Riley, Hilary, Leslie, Mackenzie, Lindsay, Taylor, Logan, Hunter

Once these names were all once considered manly names exuding virility. After all, they are traditional surnames, which in the British tradition (apart from those names based on mediaeval trades) means that once upon a time a man had that as his forename and his sons and subsequent progeny took it to mark them apart. Yet every one of these traditionally masculine names might as well suddenly have become Sue, since all it took for most parents to stop giving these names to their sons was for them to become popular names for girls.

When was the last time you encountered someone planning to give one of the above names to their son?

My own name, although not a traditional surname like the above, nonetheless provides a case study of a name that has become feminised in recent history. Traditionally not a wildly popular name for either boys or girls, Vivian/Vivien/Vivienne was nonetheless a staple background name that everybody knew, and people could expect to meet several Vivs of both the male and female persuasion in a lifetime. Once Vivien Leigh achieved worldwide fame as Scarlett O’Hara there was a generation or two where the name was much more popular for girls (it’s now largely back to its original “traditional name” level). I’m named after one of my father’s uncles, as it happens.

Meanwhile after Gone With The Wind the number of boys receiving the name plummeted, and most boys who ended up with the name (because of family tradition perhaps) preferred to go by their middle name instead (Australia’s Vivian “Clive” James being a case in point, and the West Indies cricketer Viv Richards being a notable exception.) In England the once largely archaic (and essentially aristocratic) spelling of ‘Vyvyan’ became the way to indicate that one’s child was a boy Vyv rather than a girl Viv, and still the name dropped out of favour except among the aspirational middle classes (which adds another layer to The Young Ones character Vyvyan that many non-British audiences may have missed).

Categories: gender & feminism, history, language

42 replies

  1. My two younger and long-awaited grandchildren are Darcy and Kirby. Wanna guess which is what?

  2. Very good point. But, I checked the NSW Registery and according to that in 2008 Riley was 6th most popular name for boys (492 sprogs) but doesn’t feature in the top 50 for girl childs. I myself had a much beloved red cattledog called Riley as a child (names after Rylestone, the town we got him in) so would never bestow it on a kid of either gender. Same for Hunter, bottom half of top 100 for boys, does not feature in girls list.
    But the others, sure. I think of Logan, Hunter, Taylor, Riley as sort of “American” type names but the others in your list strike me as old fashioned British names, maybe there is something about the one culture becoming dominant over the other? Logan and Taylor are Bold and the Beautiful names which would have coded them as pinkish in the public mind (in family folklore my name comes from a mid-70s caharacter from Days of Our Lives.)

    • @Amanda, I must confess that I picked up Riley and Hunter as examples from some foreign article (can’t find it now), so perhaps this is a feminising change in perception that hasn’t filtered through to us here in Oz yet?
      Edit: your point about some names being more American while others are more British – Logan and Riley are Irish clan names, while Taylor and Hunter are definitely British, but they are “trade” names rather than clan or noble names. The British surnames that became feminised early on (Leslie, Hilary) tended to be names associated with family history of the sort that had some snob appeal, which trade names and Irish names in Britain generally didn’t/don’t. Thus there is definitely a “New World” feel to such surnames that have become feminised forenames.
      P.S. Watch Carey become feminised in record time given the success of Ms Mulligan.

  3. My nephew (18 months) is named Logan. I’d never really thought of it as a gender neutral/feminised name (it is Wolverine’s name afterall).
    My daughter’s name was chosen well before we found out we were having a girl – we chose it because it was gender neutral. Historically it was a girl’s name but we first came across it as a male character in a movie. I quite liked Vivian as well but the Marital Unit didn’t like it quite as much.
    My little brother’s name is a quite popular girl’s name – to the point I had several female friends with the same name and one of his previous girlfriend’s sisters also had the same name (slightly awkward during visits apparently). My mother was always slightly weird about names though – she suggested Garnet/t when we were discussing gender neutral names.

