If you're thinking about giving your baby a unisex name, you not only have a broad name pool to choose from, but it's getting bigger by the day! Along with created names, this is one of the fastest-growing name fashions, and it doesn't show signs of letting up yet. You might even end up adding to it with the name you choose.
Giving unisex names is a stronger fashion for girls than for boys—in 1998, nearly one-quarter of the top 100 girls' names were unisex names, while only 16 of the top names given boys were unisex. However, as you can see by the following list, there wasn't much crossover in usage between boys and girls, at least when it comes to names at the top of the charts.
|Boys ||Girls |
|Dylan ||Ashley |
|Kyle ||Taylor |
|Jordan ||Madison |
|Cameron ||Haley |
|Sean ||Lauren |
|Hunter ||Courtney |
|Cody ||Sydney |
|Logan ||Morgan |
|Alex ||Sierra |
|Devin ||Jordan |
|Evan ||Alexandria |
|Jesse ||Mackenzie |
|Jeremy ||Bailey |
|Adrian ||Kelsey |
|Dakota ||Brooke |
|Blake ||Shelby |
| ||Lindsey |
| ||Cheyenne |
| ||Paige |
| ||Kelly |
| ||Adriana |
| ||Leslie |
| ||Cassidy |
What these lists show is that many of the unisex names currently popular are in broad use for just one gender. Some have been in use long enough that they've fallen out of favor for the other gender. Or, as in the case of Leslie and Ashley, they've become strongly identified with one gender over the other and their unisex qualities are fading. But there are still plenty of names, even in this small pool, that could still skip over to the other gender, and there are many more just waiting to be added to the list.
Today's Hit Parade
A good way to judge the trendiness of a unisex name is to look at the names on the most popular lists for both genders. If the name you're considering appears high on both lists, it's probably a trendy name and it may go out of style quickly.
While there's really no such thing as a classic when it comes to unisex names, there are still many that have become so popular that they have come near that level of achievement:
- Adrian: You can spell it Adrienne or Adriana for girls.
- Aubrey: I think this Old French name (which means, of all things, “elf ruler”) is poised for a comeback from being used more for girls. It's relatively uncommon for both sexes these days, but I predict it will become more popular—and especially for boys—in the next few years.
- Bailey: This French occupational name means “jailer” or “bailiff.” A female character on the TV show WKRP and a male character appearing more recently on Party of Five have helped this name's popularity over the years immensely.
- Blaine: The rain in Spain stays mainly on the blaine? Blaine is Scottish for “flat area” or “plain.” It's more common with boys, but it has a ring to it that parents like for girls, too.
- Blair: Similar to Blaine in meaning, and similar to Blaine in appeal.
- Cameron: A strong boys' name for quite some time. Actress Cameron Diaz's rise to fame is propelling this name to the top of the girls' charts, too.
- Cassidy: Kathie Lee Gifford, the fashion arbiter of daytime television, placed this name square in the center of the unisex lists when she used it for her baby girl.
- Chandler: We have the hit TV show Friends to thank for this one. It's definitely on the hit parade for both sexes, but it may end up being fairly trendy.
- Dylan: Tributes to Bob D. aside, this name has tremendous appeal for both girls and boys.
- Evan: This Welsh form of John is used more often for boys, but is also used for girls and has been for some time.
- Jesse: One of those names that never quite breaks the top echelon of the most popular lists, but a good unisex name all the same. Currently more popular for boys.
- Jordan: Popular for both boys and girls with no particular favoritism being shown for either sex, although it's currently a stronger boys' name.
- Kelsey: Currently stronger for girls than boys, and it may end up with a stronger feminine identity overall, but there's still actor Kelsey Grammar to balance things out. If his show stays popular, there will probably be more little boy Kelseys running around.
- Logan: Popular for both sexes, although running a little stronger for boys at this point.
- Mackenzie: Very, very popular for girls right now. It may become so strongly associated to the girls' list that it will have to come off the unisex list. Still, Mack is a great pet name for a boy.
