A unisex name (also known as an epicene name or gender-neutral name) is a given name that can be used by a person regardless of the person's sex. Some countries have laws preventing unisex names, requiring parents to give their children sex-specific names. In other countries unisex names are sometimes avoided for social reasons.
Names may vary their sexual connotation from country to country or language to language. For example, the Italian male name Andrea (derived from Greek Andreas) is understood as a female name in many languages, such as German, Hungarian, Czech, and Spanish. Sometimes parents may choose to name their child in honor of a person of another sex, which – if done widely – can result in the name becoming unisex. For example, Christians, particularly Catholics, may name their sons Marie or Maria in honor of the Virgin Mary or their daughter José in honor of Saint Joseph or Jean in honor of John the Baptist. This religious tradition is more commonly seen in Latin America and Europe than in North America.
Some masculine and feminine names are homophones, pronounced the same for both sexes but spelled differently. For example, Yves and Eve and Artemus and Artemis. These names are not strictly unisex names.
In popular culture
Unisex names can be used as a source of humor, such as Julia Sweeney's sexually ambiguous character "Pat" on Saturday Night Live. A running joke on the TV show Scrubs is that almost every woman J.D. sleeps with has a unisex name: Jordan, Alex, Danni, Elliot, Jamie, Kim, etc. Similarly, the sex of the baby Jamie in Malcolm in the Middle was purposely kept ambiguous when first introduced at the end of the show's fourth season leading to speculation that it would remain unknown. However, the character's sex was revealed at the end of the first episode of season five. In Gilmore Girls, Rory is bothered by the discovery that her boyfriend Logan's workmate Bobby, is female. Rory had assumed Bobby was male and it is only upon their first meeting that Rory discovers Bobby is female.
In Japanese dramas and manga, a unisex name may be given to an androgynous or gender-bending character as part of a plot twist to aid in presenting the character as one sex when they are actually another.
In mystery fiction, unisex names have been used to tease readers into trying to solve the mystery of a character's sex. The novels of Sarah Caudwell feature a narrator named Hilary Tamar, a law professor who is never identified as either male or female.
Unisex names have been enjoying a decent amount of popularity in English speaking countries in the past several decades. Masculine names have become increasingly popular among females in the past century but feminine names remain extremely rare among males. Examples of masculine names which have been widely given to females and thus have become unisex include Ashley, Beverly, Evelyn, Hilary, Jocelyn, Joyce, Kelly, Lynn, Meredith, Shannon, Shirley, Sidney, Vivian, and Whitney. Modern unisex names may derive from nature (Lake, Rain, Willow), colors (Blue, Grey, Indigo), countries or states (Dakota, India, Montana), surnames (Jackson, Mackenzie, Murphy), and politicians (Kennedy, Madison, Reagan). Unisex names which are popular among celebrities include Jamie (Jamie Bell and Jamie Lee Curtis), Morgan (Morgan Freeman and Morgan Fairchild), Shannon (Shannon Leto and Shannon Elizabeth), Taylor (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift), Tracy (Tracy Morgan and Tracy Chapman) and Hayden (Hayden Christensen and Hayden Panettiere). According to the Social Security Administration, Jayden has been the most popular unisex name for boys since 2008 and Madison has been the most popular unisex name for girls since 2000 in the United States. Prior to Jayden, Logan was the most popular unisex name for boys and prior to Madison, Alexis was the most popular unisex name for girls.
Common unisex names in English speaking countries include Addison, Ainsley, Alex, Alexis, Angel, Ashley, Aubrey, Avery, Bailey, Beverly, Blair, Cameron, Cassidy, Chance, Chase, Cherokee, Courtney, Dakota, Dale, Darby, Darcy, Devin (Devon), Elliot, Emerson (Emmerson), Evelyn, Fran, Gale, Hadley, Harlow, Harper, Hayden, Hilary, Hollis, Hunter, Iman, Jamie, Jayden (Jaden, Jaiden), Jocelyn, Jordan, Joyce, Kelly, Kelsey, Kendall, Kennedy, Lee (Leigh), Leslie (Lesley), Lindsay (Lindsey), Logan, London, Lynn, Mackenzie, Madison, Meredith, Morgan, Murphy, Noor, Parker, Paris, Peyton (Payton), Phoenix, Quinn, Reilly (Riley), Robin, Ryan, Sage, Shannon, Shirley, Sheridan, Shiloh, Sidney, Sky, Skyler (Skylar), Tamara, Teagan (Taegan), Terry, Taylor, Tracy (Tracey), Vivian, and Whitney.
