Whoa! These Were Once Boy Names!?!?

surprised-boyGender-crossover and androgynous names cover a spectrum. There are those that lean on the girl-side, but aren’t unimaginable on boys, such as Jordan and Morgan.

Then there are the ones many people vaguely remember playing for the blue team, but few can imagine on boys anymore.

Ashley is a prime example. My niece is named Ashley. Most people only know female Ashley’s today, but also remember Ashley was once a boy’s name. Except for my Mother-in-law, who must have never seen Gone With The Wind.

OK. So I’ve never seen it either. All I know is the leading male character was named Ashley.

Ashley doesn’t seem all that masculine to me, but I did know a boy named Ashley when I was a kid in the 80s. The idea of a male Ashley isn’t completely foreign to me, but perhaps could be foreign to those under 30.

Many people remember Ashley as a boy’s name because the crossover was somewhat recent, happening within the past 30 years. Yet the crossover hasn’t been so recent that if you named a boy Ashley in 2013 you wouldn’t get funny looks.

But I was floored when I read a Babble post about the surprise reactions Samantha Kemp-Jackson gets from having a son named Aubrey. Aubrey’s crossover happened more recently than Ashley’s. Aubrey was bound to end up on some girls, due to the similarity to Audrey.

Apparently people have already forgotten that Aubrey was once a male name, and it was in the boy’s top 1000 as recently as 2002. Yes, people have short memories. But maybe something else is at play.

The one thing most gender crossovers have in common is that they were only mildly successful (at best) on boys but became mega-hits on girls. For example:

Ashley

  • Peaked on boys at #282 in 1980 when it was given to 746 boys.
  • Peaked on girls at #1 in 1991 when it was given to 43,482 girls.
  • The same year Ashley peaked on girls, there were only 180 boys named Ashley.
  • This means for every boy named Ashley in 1991, there were nearly 242 girls.

Aubrey

  • Peaked on boys at #224 in 1912 when it was given to 236 boys.
  • Peaked on girls at #20 in 2011 (the latest year data is available) when it was given to 7,135 girls.
  • That same year Audrey peaked on girls, there were only 142 boys named Aubrey.
  • This means for every boy named Aubrey in 2011, there were nearly 50 girls.

Another recent crossover is Addison.

  • Peaked on boys at #382 in 1883 when it was given to 20 boys.
  • Peaked on girls at #11 in 2007 when it was given to 11,940 girls.
  • That same year Addison peaked on girls, there were only 341 boys.
  • This means for every boy named Addison in 2007, there were about 30 girls.

* And-Addison had been in the top 1000 for boys as recently as 2009!

And then there’s another recent A-crossover, Avery, whose recent success on boys could be atypical:

  • Peaked on boys at #201 in 2011 (the most recent year data is available) when it was given to 1,776 boys.
  • Peaked on girls at #18 in 2011 when it was given to 7,303 girls.
  • For every boy named Avery in 2011, there were about 4 girls.

Avery is still clearly more popular on girls, but peaked on both genders in 2011 and has been trending upwards for both genders. Look at that. Perhaps Avery belongs in the same camp as Jordan and Morgan. It’s not out-of-the-ordinary on boys.

Avery’s success on boys could be temporary. There are cases of gender-crossovers that have trended upwards on both genders only to drop off for boys once the name heads into girl’s top 100. Dana, for example, had gone up in popularity on both genders in the 1950s, reaching the top 200 for both boys and girls. And then in the 1960s, Dana continued to climb for girls, but dropped off for boys.

Will Avery follow Dana’s path nearly 50 years later? Or could Avery dispel the belief that once a name goes pink… ? You know the rest. I was trying to come up with a clever rhyme, but the best I could do was “Once a name goes pink… people never re-think.” Somehow that doesn’t seem catchy.