- Sean: This one is a little more rare than the others, but it's still used enough to make it onto the hit parade. Probably more popular for boys than for girls.
- Shelby: I have to think that this name owes its popularity to the character Julia Roberts played in Steel Magnolias, but I know of two men named Shelby who are much older than she is, so this is clearly one of those unisex names with staying power. It really does work equally well for boys and girls. This name will live long and prosper.
- Taylor: One of my best friends is named Taylor, and he's a grandfather to an adorable little girl also named Taylor. 'Nuff said—this is a great name for both sexes and another unisex classic.
What's in a Name
In Germany, a civil code that dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century prohibits parents from choosing names for their babies that don't indicate their genders. German parents are also banned from using last names as first names.
Unisex names are growing in use, but many people still feel the best boys' names are those that are strongly masculine—like David, James, and John—that are virtually never used for girls.
Keep an eye out for these unisex names. They may not be popular yet, but they should be in a year or two:
- Adair: This Scottish last name has the androgynous feel that parents look for in a unisex name.
- Ashton: Instead of Ashley. It's another English place name, and it has much of the same feel, minus the feminine ending.
- Brett: More popular for boys now, but this name has the feel of a unisex winner.
- Corey: Currently more popular for boys, it has been used as a unisex name, and I don't think it's ready to go away just yet.
- Dana: It's been around a long time as a boys' name and it's been used occasionally for girls, but it's fresh-sounding and should gain in appeal.
- Devin: It has two syllables, which today's parents like, and the fashionable -in ending. It may end up being stronger for boys, but both genders have an equal shot at it right now.
- Frazer: I'm not sure why, but this name just feels poised to become a contender in the unisex arena, maybe with different spellings like Fraser or Frazier.
- Harley: If it makes you think of the motorcycle, that's the idea. Close enough to Hayley and Kayleigh to make it popular for girls, it's rough-and-tough enough for boys, too.
- Hollis: It's derived from an English place name and has a solid old-money feel to it that should strike a note with parents searching for names for either sex.
- Kyle: There's a female newscaster in Denver with this name, and the more I hear it, the more I like it. Very fresh and unusual sounding for both sexes, although it has a history as a boys' name.
- Lane: Not in common use for either sex, but it's a good name that never seems to quite go away. For girls, it's a nice alternative to Elaine.
- Lyle: Like Kyle, it's a place name, but this one comes from France. Never a name in wide use, which makes it poised to become a unisex name now.
- Norris: It's French for “northerner,” and, like Hollis, has a solid feel to it. This one may be difficult when it comes to pet names, however. Norry? Risky? Rizzie?
- Raleigh: It's a great English name with a good feel for both sexes. Not in broad use now, but it could come on.
- Tully: This name, which means “mighty people,” has an interesting, androgynous sound to it. It's also very uncommon, which makes it ripe for the unisex arena.
- Whitney: Maybe a little stronger now for girls, thanks to Whitney Houston, but it has an old-school East Coast feel that may make it more popular for boys.
- Wynn: This name is variously translated as Welsh for “fair” or “white,” or Old English, meaning “friend.” It's often considered a girls' name, but it's another one with good crossover potential thanks to developer/entrepreneur Steve Wynn.
Losing Their Identity
When it comes to naming little boys, choosing a unisex name that is in fairly equal use for both genders, like Cody or Taylor, is often a safer choice than names like Kim or Kerry that have run their course as unisex names and are in stronger use for girls than boys.
These names, while once fairly strong in the unisex category, have become so widely used for one sex that they've lost their unisex identity. Think carefully about using them unless you're giving them to the gender that they've become most identified with:
- Ashley: This Old English place name (it means “ash tree meadow”) was a favorite of Gone With the Wind fans. Who can forget the fair-haired Ashley Wilkes, the unattainable object of Scarlett O'Hara's affection? Because it ends with -ley, which is such a strong component of today's top girls' names, it's best left to the distaff side of the gender board.
