Unisex Names (or Hijacked Names Taken Over by Girls?)


Unisex Names (or Hijacked Names Taken Over by Girls?)Who comes to mind when you hear the name Alex? Taylor Swift or Taylor Lautner? What about the name Carson? Cameron? Morgan or Reese? What about names like Peyton? Dylan, Riley or Jordan? Are they unisex names or names that you think are predominately female? Do you think of Drew Barrymore or Drew Brees? Blake Shelton or Blake Lively? Consider this: Blake Lively named her daughter, James.

Why are more names gender bending in one direction? Why aren’t we naming our boys Jane or Emily?

Subconsciously, are we saying it’s okay for girls to have masculinity, but we’re telling our fellas to avoid being feminine? Society boasts gender equality but underneath it all, what are we suggesting? On some levels are we devaluing our girls and valuing them more if we give them boy names? What happens to our opinion of the boys who now have names that are associated as girl names? Some online websites are categorizing these names as unisex, but at one time they were predominately masculine names. Remember, handsome Ashley from Gone with the Wind?

My son’s name is Addison. That name has been in our family since 1864. It means “son of Adam” and our genealogy line has always associated Addison with men. In 2007, my son was five-years-old and had already learned how to spell his name as he sang along with me our made-up song. He chanted as we cheered “A-D-D-I-S-O-N, I have a boy named Addison.” But in the same year, the show Private Practice debuted on television. The lead character was a female named Dr. Addison Montgomery. I knew then that my son’s name would forever fall into ‘the girls taking over guys names’ category.

The Addisons - Eleanor's father and Eleanor's son. (2010)
The Addisons – Eleanor’s father and Eleanor’s son. (2010)

For the longest time I had a grudge about it. I was irritated every single time I went to the doctor with him and without looking at the kid in the stroller, they said what’s wrong with her today? They based his gender on his name which is now mostly a girl’s name. Now, I say things like, I’m calling about my SON Addison, to alert them to his gender. It was frustrating to the point that I asked my son if he wanted to shorten his name to Add or go by one of his middle names. It broke my heart to even discuss it, but I didn’t want him burdened or miserable with a decision his dad and I made the day he was born. He chose to use it anyway because he loves my dad, but it comes with unfortunate embarrassment and occasional teasing.

We’re experiencing this more now because we’re calling colleges and universities on his behalf. We’re forced to repeat his pronouns or interject “our son” during the conversation. Years of experience has helped me adapt to instances of mistaken gender identity. I noticed that it wasn’t only happening to his name, but a lot of other names conventionally used for boys. One of his good friends goes by Ash, but his name is Ashley. He has friends named Mason and Sam and Finn and yet I bet if you did a quick google search, you’d find girls by the same name.

Taylor Swift with my son Addison (2015)
Taylor Swift (not Taylor Lautner) with my son Addison (2015).

Guys with names that sound soft face a double standard. What’s considered “unisex” like a girl named Riley or Logan or Avery feels different than boys with the same name. A girl with the name like Jaden sounds gutsy, but guys with the same are often considered weaker. Alex is unisex. Addison’s been hijacked.

Addison Prom 2019
Addison Prom 2019.

With more and more names being hijacked or the use of unisex names becoming predominant, we need to foster the environment of PAYING ATTENTION. It’s become increasingly important not to assume a name is either male or female and we must encourage our children to be respectful of the names they hear. What’s your best advice if you have a kid with an interchangeable name?

Also, if you want to read more naming your baby, check out Hannah’s post here.


  1. I have a cousin named Mikal. I imagine that verbal introductions are weird, but people probably assume she/her from the spelling. Those names that arent strictly gendered just illustrate how ridiculous we are about gender. Do we really need to use masculine and feminine signifiers most of the time? It’s information we’re used to getting but dont actually need, like plastic bags at the grocery store or peppermints in our to-go orders.

    This is why I bemoan all the time that theres not a fully-functional set of gender-neutral words I English. They/them works great and I’m getting good at just defaulting to using it until someone signals that they prefer something different, but there’s no neutral form of “sir/ma’am”.

    “Unisex” is definitely a slanted concept for us – when we say it we almost invariably mean “these are boy clothes that it’s okay for girls to wear too.” Women are sold “boyfriend cut” shirts and pants and “boyshort” underwear and “boybrow” makeup, but go the opposite direction and it’s all “crossdresser” and “pervert”.

    • Oh you make great points here! So much deeper into the topic than just gender neutral names. Interesting perspective on “boyshorts” or “boyfriend cut” shirts. That may be another post all together! Thank you for reading and commenting. You’ve given us something else to consider!

      – Eleanor

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