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A unisex name (also known as an epicene name, a gender-neutral name or an androgynous name) is a given name that is not gender-specific. Unisex names are common in the English-speaking world, especially in the United States. By contrast, some countries have laws preventing unisex names, requiring parents to give their children sex-specific names. In other countries or cultures, social norms oppose such names and transgressions may result in discrimination, ridicule, and psychological abuse.
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 to build suspense. 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's gender. The name "Rory" was historically a male name until Gilmore Girls reached popularity, at which point the name reached rough gender parity.
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 of African origin include:
Shona, a Bantu group in Zimbabwe, have unisex names 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.
Chinese given names are composed of 1–2 Chinese characters, with the exception of certain iconic (usually non-Han) historical figures. Some characters have masculine connotations tied to them, some have feminine connotations, and some can be fully gender-neutral or will only gain a masculine/feminine leaning when paired with another character that has a specific leaning.
Many of the modern Hebrew names have become unisex, that suitable for both boys and girls. Some popular examples are:
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[in which alphabets?], the final a in each 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.
Nehal, Sonal, Sonu, 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, Nilam, 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, Kirandeep, 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,Hitesh, Sudesh,Parveen, and Insaaf.
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, and Izumi Sakai have unisex names.
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.
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. 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 the common examples of the many unisex names in Turkey include:
Among modern Vietnamese names, unisex names are very popular. Vietnamese people may distinguish unisex names by middle names (for example Mạnh An may be a male name and Thanh An may be a female name), and sex-specific middle names such as Văn for males and Thị for females also help. In many cases, a male could have a female name and vice versa. Popular examples of unisex names in Vietnam are:
- Anh (英) “beautiful, outstanding, hero”
- An (安) “safe and sound”
- Cát (吉) “lucky”
- Châu (珠) “pearl”
- Đàm (倓) “quiet, peaceful”
- Điềm (恬) “tranquil, untroubled”
- Điệu (宨) “quiet, gentle, and graceful”
- Đông (冬) “winter”
- Giang (江) “big river”
- Hà (河) “river”
- Hạ (夏) “summer”
- Hải (海) “sea”
- Hiểu (晓) “dawn, daybreak”
- Hồng (紅) “red”
- Khánh (慶) “joyful celebration, to celebrate”
- Linh (靈) “divinity, essence, spirit, soul, intelligence”
- Mẫn (敏) “agile, nimble, quick-witted”
- Nhân (仁) “kindness, humanity”
- Ninh (寧) “tranquil, peaceful”
- Phúc (福) “fortune, blessing, happiness”
- Tân (新) “new”
- Thái (泰) “safe and peaceful”
- Thanh (清) “clear, pure, distinct”
- Thanh (青) “youth, young, cyan”
- Thiên (天) “sky, heaven”
- Thiện (善) “virtuous, benevolent, acts of kindness”
- Thu (秋) “autumn”
- Tôn (尊) “respectful, reverent”
- Trúc (竹) “bamboo”
- Tú (秀) “elegant, talented person”
- Tường (祥) “auspicious, propitious”
- Vú (雨) “rain”
- Vũ (羽) “feather”
- Xuân (春) “spring”
- Andrea (female) and Andrija (male) are nearly identical in pronunciation
- Matija (generally male, but female in the Neretva region)
- Saša (a nickname of Aleksandar/Aleksandra)
The Czech Registry Act forbids to give male names or surnames to females or female names or surnames to males, but doesn't restrict neutral names and surnames. For the period of transitioning, the act explicitly enables to use gender-neutral given name and surname.
A Czech trans people web enumerates given names which are most popular as gender-neutral names. Most of them are originally hypocorisms, or loanwords. The most natural of them are names ending with -a, falling under male inflectional paradigm "předseda" and/or female paradigm "žena". Generally, hypocorisms are not allowed to be used in official registers, but in case of trans people, they are tolerated.
The most popular neutral names are Saša and Nikola, both of them having a bit Russian (or East-Slavic) connotation. Other names of that paradigm are Áda, Jarka, Jára, Jindra, Jirča, Jirka, Kája, Mára, Míla, Mira, Míša, Míťa, Nikola, Péťa, Saša, Stáňa, Sváťa, Štěpa, Vlasta, Zbyňa, Zdena. They are unisex hypocorisms of complementary male and female names, e.g. Péťa belong to male "Petr" as well as female "Petra". Ilja, Issa, Bronia or Andrea are felt as original foreign names. Maria is felt as a female name (this form is reserved for mother of Jesus, the common Czech female form is Marie, the male form is Marián), but some historical men are known under that name (Klement Maria Hofbauer, Jan Maria Vianney, Rainer Maria Rilke).