- Courtney: Still popular for both sexes, but becoming definitely more associated with girls, thanks to the feminine-sounding -ey ending. This was the 26th most popular girls' name in the U.S. in 1998.
- Beverly: Another name with the popular -ley feminine ending, which makes it stronger for girls than boys. It might possibly be used for a boy as a transferred use of a surname as a middle name. No boy in his right mind today would want to be called Bev.
- Douglas: A classic Scottish clan name that, interestingly enough, began as a girls' name. Now it's used almost exclusively for boys, I think because of its connection to such people as World War II General Douglas MacArthur.
- Caley: The overwhelming popularity of this name for girls in all its different forms makes it a poor choice for a boy at this juncture.
- Esmé: It's French for “esteemed,” and it was once a male name. It's rarely used today, but when it is, it's almost always attached to a girl, thanks to its feminine ending.
- Dale: I guess it was Dale Evans who made this name more feminine than masculine. It's too bad, because this is a name with strength and it's been a steady, consistent boys' name over the years.
- Jamie: This diminutive of James was once very popular for boys, but it's better known as a girls' name today, perhaps because of the TV show Mad About You.
- Jocelyn: Another name that was strongly masculine but no longer is, although decent male pet names—Joss and Lynn—can be derived from it.
- Jody: There was a too-cute little fellow named Jody on a fairly insipid 1960s sitcom called Family Affair, and I think he killed this name for all the other little boys who came after him. Today, if it's used at all, it's almost always for a girl.
- Kelly: I went to school with lots of little Irish boys named Kelly, but it's almost exclusively a girls' name now.
- Kendall: This name also had a good run as a unisex name, but is now becoming more frequently used for girls.
- Kim: This was a fairly popular boys' name in the late 1950s and early 1960s and had a good run as a unisex name as well. It's not widely used now, but when it is, it's generally only for girls.
- Meredith: Meredith Willson was the genius behind the Broadway musical and film The Music Man, but he's about the only Meredith that comes to mind. It's definitely a more common girls' name these days, although not widely used there, either.
- Stacy: Yes, there's Stacy Keach, and he is a pretty virile guy, but I still think of this as a girls' name and I think most other people do, too.
Better Left in the Dust
Unisex names are often unique enough on their own. Resist the temptation to embellish them further with unusual spellings, especially when it comes to using them for boys. Kelly is a much better choice than Kelleigh.
These names are either so old and out of date or have become so strongly associated with one gender over time that it's best to leave them alone as a unisex name:
- Afton: This Old English name was once used for men and women, but it became a trendy girls' name when it was used for a character on the TV show Dallas.
- Carey: Spelled this way or as Kerry, like my childhood friend did, this once-popular name is dated at this point. It doesn't feel like it's going to come back as a retro fashion for either gender, either.
- Dabney: This French name was once pretty popular for both sexes, but it's really fallen out of style. What pet names can you get from this name? Dab? Ney? Dibbles? Definitely one to put out to pasture.
- Evelyn: This old German name is rarely used for either gender, although it began as a boys' name.
- Hilary: This name, which is Greek for “cheerful” or “happy,” was a boys' name first, but that was a very long time ago.
- Hunter: Although this name has an upper-crust feel to it, it really just describes what certain people did for a living in jolly old England. Right now, it's not too popular.
- Kevin: This name is a perennial favorite for boys with Irish families. Because of its strong use for boys, it remains a rare choice for girls.
- Loren: Better known by its feminine spelling—Lauren—this was one of the names that defined the 1980s. It's still popular, but so overused that it's losing momentum.
- Randy: As a diminutive form of such boys' names as Randall or Randolph and girls' names like Miranda, this was a very popular name about 30 or 40 years ago. It is dated because of how it ends—if it were spelled Randey it might gain in popularity, at least for girls, but I'm dubious.
- Terry: Whether it's a diminutive of Terence or Teresa, it's out of date.
- Toby: Never strongly popular for either sex, although it tends to bubble up in popularity every few years or so.