Avery could be an exception to the rule. What makes Avery unique is that it is steadily climbing for boys, despite Avery’s top 20 status on girls. Despite the name’s popularity on girls, for the moment, a few parents aren’t giving up on Avery for their sons.

With Aubrey and Addison, however, this doesn’t seem true. Those names’ crossover to team pink has been fairly recent. Yet the crossover has been so complete in so many people’s minds already, that there are people who don’t realize these names are traditionally male.

But then there are other crossovers that seem completely feminine, even to me. One such name, like Ashley, has connections with Gone With The Wind. The name of the actress who played Scarlett O’Hara was Vivien Leigh. Her name is the French form of Vivian. Both Vivian and Vivien have history of use on boys. Vivien is still more common on boys in France.

This was an incredible discovery even to me as a name fanatic. Vivian doesn’t seem the least bit masculine to me. Here are some other gender-crossovers (along with Vivian) that seem to have completely lost their masculinity:

Beverly
Dana
Evelyn
Jocelyn – has never been in the U.S. top 1000 for boys, but has history on boys and is still strictly a male name in France.
Joyce
Kelly
Kristen
Leslie
Madison – explains the recent crossover for Addison.
Meredith
Tracy
Vivian

One common complaint is that gender-crossovers almost always go from boy-to-girl, not the reverse.

That may change soon. The U.S. Military allows women in combat, more men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads, and we may see more traditionally girl names go blue. Here are some traditionally girl names that might work on boys:

Hazelprobably because I knew a guy with the last name Hazel. It was in the top 1000 for boys from 1886 to 1940, but never got nearly as popular as it did on girls.

JanI initially thought of this because it’s only one vowel removed from Jon. Then I learned Jan is masculine in some European countries (where it could be pronounced YAHN) and was in the U.S. boy’s top 1000 as recently as 2008.

Tatumthis surname became familiar as a first name due to actress Tatum O’Neal. This is a modern name that is traditionally used on girls, but has seen more use on boys lately. It entered the boy’s top 1000 in 2010 at a respectable #752, and rose almost 30 places to #723 in 2011. It has a way to go to catch up to the girls, where it ranked at #344 in 2011.

Perhaps the line between boy’s name and girl’s name is truly blurred in some cases. As for me, I’m a fan of girly names on girls and all-boy names on boys, but I’m intrigued by gender-crossovers. They are considered stylish now by many name bloggers, but like surnames, they have never really gone out of style.

Readers: Are there any girl names you feel could work on boys? Which of these names do you like best for boys?

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Comments

  1. I think of Avery as a masculine name, even though it’s going girl. Same with Morgan and Jordan. I really dislike those on girls, mainly because they have feminine forms and it bugs me that people don’t use them.

    I know guys in their late 20s early 30s named Tracy and Shannon, and my cousin just had a boy in October named Kourtney Michael, after Aunt Courtney and Grandpa Kenneth Courtney. They’re mostly calling him Kourt, but I adore both names.

    My husband and I had also agreed on Avery for our first before realizing we each loved it for the “wrong” gender. Neither one of us would bduge on it, so it was moved off of the list.

  2. Personally, I love the idea of Jane on a boy. Blame Firefly and The Mentalist. It’s too much like a Boy Named Sue to use in 2013, but I remain charmed by the idea that it could cross over for boys at some point. And why not? Given the vast pool of John-related names, it isn’t the wackiest idea ever …

  3. Kelly isn’t dead for boys – I’m a guy with the name!

    Kelly’s gender ratio was never as wide as many of the other examples you gave – at no point was it ever greater than 20:1 for the girls, and for most years since the late 1970s it’s been between 10 and 15 to 1 (that may seem large, but when compared to Addison, Ashley, or Aubrey it’s still comparatively close). In fact as the name has gone into “mom name” status it’s falling faster for girls so the ratio is actually narrowing slightly. It may be where you live why you see Kelly differently – in my state for the time period I was born (circa mid-1980s) the gender disparity was at least half that of the national numbers.