Other mentioned names are mostly felt as foreign names
- Alex, Aliz, Janis, Jannis
- Dan, Jean, Kim, Robin, Vivian
- Andy, Deny, Lenny, Romy, Viky, Marti, Riki, Niki, Robbie
- Martine, Michele.
The page indicates some other names which can be usable as unisex but are not tried by that community yet.
- Anne (to be exact: a boy's name in the West Frisian language, a girl's name in Dutch)
- Gerdi, Gerdie, Gerdy
- Jopie, Jo
Unisex names have been enjoying 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.
In the United States, most of the male names are now largely female, while in Britain, some (notably Charlie, Hilary, Sidney, and Robin) remain largely male. Sometimes different spellings have different sex distributions (Francis is less likely female than Frances), but these are rarely definitive. For example, in the US, as of 2016, both Skylar and Skyler are more common for females, but Skylar is most strongly associated with females (the 42nd most common name for females and the 761 most common for males born in 2016) than Skyler (the 359 most common name for females and the 414 most common for males born in 2016).
Modern unisex names may derive from:
- Nature (Lake, Rain/Raine, Sky/Skye, Willow, Terra, River, Ocean, Juniper, Ash, Darnel, Aspen, Linden, Winter, Cloud, Snow, Cedar, Sequoia, Lightning, Sorrel)
- Colors (Blue, Gray/Grey, Indigo, Emerald, Cyan, Navy, Crimson, Onyx, Azure, Teal, Alba, Umber, Garnet)
- Places (Dakota, India, Indiana, Montana, London, Brooklyn, Ireland, Rio, Egypt, Windsor, Texas, Sydney)
- Metals (Silver, Gold/Goldie, Bronze, Platinum)
- Surnames (Parker, Mackenzie, Madison, Kennedy, Oakley, McKenna, Ashton, Lincoln, Maxwell, Easton, Daley/Daly, Marin, Keegan, Aniston, Shaw, Sinclair)
- Animals (Fox, Fennec, Robin, Phoenix, Wren, Raven, Sparrow, Leo, Roan, Dove, Lark)
- Months (January, March, April, May, June, August, September, October)
- Directions (North, West)
- Food (Apple, Kale, Saffron, Clove)
- Pop culture
- Words (Haven, Justice, Journey, Gentry, Honor, Sunny, Happy, Heaven, Rebel, Wisdom, Lyric)
- Astronomy and mythology (Altair, Leo, Orion, Juno)
Examples of unisex names among celebrities and their children include:
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, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Finnish law forbids giving a female name to a male child and a male name to a female child among other restrictions. Some names do exist that have been given to children of both genders. Such unisex names were more common in the first half of the 20th century. This is an incomplete list:
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). Certain names can have unisex diminutives, such as Alex, which can be short for Aleksandra or Aleksanteri (or variants thereof).
Popular unisex names of French origin include:
There are also pairs of masculine and feminine names that have slightly different spelling but identical pronunciation, such as André / Andrée, Frédéric / Frédérique and 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 the case, since the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany held in 2008 that there is no obligation for a name to be sex-specific, even if the child has only one given name. The custom of adding 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 (such as Alex).
Examples of unisex names include:
- Gustl (the male variant is a shortening of August or Gustav, the female for Augusta)
Previously, unisex names were in generally illegal in Iceland. The Icelandic Naming Committee (Icelandic: Mannanafnanefnd) maintained preapproved lists of male and female names, with names not on the list - or on a different gender's list - typically denied. Earlier court cases had carved out exceptions, such as the names Blær (approved for women after a 2013 court case), Auður (approved for men later in 2013), and Alex (denied for women in 2013 but approved in 2018).
Additionally, the new gender autonomy act makes changes to the traditional patronymics/matronymics used as Icelandic surnames. Before the bill, Icelandic last names (by law) could not be unisex: the suffix -dóttir ("daughter") was attached to a parent's name for women and the suffix -son ("son") was used for men. The new law will allow adults who have officially changed their gender marker to "X", a non-binary gender marker, to also change their patronymic/matronymic suffix to -bur ("child"). Newborns cannot be assigned a non-binary gender marker at this time, and will continue to receive a patronymic/matronymic suffix in keeping with their assigned sex at birth.
Among Irish Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was not unusual to give a child that was assigned male at birth a feminine middle name, particularly "Mary", as a sign of religious devotion. Joseph Mary Plunkett was a signatory of the Irish Declaration of Independence in 1916, and was later executed as one of the leaders of the Easter Rising.