Many popular nicknames are unisex. Some nicknames, such as Alex and Pat, have become popular as given names in their own right. The following list of unisex nicknames are most commonly seen in English-speaking countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
- Alex - Alexander, Alexandra, Alexis, Alexandria
- Andi, Andie, Andy - Andrea, Andre, Andrew
- Ash - Asher, Ashley, Ashlyn, Ashton
- Berni, Bernie, Berny - Berenice, Bernard, Bernadette
- Berti, Bertie, Berty - Albert, Alberta, Alberto, Robert, Roberta, Roberto
- Bobbi, Bobbie, Bobby - Robert, Roberta, Roberto
- Cass - Casper, Cassandra, Cassian, Cassidy
- Cassi, Cassie, Cassy - Casper, Cassandra, Cassian, Cassidy
- Charli, Charlie, Charly - Charlene, Charles, Charlotte
- Chris - Christian, Christine, Christina, Christoph, Christopher
- Christi, Christie, Christy - Christine, Christina, Christopher
- Danni, Dannie, Danny - Daniel, Danielle
- Ed, Eddi, Eddie, Eddy - Edith, Edmund, Edward, Edwin, Edwina
- Fran - Frances, Francis, Francesca, Francesco, Francine
- Franki, Frankie, Franky - Frances, Francis, Francesca, Francesco, Francine, Frank, Franklin
- Franni, Frannie, Franny - Frances, Francis, Francesca, Francesco, Francine
- Freddi, Freddie, Freddy - Fred, Frederick, Frederica
- Gabbi, Gabbie, Gabby - Gabriel, Gabriella, Gabrielle
- Georgie - George, Georgeanna, Georgette, Georgia, Georgina
- Izzi, Izzie, Izzy - Isaac, Isabel, Isabella, Isabelle, Isidore, Isolde, Elizabeth
- Jacki, Jackie, Jacky - Jack, Jackson, Jacqueline, John
- Jay - Jacob, James, Jamie, Jane, Jayden, Jaeden
- Jess - Jesse, Jessica
- Jerri, Jerrie, Jerry - Gerald, Geraldine, Gerard, Jeremiah, Jeremy, Jerome
- Joey - Joanna, Joanne, Joseph, Josephine
- Joss - Jocelyn, Joseph, Josiah
- Kel - Kelly, Kelsey
- Liv - Olive, Oliver, Olivia
- Lou - Lewis, Louis, Louise, Lucas
- Louie - Louis, Louise
- Maddi, Maddie, Maddy - Madeline, Madison
- Mandi, Mandie, Mandy - Amanda, Amandus, Mandel
- Manni, Mannie, Manny - Emanuel, Emmanuel, Emmanuelle, Manfred
- Matti, Mattie, Matty - Mathilda, Matilda, Matthew
- Max - Maximilian, Maximus, Maxine, Maxwell
- Mel - Melanie, Melinda, Melissa, Melody, Melvin, Melina
- Micki, Mickie, Mickey, Micky- Michael, Michaela, Michelle, Mikayla
- Nat - Nathanael, Natalia, Nathalie, Natasha, Nathan, Nathaniel, Natalie
- Nicola, Nicki, Nickie, Nicky - Nicholas, Nicole, Nicolette
- Olli, Ollie, Olly - Olive, Oliver, Olivia
- Pat - Patricia, Patrick
- Patti, Pattie, Patty - Patricia, Patrick
- Robbi, Robbie, Robby - Robert, Roberta, Roberto, Robin
- Ronni, Ronnie, Ronny - Ronald, Veronica
- Sacha, Sascha, Sasha - Alexander, Alexandra
- Sal - Sally, Salvador
- Sam - Samson, Samuel, Samantha
- Sammi, Sammie, Sammy - Samson, Samuel, Samantha
- Sandi, Sandie, Sandy - Alexander, Alexandra
- Shelli, Shellie, Shelly - Michelle, Sheldon, Shelton
- Stevie - Stephanie, Stephen, Steven
- Terri, Terrie, Terry - Terence, Teresa, Theresa
- Theo - Theobald, Theodora, Theodore, Theodoros
- Toni, Tonie, Tony - Anthony, Antonia, *TristenTristanTristin
- Val - Valentina, Valentine, Valentino, Valerie
- Vic -Vicky, Victor, Victoria
- Viv - Vivian, Viviana, Vivien, Vivienne
Popular unisex names of French origin include Camille, Claude, Dominique, and Frederique. In France and French-speaking countries, it is not unusual for people to have a combination of both male and female given names, such as Jean-Marie, Marie-Jean, Marie-Pierre, and Julie-Pierre. Marie is commonly seen in both males and females, which stems from the deep influence on French culture of Catholicism and its Marian devotions. Notable examples of people with a combination of male and female given names are Jean-Marie Le Pen (male), Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles (male), Marie-Pierre Kœnig (male), and Marie-Pierre Leray (female).
