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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 can be used by a person regardless of their sex. 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, unisex names are sometimes avoided for social reasons such as potential 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.
- 1 In popular culture
- 2 African
- 3 Asian
- 4 European
- 5 Cross-cultural
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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. Popular unisex names in the Shona ethnic groupare:
- 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)
Chinese given names are based on Chinese characters. Some characters are specially given to males; some characters are specially given to females; and some characters are specially given to males and females. Below are examples of unisex Chinese given names.
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.
Many unisex names in India are obvious and 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, 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, 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, Tomomi Kahala, Harumi Nemoto, Izumi Sakai, and Shizuka Arakawa 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 tend to distinguish unisex names by middle names (for example Mạnh An is a male name and Thanh An 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)
- Châu ( beautiful jewel)
- Giang (river)
- Hà (river)
- Hạ (summer season)
- Khánh (joy or virtue)
- Linh (divinity, essence, or spirit)
- Nhân (humanitarian)
- Tú (star), etc.
- Xuân (spring season)
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)
- 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, 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, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
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). 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)
Unisex names are in general illegal in Iceland (the given name Blær one of the few exceptions, the first reversal by a judge (and accepted will not be appealed to the Supreme Court) of former denial (as a female name); and e.g. Auður later approved for males, while Alex was denied for females later that the same year). The Icelandic Naming Committee (Icelandic: Mannanafnanefnd) has preapproved lists of male and female names (with e.g. Ofur (e. Super or Uber), Lady, and X (as middle name) declined, and for instance Þyrnirós (e. Sleeping Beauty, while literally meaning a rose with thorns) is approved for females).
Additionally traditional patronymic (or rarely matronymic or both) Icelandic last names (by law) cannot be unisex. The suffix of the last name -dóttir ("daughter") is used for female sex; males use the suffix -son (rare exceptions for foreign females: when using husband's last name as a family name; family names are in general illegal with few exceptions). Given names are also clearly (to Icelanders) masculine or feminine, 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) which was exceptionally allowed to be used for females. The Icelandic Naming Committee had for 14 years rejected the registration of Blær as a girl's name in the national census, and the girl in question was registered with the default given name stelpa ("girl") as 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.
Among the few exceptions to the gender agreement rule are the traditional name Sturla, linguistically feminine, from medieval history always applies to males; and Ilmur ("fragrance" or "odour"), linguistically masculine, must apply to females.
In Italy, unisex names are very rare. There are basically male names like i.e. Andrea (which is female i.e. in English, Spanish, German or French), Elia or Mattia 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).
- 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. Some example are:
- Adel, a masculine name in Arabic and Persian-speaking countries, and a female name in Jewish countries or Hungarian as Adél
- Aki, a male name in Finland and Nigeria, and unisex in Japan
- Ami, a feminine name in Japan and English-speaking countries but unisex in Hebrew-speaking countries and India
- Andrea, a female name in most European countries, but male in Italy
- Eli, a masculine name of Hebrew origin in English and Jewish-speaking countries and a feminine name in Spanish, Norwegian, and Danish-speaking countries
- Jules, masculine in French but unisex in English-speaking countries
- Karen, a female name in America, parts of Europe and Asia, and masculine in Armenia, Kurdistan, and Iran
- Kiko, masculine in Spanish, Portuguese, and South America and feminine in Japan
- Lennox, masculine in Scotland but unisex in English-speaking countries
- Luca, masculine name in Latin languages, feminine name in Hungarian and Croatian. Luka, masculine name in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, unisex name in Hawaii (used as the Hawaiian form of both Luke for boys and Ruth for girls)
- Manu, masculine in Finland and parts of India, and unisex in parts of Europe such as France and Germany
- Mao, a feminine name in Japan and a masculine name in Limburg
- Miho, female in Japan and male in Croatia
- Mika, a male name in Finland and a female name in Japan
- Moe, masculine in English-speaking countries and feminine in Japan
- Naomi, a feminine name in America, Europe and Hebrew-speaking countries, and unisex in Japan
- Nikita, Masculine in Russia and feminine in India.
- Nikola, masculine name in South Slavic countries, and feminine name in West Slavic countries
- Nima, masculine in Persia but unisex in Arabic
- Noah, masculine in English but feminine in Hebrew
- Olie, a unisex name in English-speaking countries, and a feminine name in Indonesia
- Ren, feminine in Taiwan and unisex in Japanese and English-speaking countries
- Yuri, a male name in Russia. Yuri, a female name in Japan, and Yu-ri, a female name in Korea
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- "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.]
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