A unisex name (also known as an epicene name, a gender-neutral name or an androgynous 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 have different gender connotations 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 English, German, Hungarian, Czech, and Spanish.
Parents may 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 give a child a second/middle name of the opposite sex, e.g. name a son Marie or Maria in honor of the Virgin Mary or formerly Anne for Saint Anne; or name a daughter José in honor of Saint Joseph or Jean in honor of John the Baptist. This practice is rare in English-speaking countries.
Some masculine and feminine names are homophones, pronounced the same for both sexes but spelled differently. For example, Yves and Eve and (for some speakers) 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 some popularity in English-speaking countries in the past several decades. Masculine names have become increasingly popular among females in the past century but originally feminine names remain extremely rare among males.
Examples of masculine names which have been widely given to females and thus have become unisex include:
- Francis, Frances
- Hilary, Hillary
- Leslie, Lesley
- Robin (originally a nickname for Robert)
- Sidney, Sydney
In the United States, most of these names are now largely female, while in Britain, some (notably Evelyn, Hilary, Sidney, Robin) remain largely male. Sometimes different spellings have different sex distributions (Francis is less likely female than Frances), but these are rarely definitive.
Modern unisex names may derive from:
- Nature (Lake, Rain, Willow)
- Colors (Blue, Grey, Indigo)
- Countries or states (Dakota, India, Montana)
- Surnames (Jackson, Mackenzie, Madison, Murphy)
- Politicians (Kennedy, Reagan)
Examples of unisex names among celebrities include:
- Jamie (e.g. Jamie Bell and Jamie Lee Curtis)
- Morgan (Morgan Freeman and Morgan Fairchild)
- Taylor (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift)
- Tracy (Tracy Morgan and Tracy Chapman)
- Jordan (Jordan Knight and Jordan Pruitt)
- Hayden (Hayden Christensen and Hayden Panettiere)
- Peyton (Peyton Manning and Peyton List)
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.
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, Alexa
- 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
- Cas - 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, Jason, 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
- Kris - Kristin, Kristina, Kristine, Kristopher
- Les - Leslie, Lester
- 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
- Nicki, Nickie, Nicky - Nicholas, Nicola, Nicole, Nicolette, Nikita
- Oli, 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, Antonio, Antonia
- Val - Valentina, Valentine, Valentino, Valerie
- Vic - Vicky, Victor, Victoria
- Viv - Vivian, Viviana, Vivien, Vivienne
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: Aala, Aale, Aali, Aalo, Airut, Aleksa, Alvi, Ami, Ara, Ariel, Asla, Dana, Dara, Eedi, Eelia, Eeri, Eeti, Eka, Ellis, Emili, Ensi, Ervi, Essa, Hami, Hani, Heile, Heine, Helgi, Helle, Hille, Ila, Ille, Ilo, Jessi, Jo, Juno, Kaari, Kaiho, Kara, Karli, Karo, Kullero, Lahja, Lei, Lemmi, Lumo, Mara, Margo, Marin, Marjus, Mietti, Mille, Miska, Mitja, Muisto, Nevin, Niika, Niki, Nikita, Nikola, Nilla, Noa, Noe, Noel, Oma, Orla, Peeta, Rani, Reine, Reita, Rene, Sana, Sani, Sasa, Sasha, Sassa, Seri, Sire, Sirius, Soini, Soma, Sävel, Tiera, Toive, Vanja, Varma, Veini, Vendi, Venni and Vilka. 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).
Popular unisex names of French origin include Camille, Claude, and Dominique. There are also pairs of masculine and feminine names that have slightly different spelling but identical pronunciation, such as André / Andrée, Frédéric / Frédérique or Gabriel / Gabrielle. In France and French-speaking countries, it can happen for people to have a combination of both masculine and feminine given names, but most of these include "Marie", such as Jean-Marie, Marie-Jean, Marie-Pierre. Marie was a unisex name in medieval times; it is nowadays only female except for its presence in compound names. Notable examples of people with a combination of masculine and feminine 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: Eike, Gustl (the male variant is a shortening of August or Gustav, the female for Augusta), Toni, Kai.