    • @geek anachronism,
      I hadn’t thought about it, but the popularity of Wolverine could well see a reversal of the feminising of Logan. Of course, the X-men character’s name dates back to well before The Bold and The Beautiful shifted perceptions aboutthe name in the first place.
      I must admit that I still find it odd when I meet the occasional Viv who spells her full name as Vivian. Traditionally that was always the gender difference – boys spelt it with an A, girls spelt it with an E.

  4. Lots of boy Rileys, Taylors, Tylers and Hunters out here in the sticks, and I don’t know any female Logans! No Hilarys or Leslies of either sex, though. The youngest male Shannon and Ashley I’ve ever met were the same age as me (35). I think the general pattern is there, but maybe a bit slower than in the US and in Australian cities. I find it really fascinating and sad that many baby girls can “aspire” to be unisex but most baby boys can’t. (Myself, I have a tremendously girly name, which is very popular for women about 5 years younger than me – ahead of the curve, woo!)

    • @lilacsigil

      The youngest male Shannon and Ashley I’ve ever met were the same age as me (35).

      Yes, I remember that I spent several weeks blissfully unaware that this Shannon Noll that people were suddenly talking about a few years ago was a bloke.
      I also find the genderising of place-names that have become forenames interesting. There’s no good reason why a Dakota or a Brittany or a Montana should be just a female name, but that’s what has happened. Dallas still seems somewhat gender-neutral, while Houston and Brooklyn are blokey. Kent, perhaps surprisingly for a region known mainly for its flowerbeds, seems to remain stubbornly male. Sidney/Sydney seems to becoming coded as female, also Paris since You Know Who.

  5. I’ve never known of Hilary or Mackenzie as a boys’ name. I’ve never known any Logans, and all the Logans in fiction / on tv that I know of are boys: Veronica Mars, the Gilmore Girls… Logan Hunter from the Babysitters’ Club books (hah). Might be a generational thing. I just turned 28.
    If I came across any of these names in real life, I wouldn’t know what gender the person was. Maybe that’s why none of them are really my taste. If society is going to be so hung up on identifying us all as one gender or another, I prefer names that reflect that. If I get to have kids, they’ll be called names like James, or Ella – easily id’d. But then I’m probably also influenced by growing up with a lot of children of hippies, who like to call their kids Jarrah, Summa, Sol, Apple Blossom, and Christal/Chrystal/Krystle.

  6. Logan also boyfriend in Veronica Mars. I’d never thought of it as a gender-neutral name.

  7. Isn’t it kind of glorious though? OK, here’s my best example:
    I used to LOVE the name Melissa. In grade 1, I was going to call every doll, pet and child Melissa. Then in grade 2, a Melissa arrived and ruined the name for me ever after. Mind you, I haven’t met another Melissa since. But that effect works with so many names, whether it was the Awful Anna you knew in school, or George the dog, those names now have their place and its unlikely to be with your own children.
    Now I teach primary school, and with a highly multicultural community I regularly run into names that could be girls or boys (Baxter, Taylor, Alex, or Jordan where I had one of each, same spelling) as well as names from cultures I’m still learning about. This means I can only guess at whether Aditi is a girl, or Vu is a boy (I’m getting better at recognising the kinds of names that each culture gives different genders).
    The point is, I have to meet them.
    After all, a child by any other name smells just as (lets hope) sweet.
    I imagine this is the point of parents who give their children names that are or are becoming gender neutral. Anyone?
    (And, to follow the actual discussion above, my parents chose simple Angelo names particularly so they couldn’t be much messed with in the playground. It didn’t work so well for my name, but they’re simple enough. I already have a few names in mind for any future children – very Angelo-Saxon types. But mostly I’m driven by the sound of the whole name, and tying in a few family names. I daren’t whisper them for fear the next pregnant friend whisks them away!)
    Here’s a challenge (pardon the possible hijacking?!) Names I predict will or have become gender neutral: Carol (Caz), Eamon, Madison, Finlay, Lewis (Do people still recognise the feminine version of masculine names? Carl/Carly, Daniel/Danielle, Maxwell/Maxine?)

