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boys names that can’t be used for girls

That was the search term someone used to reach the blog some time ago, and ever since I have been wondering how to answer it.

There is no name that can’t be used for girls in Australia, as we don’t have any naming laws in regard to gender. It might be rare to meet a woman named Jeffrey or Andrew, but there’s no prohibition against it.

However, I do think it’s possible to choose a name for your son that is unlikely to be used for many girls. In other words, you can pick out a name which is seen as masculine rather than unisex, and which has a low probability of becoming seen as unisex, or even feminine, in the future.

1. Choose a Classic Name

Classic boys names have the advantage of possessing a long, yet recent, history of being used primarily for boys, which tends to put a masculine stamp on them. When I looked at classic names in Australia, I found that only two of them went from unisex to gender-specific – and both went to the boys (the names were Darcy and Francis).

There are lots of classic names, and they come in all styles, and are at all levels of popularity, so there’s quite a range to choose from. A classic boys name such as William, Arthur, Vincent, Duncan, Leonard, or Frederick would be an extremely safe choice for someone worried about their son’s name being chosen for girls.

2. Choose a Popular Name

When I looked at unisex names from the 2012 Victorian data, it became apparent that names are only truly unisex (used for roughly equal numbers of boys and girls) when they are at a low level of popularity. Once a name becomes popular, it only seems to do so for one gender or another – there are few names which reach the Top 100 for both sexes at once, and when they do, it’s a situation which doesn’t seem to last long.

Therefore, a popular name seems like a safe choice when picking a name to ensure that it has already been chosen for one specific gender over another. And the more popular it is, the safer a choice it probably is, because names that have switched from boy to girl in popularity haven’t peaked any higher than #60 for boys, and most of them didn’t even peak in the Top 100.

So if you’re a bit worried, pick something in the Top 100, like Declan or Hugo, and if you’re very worried, pick a Top 50 name, like Oscar or Sebastian.

3. Choose a Rare Name

A boys name seems to need a reasonable level of familiarity in order to become acceptable for use on girls: at this point, it starts to seem “cute” or “spunky” on a girl. Choosing a male name that is little used even for boys seems like a reasonable insurance policy against it becoming used by girls. So perhaps a name like Benedict or Wolfgang might seem like a good choice.

4. Choose a Name Strongly Associated with a Very Famous Man

Elvis is technically a unisex name, and in the 1920s and ’30s, it was almost entirely used for girls in Australia. But once Elvis Presley appeared on the scene in the 1950s, Elvis was a boy’s name. Other names associated with famous men include Aristotle, Banjo, Barack, Butch, Hannibal, Leonardo, Moses, Muhammad, Napoleon, and Winston.

Just make sure that the man has a high level of recognition, so that most adults would recognise him by his first name alone. If you have to explain who he was, then he’s not famous enough to ensure his name stays masculine.

And surnames don’t count – think of all the girls named Presley or Cassidy!

5. Buy a Time Machine ….

… so you can visit the future and make sure that nobody has used the name for a highly successful character in popular culture, or it doesn’t belong to a hugely famous actress who goes on to win Academy Awards for the next sixty years.

Yes, I’m joking. You can’t predict with any certainty what the future will bring (so why fret about it?). However, I do think if you choose one of the previous four options, you will have done a fair bit towards future-proofing your son’s name.

It’s not likely anyone will write a blockbuster about a spunky heroine named Leonardo, or that there will be a gorgeous movie actress named William, but even if those things happen, it’s even less likely that those names would be picked for baby girls by the general populace.

So there you go. Four simple steps you can take to make it less likely that anyone will use your son’s name for their daughter.

However, I sense many of you do not like this advice very much. You don’t want a classic name, you don’t want a name in the Top 50, you don’t want a name that’s hardly ever seen, and you definitely don’t want a name tied to someone mega famous.

Like a vast bulk of parents, what you really want is one of those fashionable boys names that are familiar but not popular. Something that seems fresh and new, yet so on trend that it blends in seamlessly with all the other kids in the playground.

However, by choosing something fresh and new, you are by definition taking a risk. You risk Axel  becoming popular, Arlo becoming stale and boring, and Ari becoming more common for girls.

Now I could go on to give further advice, such as to avoid surnames (what if Harland is the next Harper?), or anything which can be shortened to a girly nickname (what if all the Maddoxes become Maddies?), or anything ending in -lee (what if Finley becomes the new Ashley?), or anything which sounds even vaguely like a girl’s name (is Ezra too similar to Eliza?).

But I’m not going to, because

a) it sounds crazy paranoid

b) it would be foolish to avoid using your favourite name based on something which might happen in the future

c) risks make life exciting, colourful and worth living

and

d) I would prefer that femininity isn’t seen as something which taints a name so that males can no longer use it.

If you want a name used almost entirely for boys, that is likely to stay that way for a long while, then you have good options.

But I hope that we can also embrace risk and change and diversity, and live in a more accepting world that doesn’t divide us so sharply into pink or blue - a world where we all have more name choices, rather than less.

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