Many of the modern Hebrew names are unisex. A few popular examples are Gal, Tal, Noam, Lior and Daniel (which is unisex only as a modern name).
Unisex names are illegal in Iceland (the given name Blær the only known legal exception). The Icelandic Naming Committee (ice. Mannanafnanefnd) has preapproved male and female lists.
Additionally traditional patronymic (or rarely matronymic or both) Icelandic last names (by law) can't be unisex. The suffix of the last name -dóttir (e. daughter) gives away the female sex. Males use the suffix -son (rare exceptions for foreign females; when using husbands last name as a family name; family names are in general illegal with few exceptions). Given names are also clearly masculine or feminine (to Icelanders) and linguistic gender has to match the gender identity of the person.
As of 2012[update], the law has been successfully challenged once, for the given male name Blær (transliterated Blaer) allowing for that one exceptionally used for females. The Icelandic Naming Committee had for 14 years rejected a girl to have her registered as Blaer in the national census, keeping her registered with the default given name stelpa (e. girl) - the name was not on the list of about 1,853 approved female names. A lower court deemed the name additionally legal for females and the state decided not to use its right to appeal.
Few exceptions apply for linguistic gender such as the traditional name Sturla, linguistically feminine, from medieval history always applies to males and Ilmur (e. fragrance or odour), linguistically masculine, must apply to females.
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 Kajal,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, Ranjodh, Sheeraz, Hardeep, Kirendeep, Sukhdeep, Govindpal, Encarl, Rajan" 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 does not assign genders to inanimate nouns, some of these names are gender-neutral, for example Roshan, Parveen, and Insaaf.
In Italy unisex names are very rare.
Some unisex names are Carmine, Andrea, Felice, Elia, Mattia (usually for males) and Celeste, Amabile, Diamante, Giusi and Fiore (usually for girls). Sometimes "Maria" is used for a second male name (such as Antonio Maria).
Common Italian boys' names, such as Nicola or Luca, are assumed to be feminine in English, due to the 'a' termination. Most feminine Italian names end with 'a' (such as Maria, Sara, Giorgia), whereas most masculine names end with 'o' (such as Matteo, Giorgio, Francesco). The 'e' ending is more common in masculine names (such as Gabriele, Daniele, Gioele) than in feminine names (such as Alice, Beatrice, Matilde).
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)
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 Niomar - though in these cases there are some exceptions.
Common Russian boys' names, such as Nikita 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/Shura (Alexandr or Alexandra), Zhenya (Yevgeniy or Yevgeniya), Valya (Valentin or Valentina), Valera (Valeriy or Valeriya). In all cases a noun ending in -a or -ya is declined as if it were feminine no matter the actual gender.
In Spain unisex names are extremely rare. María, an originally feminine name is used in Spanish for males as middle name, very commonly after 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, Bilge, Cemre, Derya, Deniz, Evren, Evrim, Göksel, Gökçe, Özgür, Turhan, Toprak, Yüksel or Yücel. Some Persian-derived Turkish names, like Can and Cihan, are also unisex, as are even a few Arabic-derived names, like İhsan and Nur.
Among modern Vietnamese names, unisex names are very popular. Vietnamese tend to distinguish unisex names by middle names (for example Quốc Khánh is a male name and Ngân Khánh is a female name). In many cases, a male could have a female name and vice versa. Popular examples of unisex names in Vietnam are: Anh (beautiful or outstanding), An (safe and sound), Hà (river), Khánh (joy or virtue), Linh (divinity, essence, or spirit), or Tú (star), etc.
Shona, a Bantu group in Zimbabwe, have unisex name which may indicate the circumstances of the baby or the family during the time of the birth. All Shona names have a meaning, some also celebrate virtue or worship God. Popular unisex names in the Shona ethnic group are Akatendeka (God is faithful), Anenyasha (God is merciful), Anesu (God is with us), Chipo (Gift), Farai (Rejoice), Kudzai (Worship), Nyasha (Mercy), Rufaro (Happiness), Shingirayi (Persevere), Tendai (Grateful), Tafadzwa (Joyful), Tanaka (We are good), Tatenda (We give thanks), Vimbai (Trust)
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