    From my crude research it seems that in the U.S. the Northeastern states are overall the most unisex-names-for-boys-phobic, while the “redder” Plains and Southern states are the most open to boys possibly sharing their names with girls (actually that’s where you see the most gender-bending both ways, but there is less reaction from parents of boys there). The liberal “left coast” comes out neutral here. This goes against the first instincts many have with regards to sexuality, but it’s backed up with SSA’s numbers.

    • I thought about you when I wrote this, but I never thought to check the girl-boy ratios for Kelly. Thanks for adding that research.

      The first time I remember seeing Kelly on a guy is in the first season of Top Shot. He was a good contender and made the name seem respectful on a guy.

      Kelly makes a completely different statement on guys than girls, and seems like a completely different name. I’ve grown to like Kelly on guys more and more, and can see Kelly (and Tracy) coming back to team blue at some point!

    • Sue, actually spelled Su in English, is a good solid man’s name in Korean. Like Valeriy and Ivan (pronounced like Yvonne) in Russian. How about the cooks assistant named Doris. He was credited with shooting down 2 Japanese zeros during the attack on Pearl Harbor when he found an anti-aircraft gun that wasn’t being used. What the heck, rhymes with Boris.
      In the East, Leslie seems to be mostly a girls name, but in CA and HI, it seems to be predominately masculine.
      Thomas Jefferson had a male descendent named Beverly. As a kid, I had a dentist born before WW I named Shirley. Seems when Shirley Temple came along, all of a sudden, people were only giving it to their little girls.

  4. Wilhelmina says:

    You forgot Evelyn…

  5. Perhaps Kelly, Leslie, and Tracy haven’t completely lost their boyishness. These names are very popular on females for my generation, and that’s why they seem feminine to me. But perhaps these names belong more in the Jordan-Morgan group, and aren’t unimaginable on boys. I feel another poll might be in order…

    • I think you have a good analogy (with Kelly/Leslie/Tracy being the equivalent of Jordan/Morgan to the previous generation). In fact, I think the former group of names may see a semi-revival for boys in a decade or two when they move into “grandma-name” territory and may make a good (and historically unusual for a given name) opportunity to honor a female relative with a boy’s name. There probably won’t be any large-scale revivals for either gender though until they’ve had time to “die off” under the 100-year rule, but like we’re seeing with some of the baby-boomer and silent-generation names we may see them pop up every now and then (especially in the middle spot) when in honor of an older relative.

  6. Also, like Kelly… I know two males named Kerry. I like both on a boy, especially Kelly (surfer Kelly Slater helps) even though where I grew up I only knew girls with the name.

  7. A good friend of mine has an 8-year-old son named Kelly. He’s utterly confident, entirely boy. He knows that Kelly is a unisex name, but so far he’s only met women over 35 with the name so he doesn’t feel like he might if he knew girls his age with the name…..We live in Maine.

  8. I think that boys names on girls is annoyingly trendy. I think many names that are mainly used for girls are more handsome on boys. For example, Avery, Ryan, Dylan, Taylor, and Morgan. The only one I don’t mind on girls is Jordan. I think Kelly works as boy or girls names, but maybe should be given to boys as Kellan and Kelly is a cute nickname. But I think it’s great either way.

  9. Some countries differentiate between boy and girl spellings that don’t seem to happen as often in the USA.

    E.g. where I come from, Leslie is a boys name whilst Lesley is for girls. The same goes for Robin/Robyn. Robin = boy, Robyn = girl. Then there’s Francis/Frances, Sidney/Sydney, Lee/Leigh, Tony/Toni etc

    Another name that is/was masculine is Kim.

  10. You could also use Creg, or Greg My brothers friend is named Creg and I also know a female Creg

  11. I have twin boys who are 11 months old. Dad got to pick baby B’s name {Ian }…and I choose ..{Kelly}.. for baby A’s name 🙂 I have always loved the name Kelly for a boy and I am happy I stuck with it.