European royals often bear the name Marie, the French form of Maria, in their names. Prince Amedeo of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este (Amedeo Marie Joseph Carl Pierre Philippe Paola Marcus), Prince Jean of Luxembourg (Jean Félix Marie Guillaume), and Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc) are examples of male royals who bear Marie in their names.
In the past, German law required parents to give their child a sex-specific name. This is no longer true, since the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany held in 2008 that there is no obligation that a name has to be sex-specific, even if it is the only one. The custom to add a second name which matches the child's legal sex is no longer required. Still unisex names of German origin are rare, most of them being nicknames rather than formal names. Examples for unisex names derived from French: Pascal (sometimes as Pascale) or Simone (pronounced like Simon in German). Other examples: Eike, Gustl, Toni.
Many of the modern Hebrew names are unisex. A few popular examples are Gal, Tal, Noam and Daniel (which is modern only as a unisex name).
Many Indian names become unisex when written with Latin characters because of the limitations of transliteration. The spellings Chandra and Krishna, for example, are transliterations of both the masculine and feminine versions of those names. In Indian languages, the final a's of these names are different letters with different pronunciations, so there is no ambiguity. However, when they are seen (and usually, spoken) by someone unfamiliar with Indian languages, they become sexually ambiguous. Other Indian names, such as Ananda, are exclusively or nearly exclusively masculine in India, but because of their a ending, are assumed to be feminine in Anglophone societies. Many unisex names in India are obvious and are never ridiculed. For instance Nehal, Sonal, Snehal, Niral, Pranjal and Anmol are used commonly to name baby boys or girls in western states of India such as Gujarat. Similarly, names like Sujal, Viral, Harshal, Deepal, Bobby, Mrinal, Jyoti, Shakti, Kiran, Lucky, Ashwini, Shashi, Malhar, Umang, Shubham and Anupam are also very common sex-neutral names or unisex names in India. Most Punjabi Sikh first names such as "Sandeep, Gurdeep, Kuldeep ,Mandeep", "Surjeet, Gurjeet, Kuljeet, Harjeet, Manjeet", "Harpreet, Gurpreet, Jaspreet, Kulpreet, Manpreet", "Prabhjot, Harjot, Gurjot, Jasjot" and "Sukhjinder, Bhupinder, Jasbinder, Parminder, Kulvinder, Harjinder" are unisex names and equally commonly given to either sex. Also, names derived from Dari Persian and Arabic, but not used among native speakers of those languages, are common among South Asian Muslims. Since Persian doesn't assign genders to inanimate nouns, some of these names are gender-neutral, for example: Roshan, Parveen, and Insaaf.
Common Italian boys' names, such as Andrea, Nicola, Davide or Luca, are assumed to be feminine in English, due to the 'a' termination. This also happens to several masculine names ending with 'e', like Simone, Gabriele, Michele or Daniele.
Despite there being only a small number of Japanese unisex names in use, unisex names are widely popular. Many high-profile Japanese celebrities such as Hikaru Utada, Jun Matsumoto, Ryo Nishikido, Tomomi Kahala, Harumi Nemoto, Izumi Sakai, and Shizuka Arakawa have unisex names.