In Italy, unisex names (nomi ambigenere) are very rare. There are basically male names like i.e. Andrea (which is female i.e. in English, Spanish, German or French) or Felice that can also be given to females. Names like Celeste, Amabile, Fiore, Loreto, or Diamante are, as opposite, female names that occasionally can be given to males.
Sometimes "Maria" is used as a middle male name (such as Antonio Maria).
"Rosario" (feminine: "Rosaria") is a male name in Italian whereas in Spanish is female.
There are also unisex nicknames, i.e. Giusi or Giusy that can stand either for Giuseppe or Giuseppina, respectively "Joseph" and "Josephine"; Dani or Dany which stand for Daniele (male) or Daniela (female); Ale that can stand for Alessandro (male) as well as for Alessandra (female); Fede that can stand either for Federico or Federica.
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.
Diminutive forms of names in Russian language can be unisex, such as Sasha/Shura (Alexandr or Alexandra), Zhenya (Yevgeniy or Yevgeniya), Valya (Valentin or Valentina), Valera (Valeriy or Valeriya), Slava (for names ending with -slav or -slava), Vitalya (Vitaly or Vitalia).
- Fran (diminutive of Frančiška)
- Ivica (diminutive of Ivan (John) or Ivana (Joanne))
- Saša (diminutive of Aleksander (Alexander))
- Slava (diminutive of Slavko)
- Vanja (diminutive of Ivan or Ivana)
In Spain, unisex names are extremely rare. María, an originally feminine name is used in Spanish for males as second name, very commonly after José (e.g., José María). José is used for females preceded by María (María José). Also Guadalupe, a feminine name is sometimes used as masculine after José (José Guadalupe). More names given to both genders include Carmen, Inés, Reno, Trinidad, Nazaret, Reyes, and Celes.
Some names are masculine in one culture and feminine in another, so that when these cultures mix in a third location, the same name appears unisex.
- "Rory and Logan: Getting Serious". Crushable. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
- "Rory – Boy Name or Girl Name?". Nancy's Baby Names. 2011-02-09. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
- "50 Zimbabwean Shona Baby Names For Girls And Boys". 23 August 2016.
- http://www.sikhnames.com, sikhnames.com -. "Sikh Names (SikhNames.com) Sikh Names, Meanings & Pronunciation".
- Malý průvodce matrikou pro TS osoby, Translidé.cz
- "Is Hayden a Boy or Girl? Both. 'Post-Gender' Baby Names Are on the Rise". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
- "Unisex Baby Names". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
- Name popularity in the US since 1880 at ourbabynamer.com (based on Social Security card applications)
- National Institute for Genealogical Studies, "England Given Name Considerations" 
- Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, origin and history of the name Jayden".
- Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, origin and history of the name Madison".
- Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, origin and history of the name Logan".
- Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, origin and history of the name Alexis".
- "FINLEX ® – Ajantasainen lainsäädäntö: 9.8.1985/694" (in Finnish). Finlex.fi. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- "Lapsesta Ruu tai Sirius? Sukupuolineutraaleista nimistä tuli buumi | Helsingin Uutiset" (in Finnish). Helsinginuutiset.fi. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
- "Patterns of French First Names – Prénoms Français".
- "Patterns of French First Names – Prénoms Français".
- David K. Israel. "Oh no, you can't name your baby THAT! - CNN.com". Mental Floss.
- Flippo, Hyde "The Germany Way" Published by McGraw-Hill (1996), Pages 96–97
- BVerfG, 1 BvR 576/07 vom 5.12.2008, paragraph 16
- Hafstað, Vala (2019-06-21). "Gender Autonomy Act Applauded". Iceland Monitor.
- Kyzer, Larissa (2019-06-22). "Icelandic names will no longer be gendered". Iceland Review.
- Ragnarsdóttir, Sólveig Klara (2019-06-21). "Stúlkur mega nú heita Ari og drengir Anna". RÚV (in Icelandic).
- "Mál nr. 17/2013 Eiginnafn: Blær (kvk.)" [Case 17/2013 Given name: Blær (female)]. Department of Justice: Úrskurðir og álit (in Icelandic). Retrieved 2017-11-27.
- "Mál nr. 73/2013 Eiginnafn: Auður". Department of Justice: Úrskurðir og álit (in Icelandic). Retrieved 2017-11-27.
- "Mál nr. 76/2013 Eiginnafn: Alex". Department of Justice: Úrskurðir og álit (in Icelandic). Retrieved 2017-11-27.
Beiðni um eiginnafnið Alex (kvk.) er hafnað. [Request for given name Alex (female) is denied.]