  12. My (male) music teacher at school was called Hilary. An example in reverse is Julian which was once a unisex name – the most famous Julian being Julian of Norwich a medieval English !FEMALE! saint. Julian morphed over the years into Gillian for girls but Julian for boys stayed the same.
    I have also heard a theory, which I think is quite compelling and if not true (AND IT CAN’T BE TRUE!) is a funny thing to imagine, that in medieval England there were no separate female names but that as names were entered in the baptismal register in Latin girls were given the Latin feminine ending “a” but in English there was no difference between the names – this accounts for names like Julian. So there were no Robertas or Joans or they were called Robert and John just like boys!
    Oh and while I am here Hyacinth was a boy’s name.

  13. My grandfather (born 1896) was named Evelyn. I always wondered why he had a woman’s name. I only recently learned it was once boy. My four grandparents’ names were Alfred and Marie, Evelyn and Estelle.

    For me, Leslie is unisex, always has been. I live in Europe now so Dana, Jan and Hyacinth are definitely boy’s names, no question. I know lots of Jans (pronounced Yan) and they are almost always wonderful men. Dana sounds like a musician. Hyacinth (pronounced “ya-sant”) is extremely and prohibitively aristocratic.

    I have two daughters, Chloé (b. 1981) and Alix (b. 1985, pronounced “alEEX”). I regret naming my first daughter Chloé as it is so popular now, though I like the name itself. It was not popular when I named her that. At least she has a name that sounds like a younger person’s name, she is now in her 30s. But when she is in her 60s, most Chloe’s will be in their 40s and the name will go sour, as in no longer young and beautiful. I am still very pleased with my second daughter’s name which is in fact a medieval French Queen’s name. It was also General Lafayette’s mother’s nickname. It remains rare but not unheard of and so has no age connotations. I also like the fact that it sounds like a boy’s name though it is a bonafide girl’s. This works very well as she is a scientist. I have one granddaughter named Eve, a name quickly growing in popularity in England. The Estonian version of Eve is Ep, a name I’ve always loved. I had a friend named Ep when I was a child.

  14. Don’t forget about Ashley Parker Angel.

  15. Jesus, who cares? Name your kid what you want to name them.

  16. Jordan Nathan says:

    I was looking for a post on both gender names because the name Ashley came up in a story I was reading and the main character was a guy. I find it interesting that many names can be used for both genders. I’m a guy and my name is Jordan. I really liked looking through this article and seeing my name in the first paragraph, even though it was used to empathize the start of the article. I’m gonna save this page because it is a very interesting topic. Names can change for cultures at the drop of a hat nowadays.

  17. What?! Those were BOY NAMES????

  18. I actually really like Juniper, Kelly, Artemus, and Wren for a boy. I’m not saying I would actually end up using them (maybe Wren), but I do like them.

  19. I always think of Vivyan the punk guy in the young ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLwc9lbJlIQ&ab_channel=BBCWorldwide

  20. Jennifer Brown says:

    No, the lead male character in *Gone With the Wind* was named “Rhett.” Ashley was a different character.

  21. I have a son named Ashley. He is 10 and is asking me where i got the name Ashley cause there are no other boys named Ashley. So i showed him on the internet that it used to be a boys name and the famous boys named Ashley i found to. I just always liked it for a boy. He said he likes it but just wanted to know how come I named him Ashley.

  22. My father-in-law was named Fay. I’d always thought of Fay as a girl’s name, but then I noticed that some women spelled this name as Faye. This made me wonder if Fay was the masculine version of Faye. Does anyone know?
    Also, what’s up with Casey? I named my son Casey in 1970 and it was only used then as a boy’s name. Now it has been taken over by the girls with various spellings. Are they still naming boys Casey today?

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  1. […] I did do a post on the subject of gender crossover names that looked back in time: Whoa! These Were Once Boy Names!  […]

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