Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Androgynous names and which gender they're closer to

I recently got into a dispute with a friend over whether or not Skyler was primarily a boy's or a girl's name. Based on my own experience, I told her that the reason she thought of it as a girl's name was purely anecdotal; I, on the other hand, was not so subjective (of course!).

Of course, indeed. Turns out I was wrong. Well, technically I am still able to argue that I was correct, since I had the spelling above in mind when we were talking about it, but Skylar is a more common homophone variant of the name. While Skyler is 56/44 in boys' favor, Skylar is overwhelmingly feminine at 79/21.

I've spent a fair amount of time in onomastic contemplation about the children it seems I'll never get around to having. To add a little rigor to that vain pondering, I turned to Baby Naming Wizard, a neat site that shows the frequency of baby names given over time and by sex. The following table shows how relatively masculine an arbitrary but fairly inclusive list of androgynous names (based on those I've known to be given to both boys and girls) are by showing the percentage of each name given to boys during the name's most popular point in time for boys compared to the name's most popular point in time for girls*. Thus those on the top of the list are most skewed in favor of males; those on the bottom are most heavily female:

Name% Boy% Girl
Christian94.85.2
Sean/Shawn94.85.2
Logan94.15.9
Drew88.711.3
Cameron88.012.0
Lee84.115.9
Dakota72.927.1
Jordan70.030.0
Justice51.848.2
Casey/Kasey50.449.6
Alex46.753.3
Riley42.957.1
Skylar/Skyler37.962.1
Payton/Peyton34.265.8
Dominique31.668.4
Taylor30.969.1
Sidney/Sydney30.369.7
Campbell30.269.8
Jamie29.770.3
Jessie26.273.8
Kendall24.775.3
Bailey20.979.1
Shannon17.982.1
Pat17.182.9
Reagan12.587.5
Morgan9.990.1
Lauren/Loren7.093.0
Kennedy5.994.1
Lindsay/Lindsey2.098.0

Two-thirds of the androgynous names on this list are primarily girls' names. I'm not sure if that's simply the result of the list being based on my own personal experience, or if most names (at least in English) applicable to either sex tend to be given to females.

Despite long, successful acting careers, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Diaz have not been able to affect a shift in the feminine and masculine tendencies of their respective first names. Peyton has rocketed upwards among boys since the turn of the century, in concert with Peyton Manning's decade-long position as one of the best quarterbacks in football. However, it also hasn't been enough (at least not yet, and at best Manning realistically only has another five years or so at the top of the pile).

Lindsey/Lindsay, Loren/Lauren, and Sean/Shawn probably don't merit inclusion on this putatively androgynous list. The guys I know named Lindsey and Loren and the girls I know named Shawn, Logan, and Christian (not short for anything) are apparently all aberrations. Setting the androgyny threshold at no fewer than one in every ten names being given to the minority sex, Kennedy should also go.

The only women named Pat I've known are old enough to be my grandmother, but in tribute to the infamous SNL character, I looked it up. To my surprise, Pat has historically been a feminine name. Only in the latter half of the 20th century did the name Patrick rise in popularity, displacing female variants of Pat that all began falling off precipitously in the forties to such an extent that by the time Julie Sweeney began sketching the unappealing creature in the early nineties, Pat (or some extension of it) was being given to boys at a 5-to-1 ratio.

If some sick bastard wanted to reincarnate a contemporary Pat-like character, Casey/Kasey would be the best name to give it (although the audience would necessarily never have view of its written name).

Until the early 1900s, Sidney/Sydney was a masculine name, but by the 1950s, the Sydney variation had nearly gone extinct, and Sidney continued to decline steadily. Until the early 1980s, it was virtually unheard of for a girl to be given either variation of the name. Since that point in time, it has exploded in popularity among girls. Consequently, among those born in the last three decades, the name should not be considered androgynous at all--it is now almost exclusively a girls' name. And for the better, I say. Sydney Carton is one of the most pitiful male characters in all of English literature (Dickens couldn't even give him the decency of being named "Sidney")! Let the ladies have it.

* The following table shows the distributions for androgynous names and their variant spellings. For the two names included in the list that are frequently used as shorthand for something fuller, those frequently occuring fuller names are counted in the shorter name's total tally. "Pat" includes Patrick for boys; Patty, Patricia, Patsy, and Patti for girls. "Alex" includes Alexander and Alexis for boys; Alexandra, Alexandria, Alexus, Alexis, Alexa, and Alexia for girls.

