Will you regret giving your baby a unisex baby name?

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I have a confession to make. I wished I never talked my friend out of naming her son her chosen moniker. When she was seven months pregnant, she confided her non-binary baby name to me. I had never heard of the name and thought the child might be bullied as he got older, so I persuaded her to please not burden her boy with it. Little did I know that gender neutral names would become so popular. It seems my friend was just ahead of the curve.  The name is much more commonly used than it was then, and my friend now suffers from baby name regret.

So, it’s a thing, baby name regret and it happens more than you think. A quick nosy around parenting forums reveals plenty of baby name mistakes. Take Amy, a British mum who listened to her mother and backed down on her own choice. Now she feels that her Max would have made a better Rufus.

A survey done by channelmum.com, reveals that she is not alone. In fact, more than a quarter of parents admit that they made a mistake.  What’s more, nearly 30% of parents had told their child they regret saddling her with her name.

Gender neutral names

With baby naming trends changing all the time, how can you avoid making a mistake? Well, let’s have a look at one of the biggest growing categories: gender neutral names. The trend for Unisex names has risen in popularity over the last few years. It has come about from parents choosing non-traditional names.  “Parents are inventing names and using words or last names as first names that have no traditional gender,” says Baby Name Wizard Laura Wattenberg

What is a gender-neutral name?

A truly unisex name is a name that can be used for babies of both sexes. The website Nameberry.com defines unisex names as ‘those given to at least 10 percent of the minority sex’.

Over the last few years they have gained in popularity in the US- with other countries quickly catching up. They can be surnames adapted as first names (Cruz), invented names or spellings, nature names, place-names (Brooklyn) or even numbers (Harper Seven). See what I did there?

If you are wondering why parents would choose androgynous names; parents of girls want their daughters to have the same advantage as boys as they grow up. Evidence suggests that women with a masculine-sounding moniker have the edge over women with a more feminine sounding name in the workplace. Whereas boy parents choose non-binary names mainly because they like the sound of them.

The downside of gender-neutral baby names?

Choosing a unisex name can be risky. A name that is androgynous sounding today, can tilt either male or female, depending on how other parents use it. Take Harper. It started out as 100% male in 1881 in the US and has now changed direction to 95% female in 2012.

So beware, your child might not thank you for his name when he’s older. But if you are ok with this, then go for it.

Truly gender neutral- evenly split names

If you want to make sure your chosen name is truly androgynous, you could do no worse than having a look at Motherly.com, where they have analysed 50 unisex names from the latest US Social Security statistics. Their list displays the most popular choices with at least a 40-60 split tilting either way.

Ten most popular truly unisex names in the US:
(split by gender)

  1. Charlie, 50-50 girls-boys
  2. Finley, 58-42 girls-boys
  3. Skyler, 54-46 girls-boys
  4. Justice, 52-48 girls-boys
  5. Royal, 42-58 girls-boys
  6. Lennon, 50-41 girls-boys
  7. Oakley, 52-48 girls-boys
  8. Armani, 46-54 girls-boys
  9. Azariah, 55-45 girls-boys
  10. Landry, 53-47 girls-boys

Other reasons for regretting a baby name

While a unisex name tilting the opposite direction of your child’s gender, might cause you to revert to the child’s middle name, there are plenty of other reasons for baby name regret. The channelmum.com study reveals some more:

The baby name became too popular.

Yes, we all have experience with this. It’s like the ‘I bought a new car & now everywhere I look I see the same Silver Toyota’ syndrome. While kids are usually happy to have a popular name; if there are 5 Emma’s in her class, you might feel her name doesn’t set her apart from the rest of her peers.

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

If you happen to like a popular name, you can always change the spelling, to add a bit of uniqueness to it. Just don’t go overboard. Think about it. Do you really want to condemn your Olliver to a lifetime of correcting other people’s spelling?

Still on the fence? Then check out the US Social Security website. They show an option where you can check your chosen name for popularity ranking from 200-2018. That should give you an indication. If you live on the other side of the pond, have a look here. The UK Office for National Statistics has provided an overview of the change in popularity of baby names over the last 10 years.

Alternatively, you can go to local playgrounds and listen to the names being called out. If you hear of 7 Charlies being called to go home now, you might rapidly go off that name.

What to do if it’s too late and you fear that your- once original name is climbing the charts every year? Take heart in this little nugget.  Research  conducted by Shippensburg University found a correlation between popular first names and lower rates of juvenile criminal behaviour.

Also, Gregory Clark (a well-known economist) studied surnames & first names of first year students at Oxford. Based on his study, it seems you’re more likely to go there if you’re an Anna rather than a Shannon.  

I was pressured into choosing a name 

Like Amy in our example; beware of sharing your baby names with others except your partner.

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

Trust your instincts and keep shtum until after the birth. If your relatives don’t like your choice, they may try to persuade you to change it to something they feel is more acceptable.

What to do if your partner actively dislikes your choice? If you stick to the rule of never naming your baby after an ex, everything else should be up for debate. If you really cannot agree on a name, look up their meaning-that might persuade your partner to go your way. If it doesn’t, why not make a list where both of you can veto 3 names max.

Just make sure you have settled on a name that you both like before the baby is born. Giving birth is a painful experience. Don’t make it harder by arguing over the name at the eleventh hour.

It’s too unusual

While picking a name can be fun, it can also be daunting. A name that appeals to you now, might not be so attractive anymore if it becomes associated with a natural disaster (Katrina springs to mind) or made infamous by a celebrity.

Take my own daughter. Luckily for her, Jordan resorted back to Katie Price, long before I had her. Katie swiftly moved from top of my name list to my ‘maybe if we ever get a pet’ list. Other names that have gone down in popularity: Donald, Hillary and Harvey.

How can you prevent from happening to you?

What to do if you like an unusual name but worry it might be too, well unusual?

It used to be just celebrities who picked some, frankly bizarre names (Exton, Bear Blaze, Destry), but now it seems the whole world is at it. The current trend for using fewer common names stems from society placing a larger emphasis on the individual.

New research, undertaken by study researcher Jean Twenge, of San Diego State University shows that parents are less likely to choose popular names than they used to. For example, in 1945, a quarter of all new- born girls would be named a top 10 name. In 2007, only 10% of the parents opted for same. 

As with many trends social media has a lot to answer for. “Parents are trying to be original, almost branding their kids in an era where names are viewed on the same level as Twitter handles or a website URL,” writer Sabrina Rogers-Anderson said. Sabrina is the author of “The Little Book of Bogan Baby Names,”; a collection of more than 200 unique Australian baby names. The term bogans is used for the Australian lower socio-economic classes who have a tendency to misspell their babies names. Jakxsen anyone?

While the book may make an entertaining read, Sabrina warns prospective parents to think through their choice for an unusual name. Research shows that prospective employers tend to hire people with more common names.

Starbuck test

Still want to go ahead with your special moniker, but you’re not totally convinced. Do the Starbucks test. Go to one of their coffeeshops and order a coffee in the name of your future child. If the name incurs sniggering and eye rolling, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Or, magine you child being called into a boardroom for an important interview. How would the interview panel react if she introduces herself as Armani?

That doesn’t deter you? Make sure you have a good reason for naming your child an unusual name. While you might be a huge Bowie fan, your Ziggy might have preferred it if you didn’t extend your hero worship to his name.

If you’re wondering what happened to my friend? Well, while she has baby name regret, her James will always be thankful to me the name Ellis passed him by. In fact, he is so relieved- he made his mother confide baby name number three to me, just in case.

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