men because of the pregnancy issue. angry

As others have said there are now so many new names around from our increasingly diverse population that I wouldn't expect to know someone's gender from their name alone the way people may have done 200 years ago.

My name has always been female in Britain, always male in Eastern Europe. I don't know if the names have a common root or developed separately and just happen to be spelt the same IYSWIM.

bringmeroses Fri 01-Feb-13 16:27:30

flora Hillary? Lesley? Alex, Charlie, Sam, Dannie, Eddie, Frankie, Jamie, Jude, Chris etc etc. Who can say whether they were first male or female names? I was looking at this site

bringmeroses Fri 01-Feb-13 16:28:30

I don't think I've ever met a male Marion. Anyone expecting? grin

TeiTetua Fri 01-Feb-13 16:32:14 - Cached - Similar
Marion Mitchell Morrison (born Marion Robert Morrison; May 26, 1907 – June 11, 1979), better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film ...

FloraFox Fri 01-Feb-13 16:49:57

I agree Abigail It's interesting that Iceland has among the highest rates of female participation in politics and business of any country. I don't think taking male sounding names is going to do much for women.

badguider Fri 01-Feb-13 16:56:10

In iceland the majority of people have a patronym instead of a surname so gudmundsdottir or gunmundsson so gender is immediately obvious anyway.

vesuvia Fri 01-Feb-13 17:38:09

I've heard that German first names must, by law, enable people to easily tell the gender of the person.

vesuvia Fri 01-Feb-13 17:40:11

Andrea and Nicola are boys names in Italy.

mum47 Fri 01-Feb-13 17:40:37

Our son has a boy's name, but there is a girl a few years older than him with the same name - her mum told me she knew it was a boy's name but liked it and used it anyway, it is quite unusual round here. DS goes to high school this year which the girl goes to(they went to different primaries), and I am stupidly worried that everyone will tease him for having a girl's name.

kim147 Fri 01-Feb-13 17:41:21

Interesting grin

TeiTetua Fri 01-Feb-13 18:54:32

See how it happens. One eccentric parent gives a girl a boy's name. Then someone else with a son becomes "stupidly worried that everyone will tease him for having a girl's name". And anyone else who has a baby boy in need of a name thinks, no not that one, it'll cause trouble for him. And so that name become lost to boys. Never the other way around, though.

WidowWadman Fri 01-Feb-13 19:05:59

German rules are that children with a neutral first name must be given a gender-defining middle name. And you can only give a child a name if you can prove it's a person's name and not something made up.

drownangels Fri 01-Feb-13 19:13:58

Both my sons's names have been used as girls names. However I have only come across them being used as girls names in celebrities and don't know anyone in real life with it as a girls name. In fact a know of a couple of boys with the same name. No one has ever passed comment on it in 17 years.

To be fair one of the names is commonly used as a male Irish name and the other is a Welsh male name.

duchesse Fri 01-Feb-13 19:19:19

I know of a lady called Peregrine. Her father was drunk when her went to the registry office really liked the name.

LesBOFerables Fri 01-Feb-13 19:20:07

John Wayne's name was actually Marion.

NeedlesCuties Fri 01-Feb-13 19:47:54

I have a Latvian friend who told me that there all female forenames must end in a vowel. Also her married surname is a 'feminine' version of her DH's, spelt slightly differently to end in a vowel.

TheonlyWayisGerard Fri 01-Feb-13 19:48:58

Someone I know has just had a baby girl called Dylan, so they are definitely around.

"And is it a good thing for feminism that you can't always judge someone's gender from their name? "

I think so, yes. Particularly when pretty much all studies on exams, job applications etc. show that when a person's sex (and race, too) cannot be determined the results are not the same as when the sex/race is obvious - disguising the candidate's details sadly makes women and minority groups more likely to get higher marks/get a job interview.

kim147 Fri 01-Feb-13 20:00:16

I have a name that's gender neutral in real life. Only took a bit of altering but still pronounced the same.

<Still used to Kim though on here>

WhentheRed Fri 01-Feb-13 20:17:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AmandaPayne Fri 01-Feb-13 20:59:04

Sorry, started the thread and wandered off.

Yes, Icelandic surnames signify gender anyway. I am still struggling to work out why it should be so important that it is enshrined in law that your forename signifies your gender.

I do agree that names seem to migrate male to female but never the reverse. Because it's ok for a girl to be identified with something male. But god, the earth would stop spinning if someone tried the reverse.

bringmeroses Fri 01-Feb-13 21:01:38

True; I know two female Lesleys but no males; only Les Dawson and Mr Strictly of course. I would be surprised to hear of a baby boy being named Leslie these days but I expect it'll come back round. If all names eventuallly become female, what will we call our baby boys in many years to come?! grin

Thanks for the Marion/John Wayne feedback, I'd forgotten. No wonder he had to go and be so impressively manly on film.

Nothing much to add, just finding this a really interesting thread. smile

kim147 Fri 01-Feb-13 21:27:00

There was a boy called Sue.

But I don't think he liked that name. grin

Vitalstats Fri 01-Feb-13 21:30:11

I'm surprised by this. Iceland is one of the most feminist countries in the world so why don't they just let people have any name they want instead of making a gender-based fuss over giving a girl a name that sounds like a boys?

Ouroboros Fri 01-Feb-13 21:35:53

My DD and baby DS both have unisex names, when I tell people DS's name quite a few then ask about 'her', sometimes even if I've already said he's a boy. But I'd only heard of one man with the same name when we decided to name him, and we've heard of a few more since. My DD's name is truly unisex.