- Ryou (Ryoo, Ryō)
- Shou (Shoo, Shō)
- Yuu (Yu, Yū)
- Yuuki (Yuki, Yūki)
- Yoshi (Yoshie)
Unisex names may also be used as nicknames. For example, a man named Ryounosuke and a woman named Ryouko may both use the unisex name Ryou as a nickname.
Names that end with an i are considered unisex in Brazil. They tend to be Native Brazilian Indian names in origin, such as Araci, Jaci, Darci, Ubirani, but names from other cultures are now being absorbed, such as Remy, Wendy, and Eddy. Names that end with ir and mar tend to be unisex also, such as Nadir, Aldenir, Dagmar and Rosimar - though in these cases there are some exceptions.
Common Russian boys' names, such as Nikita (full name) and Misha (short for Mikhail), are assumed to be feminine in English, due to the 'a' termination, which is actually common in diminutive masculine forms. However, the 'a' termination does hold true for other Russian contexts, as the letter 'a' is appended to all Russian female last names (Ivanov's mother, wife, and daughter all have last name Ivanova; yet any son born out of wedlock to an Ivanova defaults back to last name Ivanov), and nearly all Russian feminine first names end in 'a' (or 'ya', a distinct letter in the Cyrillic alphabet). Also, nicknames (shortened versions of names) can be sex-ambiguous: Sasha (Alexandr or Alexandra), Zhenya (Yevgeniy or Yevgeniya).
In Spain unisex names are extremely rare. In Valencia and Catalonia though, the name Pau (Paul in Catalan) was used both for boys and girls from the mid-70s. Carmen, Rosario, and Guadalupe are also unisex names but they are more commonly used for females than males. María, an originally feminine name is used for males after masculine names like Luis, Juan and, very commonly, José (e.g., José María). José is used for females preceded by María (María José).
There are many Turkish names which are unisex. These names are almost always pure Turkish names (i.e. not Turkified Arabic names that have an Islamic connotation) that derive from Turkish words. These names may either be modern names or be derived from Turkic mythology. Among the common examples of the many unisex names in Turkey include, Aytaç, Ayhan, Deniz, Cemre, Derya, Evren, Evrim, Göksel, Gökçe, Özgür, Turhan, Toprak, Yüksel or Yücel. And unlike English unisex names, most Turkish unisex names are traditionally used for both sexes. However some unisex names are used more for one sex (for example, Derya is used more for girls whereas Özgür is used more for boys).
Finnish law bans giving "female child a male name and male child a female name" among other restrictions. Some ambiguous names do exist, which have been given to children of both sexes. A partial list includes:
Many of these names are rare, foreign or neologism, established names tend to be strongly sex-specific. Notably, a class of names that are derived from nature can be often used for either sex, for example: Aalto (wave), Halla (frost), Lumi (snow), Paju (willow), Ruska (fall colors), and Valo (light). Similarly, there are some (sometimes archaic) adjectives which carry no strong gender connotations, like Kaino (timid), Vieno (calm) or Lahja (a gift).
- "Rory and Logan: Getting Serious". Crushable. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
- Jayden at BehindtheName.com
- Madison at BehindtheName.com
- Logan at BehindtheName.com
- Alexis at BehindtheName.com
- French Unisex Names at About.com
- French First Names at About.com
- "Oh no, you can't name your baby THAT!" CNN.com
- Flippo, Hyde "The Germany Way" Published by McGraw-Hill (1996), Pages 96-97
- BVerfG, 1 BvR 576/07 vom 5.12.2008, paragraph 16
- Sikh Names (SikhNames.com) Sikh Names, Meanings & Pronunciation
- "FINLEX ® - Ajantasainen lainsäädäntö: 9.8.1985/694". Finlex.fi. Retrieved 2013-09-29. (Finnish)
- "Lapsesta Ruu tai Sirius? Sukupuolineutraaleista nimistä tuli buumi | Helsingin Uutiset". Helsinginuutiset.fi. Retrieved 2013-09-29. (Finnish)