  8. I’ve always been fascinated by my name, mostly because when i was growing up, i didn’t know anyone else with it. There were tons of Jennifers, Jessicas and Marys, but no other Lindsays. I once met a boy named Lindsey.
    The way i understand it, Lindsay with an A is the female spelling, and Lindsey with the E is the male spelling. Which is interesting, given that they both hearken back to the Scottish Clan Lindsay; i’ve known a few people with the last name Lindsay – always with the A instead of the E.
    I do find it interesting that while traditionally male names are becoming more popular for female children, the opposite doesn’t generally appear to be true. At least, not to the best of my knowledge.

  9. I have a 6-year-old nephew called Riley.

  10. genderising of place-names that have become forenames interesting. There’s no good reason why a Dakota or a Brittany or a Montana should be just a female name
    Yes, there is (well, a reason, not necessarily a good reason)! Names ending in -a fit a traditional pattern of female European naming (going back to Latin roots, I presume). That’s why so many female aliens in SF have names ending in -a – take a run through the Star Trek guest star list one day and you’ll see what I mean. While there are boy names ending in -y, a lot of them are (or are becoming) feminised (Riley, Remy, Kelly, though not Anthony) – hence Brittany and Sydney become female.

    • @lilacsigil: I wouldn’t call that a good reason 🙂
      [/splitting hairs]
      Just thought of another one: Stacy/Stacey. I went to school with a brace of girls named Stacey, but it’s another traditionally male name.

  11. @lilacsigil: I wouldn’t call that a good reason 🙂
    Ha! I had just edited my comment to say that!

  12. I had a lecturer at Uni called Tracy – he was from Canada where it is apparently a fairly common boys name.

  13. Yup, Darcy has the Y chromosome – but daughter had forgotten all about P&P, and just ‘liked the name’.

  14. From troll-wrangling[Moderator note: this commentor
    is morphing their identity here.]
    ”I do find it interesting that while traditionally male names are becoming more popular for female children, the opposite doesn’t generally appear to be true. At least, not to the best of my knowledge.”
    To put it simply, it’s because in our culture masculinity is an asset and femininity is a liability. For a girl with a male identifier, worst-case scenario is general acceptance and at best it’s respected. For a male exhibiting any kind of feminine identifier, the best case is that same acceptance while the worst is ridicule or the perception of undesirable traits like weakness or silliness. I ran into this issue on another forum where members said they’d let their daughter dress as Darth Vader or Superman for Halloween, but not their son a princess or ladybug, etc. Sexism, it’s sneaky

  15. Are they feminising or androgenising?
    While I agree that those name are all increasingly popular for girls it is also likely that boys are also given these names still – now you’ve made me want to go look at stats on my day off!
    Over here in WA an interesting one is ‘Kim” over in the Eastern states this is much more commonly a girls name. Here it seems more common among men. My pet theory is that ‘The Kimberley’ (a region of Western Australia) is popualr over here because EVERYONE know that Kimberley is rugged and with great natural resources. Odd now that I think of it that both of my son’s names are used as either masculine or feminine names. I reckon I’ll let my boys define themselves.

    • I’m pretty sure that Kim was originally a male name, as in Rudyard Kipling’s novel (edit: christened Kimball O’Hara). The earliest female Kim I know of would be actress Kim Novak (and those of us of a certain age can still sing along with Kim Wilde). The latest Kims I’ve met have been male.

  16. *Jumps up and down, waving arms like a windmill*
    I know more middle-aged male Kims than lady Kims of any age. Usually it’s short for Kimberley in both sexes, but I don’t know if there’s any gendered spellings. Despite the shortage of anecdotal, contemporary Kims in the world, I think it’s well and truly feminised by now.
    In the recent comedy Getting On, the head nurse’s name is Hilary, though he does get teased for it.
    (P.S. I also like the internationalism of being a Kim. Am I a 90 year old Chinese farmer? Perhaps I’m a small Indian boy? Could I be an Icelandic parliamentarian? Who knows!)
    (P.P.S. My imaginary kids are called Murgatroyd, Elsbeth and Hildegaard. I’m a traditionalist.)

