Why Are There No Boys Named Sue?

Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson with their baby girl Maxwell
Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson with their baby girl Maxwell
Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson with their baby girl Maxwell

Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson with their baby girl Maxwell

In the last few years it’s become acceptable and even cool to give kids gender neutral names. That’s hardly news. However with this trend, I’m seeing a lot of girls with traditionally ‘male’ names, and very few boys with traditionally ‘female’ names.

As a teacher I’ve seen some pretty out there names and interpretations of names. Calling the roll for the first time with a new class can be tricky:

Me: “Elliot? Is Elliot here? Has anyone seen him?”

Student: “ Um, Elliot is a GIRL, Miss!” (Rolls eyes at my apparent stupidity)

Me: “Oh. Has anyone seen HER?”

I’ve fallen for this a few times, but it’s always a traditionally male name given to a girl.  There are plenty of names that over the years have become completely neutral, such as ‘Jesse’, ‘Ashley’ and ‘Taylor’, and can easily go either way. When calling the roll and reading these names I’m always cautious as they could be either gender.  But some names really do surprise me; Elliot for a girl was one of them. Don’t get me wrong. I actually love less ‘girly’ names, the ones that aren’t overly ‘frilly’ or pretty.  I like solid names. But sometimes I think the trend of swapping traditional boy/girl names is outright confusing.

Michelle Branch with her daughter Owen

Michelle Branch with her daughter Owen

There is a definite trend for giving baby girls a traditionally male name, and we have celebrities to thank for that: Jessica Simpson’s daughter Maxwell Drew is a great example.  Musician Michelle Branch named her daughter ‘Owen’, while the trendsetting ‘Punky Brewster’ star, Soleil Moon Frye named her daughter ‘Jagger Joseph Blue’.

Other names that have become popular for girls but are male in origin include Sawyer, Rowan, Emerson, Riley, Ryan, Billy, Drew, Jordan, Shannon, Darcy, Harper, Mason, Morgan, Cameron, and Grayson.

The thing is: I’m yet to meet any boys named ‘Millie’, ‘Grace’, ‘Lily’, ‘Chloe’ or ‘Mia’, which are in the top 10 most popular girls names for 2012.

I found an interesting quote from a baby name website: “Yes, we knew calling our daughter ‘James’ was going to cause controversy with our friends and family because it’s a boys name. But we LIKED it. So who cares? As long as we are happy with it, who cares?”

I agree to a point. Obviously it’s your baby and you can call it whatever you like. And yes, to hell with what people think. But what is the child going to think, as she gets older? Will she resent you? Will she be constantly confused when giving her name over the phone, being called at the waiting room of a doctor’s office: “James? James Smith?” and the doctor are busily scanning the room for a man?

Girls are given traditionally male names and it’s seen as cool, edgy; almost ‘tough’ in some regards. But boys aren’t running around with traditionally female names. Would it make them effeminate? Would it make them a target for bullies? Would they be seen as ‘soft’ or ‘weak’?

I have always loved the name Michael for a girl. As a kid, I figured I could use Michaela instead. Then it became one of the most popular girls names of the last 20 years and I got bored. One of my favourite bands, Weezer have a song named ‘Mykel and Carli’ dedicated to 2 sisters who ran their fan club until they were killed in a car accident on a way to a Weezer concert. It was then I realized that Mykel was a girl after I saw the spelling and heard the story behind the song. And I like it for her.

But I would never use the name Mykel as I hate bizarre spelling and I have to look at it from the point of view of both the child, and the people the child will interact with. Being a teacher gives me a degree of insight into how people react to certain names, and even the spelling of traditional names like ‘Jessica’ when spelt Jesiqua/Jessikah/Jesicah/Jessyka etc. I know the child is in for a frustrating future.

But here is my real question: why have I met, seen, taught or dealt with SO many females with ‘male’ names, but not the reverse? Why is it socially acceptable to give a girl a ‘boy’s’ name, but we don’t give boys a ‘girl’s name?

That’s what I find the most confusing. I think people are fearful that giving a boy a female name would lessen their masculinity, make them less rough and tumble, less dirty knees, mud pies and more playing with Babies: which is dumb, because all these girls with names of male origin aren’t ALL throwing their dolls out, abandoning their femininity, denying their inherent ‘prettiness’.

It feels like naming a boy after a female would be insulting, whereas naming a girl with a man’s name is cool. It’s hip. It’s not an insult.

What do you think? Do you see a problem with girls being named with male names? Why aren’t boys on trend with this?

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  • http://twitter.com/moniquefischle Monique Fischle

    You raise an interesting point. There are many girls with traditionally boys names but not the reverse. In the case of Jessica Simpson’s child, I think she should have given Maxwell a feminine middle name because Maxwell Drew Johnson sounds like a boys name, the only reason I knew she had a girl was because the webpage where she made the announcement was pink.

    I really love Harper as a girl’s name but it is becoming very common. As are a lot of names I like. We’re not having kids in the near future but DG and I have spoken baby names and there’s a girl’s name that we adore which I LOVE the sound and old style spelling of (it’s a legitimate name, it even appears in a Shakespeare play, though how that makes it legit I don’t know) but it is remarkably similar to a popular girls name and I don’t want people to think I’m trying to be “different” with the spelling. Makes me second guess it.

    • maree Talidu

      I found her using ‘Drew’ as a middle name odd, because her former brother in law was named Drew- Drew Lachey, Nick’s brother.

      • http://twitter.com/moniquefischle Monique Fischle

        I had not even thought of that but yes, that’s a little odd.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=588449301 Ash Tree Ferret

    It’s similar to the reasoning behind why it’s ok for girls to play with trucks, but not for boys to play with dolls.

    Anything “feminine” is seen as demeaning unless for a girl, anything “masculine” is seen as an improvement. So for girls to be wearing boy’s names , clothes or toys- it’s subconsciously seen as a “step up” for her. Whereas for a boy to be feminine in any of those- it’s seen as a step down.

    So pretty much the reason behind all the weird gender-stuff out there: patriarchy strikes again.

    • maree Talidu

      Yep you nailed it!

  • http://www.kyliepurtell.com/ Kylie Purtell

    It’s definitely an interesting question. I guess maybe that its always been more acceptable for a girl to be more ‘masculine’ but its still not really ok for a boy to be more ‘feminine’. Perhaps parents are scared that their boys won’t be as ‘tough’ or as much of a ‘man’ if they are seen as being at all ‘softer’, which a girls name might do. i think Ash Tree Ferret has got it, patriarchy does strike again.

  • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

    This reminds me so much of What It Feels Like For A Girl by Madonna: Girls can wear jeans, cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots. Because it’s OK for a girl to look like a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading. But secretly, you’d love to know what it’s like.

    I think it does go back to the assumption that women are somehow inferior so it’s OK for women to want to be manly, but not the other way around.


    • maree Talidu

      Yep, 100% on the money. Also one of my fave Madonna songs.