A blog reader has written in to say that she has heard of yet another celebrity couple giving their daughter a masculine name – Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, who call their baby girl Max. She is curious why parents choose obviously male names for their daughters when there are so many other options, and wants to know what I think.
Oh poor old celebrities and their baby names – if they aren’t using their psychic powers to steal our favourite baby names and make them popular, they’re either choosing crazy names for their children which will scar them for life, or giving their daughters boys’ names.
In this case, you will perhaps be relieved to know that the straw which has broken your particular camel’s back is not quite accurate. Mark Zuckerberg’s daughter is named Maxima, the feminine form of the Roman name Maximus, meaning, “greatest”. They call her Max, which is the most obvious nickname. My aunt has a former colleague, now retired, named Maxine, and she is also called Max or Maxie as an affectionate nickname, so it’s not a new idea.
Although it must seem that tons of celebrities are giving their daughters boyish or unisex names, this isn’t really correct. If you look through the celebrity baby names at Name Candy, there are plenty of girls with names like Elsie, Georgia, Jane, Mia, and Scarlett.
In fact, celebrity baby names don’t look that much different from anyone else’s. There are popular names, vintage names, nature names, modern names, created names, unisex names, and the occasional very unusual name – much like any suburban daycare centre with a reasonably diverse clientele.
I think one of the things that concerns parents is the idea that if a big enough celebrity chooses a “masculine” name for their daughter, the name will “go girl” and become unusable for boys – hence goodbye Max and James as possible choices for their future sons.
I am happy to say that there is little evidence that this takes place in any significant way. In 2013, Kristen Bell named her daughter Lincoln. In that same year, there were 61 baby girls named Lincoln and 4024 boys. Last year, there was a “Kristen effect” with 127 girls named Lincoln compared to 4785 boys.
So Lincoln rose much more steeply for girls, but there were overall many more boys given the name than the previous year. Although the name has increased feminine usage, there is no evidence that the name has become “feminine”, as Lincoln is a Top 100 boys name in the US, and has been rising every year for the past five years. Kristen Bell’s daughter did not stop it rising again.
And if we go further back in time to see what happens on a longer-term basis, Kelsey Grammer named a daughter Spencer in 1983, and another of his daughters Mason in 2001. Both Spencer and Mason continued rising for boys, Spencer reaching the US Top 100 in the 1990s and Mason reaching the Top 10 in 2011.
In fact I can’t find even one example of a celebrity changing the usage of a name from masculine to feminine through their particular name choice. Maxwell, Arlo, Owen, and Casper have been given as names to celebrity baby girls, and Maxwell, Arlo, Owen, and Casper continue to be overwhelmingly more common for boys.
It’s nice to know that parents of boys are not so foolish and easily panicked that they will immediately abandon all their name plans based on the actions of one celebrity. I’m not sure why we have the belief that they will, as nobody seems to think that parents of daughters will abandon a more “feminine” name choice once a celebrity chooses it for their son.
It’s a very strange phenomenon, but once Ryan Reynolds calls his daughter James, or Mila Kunis chooses the name Wyatt for her little girl, hand-wringing articles appear saying that this will create serious issues for parents expecting a baby boy, as the name James or Wyatt will now be “ruined” for boys by even ONE well-known girl with the name (and not well-known for her own achievements, but just for having famous parents).
Yet Liv Tyler can name her son Sailor (198 girls 23 boys), both Chris Hemsworth and Shakira can name their sons Sasha (535 girls, 20 boys), and Alicia Keys can have a little boy named Genesis (4144 girls, 63 boys), and nobody seems too concerned at all. There is no widespread fear that Sailor, Genesis, and Sasha will “go boy” , or cause undue angst among parents of girls.
It’s telling, and rather horrible, that we believe just one girl can taint a name with her hideous femininity, like the proverbial bad apple in a barrel, while boys can be named safely and with impunity whatever we desire, and the name will remain clean and fresh. Like so many myths of female impurity (such as menstruating women making food spoil), this one is simply not true.
It might seem like a new trend for girls to be given “masculine” names, but if you look through the records, there are tens of thousands of women named James. In the 18th century, there were many girls named Maxwell, especially in Scotland and on the Scottish border. In the 19th century, there were women named Arlo. None of this caused civilisation to fall, nor has it stopped these names being predominalty masculine today.
Of course sometimes names do swap gender – Lauren and Piper were once masculine names, while Christian and Emmett were once female. I guess that begs the question: just what exactly makes a name feminine or masculine, when gender usage can be fluid and changing?
Maybe the answer is that each of us, whether rich and famous or poor and obscure, is free to decide for ourselves. Perhaps even more shocking, our decision might not even make very much difference.
Thank you to Clare for asking for this issue to be covered on Waltzing More Than Matilda.
34% of people were strongly against celebrities giving their daughters “masculine” names, with 2% feeling seriously angered, worried, or stressed about it. 23% of people were in favour of it, with 21% thinking it was fantastic, and believing we should all be allowed to choose whatever names we liked. 42% of people weren’t concerned about it, with 22% not caring since it was none of their business, and 20% believing the issue had been blown out of proportion. One person said that they were not aware of this issue.
The poll was very even on whether people would change their mind about a potential baby name if a celebrity chose it for a child of the opposite sex. 51% of people said no, while 16% said yes, and 33% said maybe. That means around half of all people would at least think about changing their minds about a name on their name list if a celebrity chose it for an opposite sex child. That’s despite more than 40% of people not being concerned about the names that celebrities choose, so the numbers don’t quite add up there!
(Photo shows the Zuckerberg family with some light bedtime reading for their daughter Max)