Name% Boy% Girl
Casey56.343.8
Kasey23.576.5
Casey/Kasey50.449.6
Lauren0.899.2
Loren74.925.1
Lauren/Loren7.093.0
Payton28.072.0
Peyton37.862.2
Payton/Peyton34.265.8

Sean

100.00.0
Shawn90.99.1
Sean/Shawn94.85.2
Skylar21.378.7
Skyler56.543.5
Skylar/Skyler37.962.1
Sidney80.020.0
Sydney4.795.3
Sidney/Sydney30.369.7
Lindsay1.598.5
Lindsey2.597.5
Lindsay/Lindsey2.098.0

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Traditionally, Lindsay is a guy's name and LIndsey is a girl's name. The first is reasonably British -- the director Lindsay Anderson comes to mind -- but I know two male (American) Lindsays and three females, all Lindsey. Lots of white trash parents lost the distinction though, named their girls Lindsay and then no one wanted to name a boy Lindsay.

In a related note, Leslie also started off as a boy's name (particularly for the British) and became a girls name for the simple reason that once girls start having a name, parents think it's cruel to give that name to a guy. The British actor Leslie Howard, star of Pygmalion, the much better version of My Fair Lady is a good example. His actual name was something Hungarian, but he changed it to Leslie Howard because that name then sounded like something a manly but classy Brit would be called.

And I actually know a male Leslie, American, but then again, I did go to boarding school.

agnostic said...

Riley, Taylor, Bailey, Reagan, even Morgan... god I love young girls' names today.

It's easier for girls to appropriate a boy's name than vice versa, as it is with identity and group markers in general -- clothing, gestures, slang, hairstyles, favorite music / movies / TV, and so on.

Girls can easily get away with gender-bending sexuality too, like girl-on-girl kissing at a party / club. Somehow we doubt the sincerity of female gender-bending -- meh, sure they can crop their hair short, give people the middle finger, and make out with another girl on the dance floor, but underneath it all she's still a girl.

If a guy takes a stab at gender-bending in those ways, we think that he really means it, that it's not just a goof, and get worried.

Sidney might be an example of a given name that started out as a surname, although I'm not sure. There was Sir Philip Sidney in the Elizabethan period. I'm having trouble thinking of first-name Sidneys that far back.

agnostic said...

I'd be careful about assuming why Peyton is so popular -- after all, there are a billion sports stars whose names have been losers (today's sports stars and those from before).

Rather, Peyton would have shot up even without there being a popular athlete by that name. We can tell because there's a cluster of boys' names that all rhyme with EY-den that have shot up recently. I'm not sure how to spell these, but I hear them all the time:

Jayden, Aiden, Brayden, Layton, etc.

Peyton is just another member of this super-cluster.

Same is true for Miley, btw. Would've been popular even w/o the barely illegal babe celebrity -- look at how popular the cluster is that rhymes with EYE-lee: Riley, Kylie... maybe even Hylee? Never heard that one, but wouldn't be surprised if it's there.

Stopped Clock said...

Girls always win at this little babyname tug-of-war. They've even got "Jamie" now and are beginning to take over Alex and Kasey.

At least we still have Drew and Logan. Come on boys, let's fight back!

Anonymous said...

The disambiguation bit on Leslie Howard lists five people -- four of whom are/were male. Of the two Americans, however, the split is 50/50. I cannot imagine an American naming a male baby Leslie today.

dearieme said...

As a member of a nation that insists on applying "Sandy" to girls, your views are of only comical interest.

Anonymous said...

Sian is the female version of Sean.

Pronounced the same.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly interesting. I suppose this is just another data point on our decline.

ironrailsironweights said...

I've heard that there's a gender-based tipping point when it comes to baby names. Once a name becomes viewed as a girl's name, parents quickly stop giving it to boys and sooner or later it becomes female-only. One comment quite correctly noted that this has happened with Leslie.

My guess is that of all the names on the list, only Christian and Sean/Shawn are certain to remain firmly in the male camp, and perhaps the latter one isn't quite certain.

Peter

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

I had not previously run into that, and it has never been among the top 1,000 names that baby naming wizard tracks for each year, but if it's a seminal sex-bender, I guess it'll be par for the course.

Anon,

Leslie, traditionally a male's name, became popular among women in the early 60s. It fell off the list completely among boys at the turn of this century.

Pat is the exception (and I'm sure there are a few more), running in the other direction. Traditionally it was a female name, but now it is almost exclusively male.

Agnostic,

Great explanation.

Re: the celebrities, I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek. I'd guess celebrity influence in namingways is marginal.

Dearieme,

I've not known a guy named Sandy (the only person who comes to mind is Sandy Koufax)--it dropped off the list among boys in the late 70s.

Underachiever said...

Agnostic and Stopped Clock are right,

Girls can take over a boy's name, but it is more difficult for a boys to take over a girls name. Steven Pinker explains it here (page 318-319):

http://books.google.com/books?id=jylSITT9ZNUC&pg=PA318&lpg=PA318&dq=steven+pinker+girl+boy+name&source=bl&ots=LbV2L3pFwW&sig=7pgNyajItyFd459DRGeHJ7PlWis&hl=en&ei=S98_TJeWF43msQOH8pSVDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Anonymous said...