DameHullyFanny Fri 01-Feb-13 21:40:09

I've got a male name - rare in this country anyway, but traditionally male in Europe. I'm sure I've had job interviews from CV submission that I wouldn't have got as a female, even though the skills and experience were a match.

duchesse Fri 01-Feb-13 22:34:23

DH has a very standard UK male name, yet US people he collaborates with (who don't know him) think he is a woman. He is Dr X Y. Different countries view the same name differently apparently. fukcit fed up with trying to beat about the bush he's called Adrian

I like gender-neutral names and quite often refuse to state my gender on forms, etc, when I don't think it's relevant. TBH, a person's gender is only really relevant (outside of special-interestgroups) if you want to have sex or, more importantly, children with that person. My own'real' (ie the one on my passport) name is one of those that was gender-neutral but is now mostly considered female; my professional name is gender-neutral (IMO) but often considered male.

sashh Sat 02-Feb-13 08:13:50

Yes its a good thing, IMO for job applications as much as anything. I would guess that some employers, wrongly!!! still favour men because of the pregnancy issue.

TV Dr Hilary Jones once said he was interviewed for medical school and the interviewers had assumed he was female. They had a quota system at the time and were interviewing women.

As a child Ashley was a boys name, I never met a female Ashley until I was 13.

What about Shirley? Big Daddy was called Shirley, you would never see it as a boys' name now.

ThingummyBob Sat 02-Feb-13 13:17:39

I have both female and male friends called Alex and Sam. Neither Sam is shortened form and both were given it by 'right-on' thinking parents in the 70's.
The Alexs are the diminuitive for the gender based Alexandria/Alexander although neither is ever known by the full name.

Trying to avoid gender stereo typing when naming dcs has onbviosly been going on a long time grin

Fwiw, I don't think either of these names are seen as bad because they are used by girls as well as boys iyswim. Maybe because most peole will assume that a boy Sam/Alex is a shortening of Samual/Alexander and is therefore 'ok'? hmm

FellatioNels0n Sat 02-Feb-13 13:31:27

Many boys' names are given to girls in Canada and the US, and they become unisex by osmosis. Dylan and Cameron seem to be the latest contenders. The same happens in the UK to a lesser extent, (we eventually copy everything that happens in north America but it generally takes us about 10-20 years) but weirdly it never seems to happen in reverse. I don't know any girls' names that become boys' names, in the English language. And then some name have just always been unisex. But not many.

I can't imagine it would make much difference from a feminist perspective if we were unable to tell someone's gender by their name alone. That already happens a fair bit anyway, with foreign names and weirdy names thrown into the mix. It might work on a CV for a job application for example, but if the interviewer was dead against employing a woman in a particular role they would just find a reason to dismiss them after a face to face interview instead of before it.

BaresarkBunny Mon 11-Feb-13 13:11:24

Kelly, Kim and Kerry are typically female names which are also boys names. The men I know with these names are Welsh, so i don't know if the masculine version of these are typically Welsh.

MyThumbsHaveGoneWeird Wed 20-Feb-13 21:36:18

I know a reverse one. Ok it's a bit rare, but - Artemis. Definitely a girls name in origin (Greek goddess) but now often thought of as unisex or even a boys name.

The shortened version of DC1's name is gender-neutral.

DC2's name is usually used for boys in the UK but more commonly for girls in the US.

DC3 and DC4 have names that are only ever used for the gender that they are. I wonder if I used those names because they are b/g twins and I wanted them to be easily differentiated from Day 1 as I was keen for their individuality to be apparent.

I don't like the connotations when someone gives their baby girl a strongly-identified-as-male (so not conventionally unisex) name and says that it's because they want her to have a "strong" name -- seems like it's giving her the message that men are strong and you can only be strong insofar as you emulate men.

On the reverse name trivia, I believe Douglas was originally a female name but you'd never hear it used that way now.

EldritchCleavage Thu 21-Feb-13 11:35:14

The thing is that there are now so many people in the UK who are not of European origin and have names from their parents' culture that don't (to most of the majority population) identify their gender. And we manage with that just fine.

Where you need to add gender as part of the identification of the right person (e.g. some court documents and official registers), you can simply put the gender in brackets after the name. But mostly, people just don't need to know and do cope with not knowing.

kickassangel Mon 25-Feb-13 01:23:35

I was having a conversation about this with dh for the use of ms etc. I think we should just use first name last name, no prefix. If writing to someone for business then use both parts of the name, or just use first name if you know them better.

I am very much in favor of getting rid if titles/prefixes, and have a very liberal attitude to names. Who made up the rules about how to spell them and who's allowed them?

nailak Mon 25-Feb-13 01:31:27

Did you know the majority of Sikh first names are unisex, but traditionally gender is defined by surname?

like harpreet harjinder harjit
manjit manpreet manjinder

parmajit parminder


and so on

nailak Mon 25-Feb-13 01:32:15

the surnames are singh and kaur meaning lion/lioness

The urban legends at least are that Big Daddy and John Wayne were given girls' names so they would learn to fight :/ Don't think that quite qualifies them as examples of feminist naming!

As Widowwoman says in Germany something in the name has to define gender, can be the middle name. I have never heard an explanation of why. Tbh I have a not often used but not really out-there gender neutral name and really hated it growing up. It has been mentioned on the thread in fact... Sometimes a gender neutral or other gender name will have the opposite effect and cause a child to feel they need to be more stereotypically masculine or feminine rather than less I think...

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