  17. I’ve never met a male Kim under 50 or a female Kim over 50! I went to university with a girl named Kim Lee – who was studying Asian languages and always surprised the teachers by being a 6-foot-tall blonde, curly-haired caucasian!

  18. Whereas growing up over the Tasman, as a child the only Kims I met were female. I was quite surprised by the Australian mens cricket captain called Kim. My perception is that it’s very much a female-marked name in New Zealand.

  19. My middle name is the same as my father’s – except for the spelling. I’m a Frances, he’s a Francis, and both of us are named for the same paternal grandfather, who went by the moniker of Frank. My brother has the middle name of Adam after our mother’s mother, who was Ada Mary. I can certainly remember going to primary school and having two Kellys in the same class – well, there was Kelly, who was a boy, and there was Kellie, who was a girl. Then there were Lee and Leigh. In the Australian idiom, we also have the typical abbreviations which can be gender-neutral – is Vic a Victor or a Victoria, is Chris a Christopher or a Christine? As for Jamie, well, you have to look at the kid to work it out. Then there’s the “een” series of female names, and their masculine equivalent (Noeleen and Noel, Maureen and Maurice, Charlene and Charles, Doreen and Richard… whoops, sorry, got carried away there). It always gets interesting when you try to nail down whether a particular name is a “boy’s name” or a “girl’s name”.
    Oh, and the WA Kims are more likely to be echoing the Beasley family (Kim Beasley Snr and Kim Beasley Jnr, both of whom were successful federal members of parliament for the Labor party) or the Hugheses (Kim Hughes, former cricket captain).

  20. I have a (male) friend named Shannon. He’s about late teens ish. Of course, its actually some awful complicated spelling which is Welsh in origin, and no one can ever ever remember, so he just usually writes it as the mainstream name. I’ve never met a female Shannon, and, that name for me is tied to him quite a lot. It seems more like a ‘male’ name than a ‘female’ one, although I hate the gender identifiers on names like that.
    I’ve only ever met one Kim (over 40) and he ruined the name for me forever, regardless of gender.
    A friend’s son (5) is named Hunter, another (2) is named Riley, and a lecturer at TAFE’s daughter (somewhere between 10 and 20) is named Charlie. That one blew the mind of half the class.
    Interestingly, my brother and I both were given so-called gender neutral names. He is Jamie (not short for James), and I had a female friend in primary school with the same name (but, somehow I remember different spelling. Cannot work out how that would have been).
    My name? Shawn. Supposedly the ‘female’ spelling of the name, and certainly it ties in with our Scottish/Irish background but… I had 3 boys in my class with the name Sean, and 2 others I can rememmber with the same spelling as me but in different classes. My partner’s uncle has the same spelling as me, and I’ve met several other males with the same spelling. Never met another girl. Maybe it’s an androgenous name in Ireland, but, not here apparently. I even had a boyfriend refuse to call me that (when I was still using the name) and only callined me Shawnie (which a lot of my old high school friends do too) because if he mentioned me he wanted everyone to know I wasn’t male. Of course, since then he’s discovered that he’s actually attracted to men as well so he was probably just overcompensating.
    I’ve hated it all my life – hence changing it as soon as I could. I don’t think I hate it for the gender as much as for the fact that it sounds ugly. I think I’d be happy to be George, or a Peter. But maybe that’s because I haven’t had 20years of dealing with them
    wow that got long

  21. Shane can also be used by either gender, although it is fairly rare in girls I think. Charlie is a lot more common for girls, although there are still a fair few boys around (my son included).