My brother and I, like many kids, particularly in the South, were given family names. His name is Tracy, which people usually think of a a girl's name, but you might be surprised at how many guys have it. Mine is Carter, which I believe is moving up the ranks of female names. Already I'm getting correspondence addressed to "Miss."

agnostic said...

I didn't check Underachiever's link, but I'm sure he's referring to Pinker quoting Stanley Lieberson, the main researcher of given names.

His book A Matter of Taste, about fashion in first names, is great. There's data stretching back many centuries, which sex can steal the other's names, race differences in innovation, whether or not the poor imitate the rich or jump on the bandwagon at the same time, whether celebs can influence trends, and a lot else.

Definitely one of the best pop social science books, and written more like Pinker's books than Freakonomics.

Saint Louis said...

Semi-anonymous Carter,

My sister recently had a child and chose the name Carter. You'll be happy to hear the child is a healthy baby boy. Maybe you guys can hang on to Carter a bit longer.

ironrailsironweights said...

I've not known a guy named Sandy (the only person who comes to mind is Sandy Koufax)--it dropped off the list among boys in the late 70s.

There was a very popular children's television host in the New York area named Sandy Becker. He was about a decade older than Sandy Koufax. Keep in mind that Sandy was neither man's given name; Sandy Koufax was Sanford Koufax, and Sandy Becker was George Sanford Becker.

Which actually proves your point. I just couldn't imagine a man named Sanford choosing to go by Sandy today.

Peter

dearieme said...

How long before Obama becomes a girl's name?

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Tracy was an uncommon but exclusively male name up until the 30s. By the 60s, it was overwhelmingly female but has since dropped off the top 1000 list. Carter doesn't register for girls (yet).

Anonymous said...

Loren form of Laurence, Lawrence, Lorenz. It is masculine and I know some Norwegians who spell it that way. I wouldn't call it androgynous. Some of the androgyny just comes from cultural illiteracy where people are so disconnected from their forbears that they just don't know. I always get a kick out of the neighborhood Asian kids named Brittany, Danica and Derrick.

Instead of multicultural, it is more like acultural.

agnostic said...

The blog at the Name Voyager site may have an article on this, but re: Tracy, I think most girls' names that begin with a consonant cluster have fallen off during among Millennials.

I know it's documented that names beginning with /kr/ are dead -- Christine, Crystal, etc. -- but since there's so much of a phonetic halo effect, I wonder if that's true for other consonant clusters.

Looks true for /tr/ -- Tracy, Trish(a) (also as a nickname), etc. Also, Brenda, Gretchen, Grace (except among East Asians who are always behind the times). I wonder about Francesca and Priscilla -- those consonant clusters would go against the trend, but the Latinate sound would go with the trend.

Steve Sailer said...

I think a big pattern is that classy-sounding WASP last names (e.g., Madison) tend to get turned first into boy's names, then drift into girl's names.

If you don't want a shift in fashion to cause your son to grow up with what is increasingly a girl's name, I'd go with Biblical names like Mark, Luke, Joshua,or John or medieval kings' names like William, Henry, or Richard. It's never going to become a fad to name your daughter Dick.

Steve Sailer said...

By the way, my impression is that American first names aren't particularly celebrity-driven. For example, Dylan is now a popular name, but it didn't become so when "Like a Rolling Stone" was on the Top 40 charts. It took about two decades to become a popular first name. American first names are driven by long-term trends more than short term fads.

My guess would be that British first names are driven more by celebrity news, but that's just my impression.

Steve Sailer said...

Another interesting calculation is how first names end up in certain fields, such as all the Stevens/Stephens from the middle of the 20th century who turned into high-brows with a science orientation: For example, Steven Pinker once sent me a cartoon from an English publication of a bookshop stocked solely with science books by guys named Steve: Hawking, Gould, Pinker, Rose, etc. It wasn't just the quantity of Steves, but also that the name, apparently, appealed to a certain kind of parent. (After awhile, the name filtered down to people like me.)

I wouldn't be surprised if Matthew is the new Steve.

One of the things you could do is take data on baby name popularity in the 20th Century and compare it to some list of accomplished people with their birthdates, such as members of the National Academy of Sciences, and calculate changes in quality as well as quantity of name fashions.

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Anonymous said...

It's really sad that Pat from SNL had to be portrayed as a disgusting character. I identify as transgender, specifically non-binary (I don't feel that my gender is male nor female) and the only representation in media I have is the character of Pat. I stumbled across this site trying to find gender neutral names that will replace my very feminine middle name. I hope people see this comment and realize that gender non conforming people like me exist, and I hope my comment creates dialogue. For a list of terms that apply to other gender nonconforming people and other people who fall under the trans* umbrella, here's a link
http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/category/gender-2/

Bridge P.