  22. Something else I’m finding fascinating about this debate is how localised it is! Mindy thinks Charlie is more common for girls, but I know half-a-dozen boys under 10 with that name, plus some grandfathers, but not one girl. Men named Tracy don’t seem to be too uncommon in the US/Canada but firmly female in Australia. But it’s true that a single person (real or fictional) can change things completely – it’s been a long time since Shirley was masculine (or indeed in fashion at all – the youngest Shirley I know is my workmate, in her early 40s, slightly older than the youngest Gay.)

  23. Can I just note that when I saw this post title, I thought it was going to be about the whitest names around? These names are all marked really white, and pretty rich, for me.

    • @Quixotess

      These names are all marked really white, and pretty rich, for me.

      Interesting – for me at least half are what would be considered “bogan” kid’s names, so not so much rich.

  24. I thought it was going to be about the whitest names around?
    Firmly middle-class to working-class and white or Aboriginal for me, apart from Hilary! If my brother had been a girl (born 1981), my mother was determined to call him Hilary Roslyn, over the protests of the rest of the family. She was so convinced that he was a girl that she didn’t have a boy’s name ready!

  25. My aunt is a Leslie, named after my grandfather of the same name. My grandfather generally went by Les. Around the time he was born, Les Darcy would have been heavyweight champion of Australia. Quite a change, from a name associated with the epitome of macho behaviour, to generally a girls name, within his lifetime.

  26. Tiffany and Kimberley are two other surnames that have become firmly “girlish” first names. They only became used as girls’ names in the early-mid 20th century, after they rise in popularity of the Tiffany jewel/objet d’art company, and I can’t recall how Kimberley became popular exactly, but I have a feeling it was something to do with a financial institution!

    • @Harpraxis,
      Kimberley became a popular first name for boys after the British won a battle in the Boer War at a town called Kimberley, apparently. Not sure when/why it shifted to mostly being a girl’s name.

  27. “Yup, Darcy has the Y chromosome – but daughter had forgotten all about P&P, and just ‘liked the name’.”
    Darcy in P&P is his last name – his first name is Fitzwilliam (which is a bit of a mouthful I must say – last time I was in the local Spotlight, I heard a mum calling her kid who’d gone missing among the fabrics… “Fitzwilliam! Fitzwilliam!”)

  28. (de-lurking – longtime fan, first comment)
    Re Mackenzie – “Mac” in general means “son of”, so all “Mac/Mc” names meant “male” originally.
    The 20-something woman who cuts my hair has a son aged under 5 named Tyler.
    “Joyce” was once at least acceptable for boys – cf novelist Joyce Carey. “Jocelyn” also, IIRC, though I think that’s mediaeval and can’t think of any examples offhand.
    A possible narrowing in the other direction. My name – “Gareth” – is, or was, at least acceptable as a girl’s name in Ireland up until a couple of generations ago. Cf Emma Thompson’s (true-life) character, Gareth Peirce, in “In The Name Of The Father”. My mother also recalls a female high-school friend of that name, from an Irish family, in 50s/60s New Zealand. I haven’t heard of any female Gareths since, and the few Irish folk I’ve asked have been surprised.
    Nobody I talk to believes that, of course – it’s now considered a Welsh boy’s name. There are Arthurian stories about Sir Gareth (the Knight Of The Kitchen!) but I don’t know how far back the girl version goes. I don’t know if it was ever co-ed in either country.
    In Australia, of course, we have Gareth Evans imprinted all over it for better or worse. Hmm.

  29. I’m a Melissa {hangs head in shame} but by family tradition I ought to have been a Bryce which is infinitely cooler. I may never forgive my mother. I’d have made a fabulous Bryce.

  30. I’d have made a fabulous Bryce.

    I can tell.
    A best friend of mine had the middle name Horace. She was mortified and I was sympathetic.
    My father-in-law disliked his traditional middle name – Lyle – so much he ended the tradition.

  31. My father is Murray and he was named after his aunt (a Scottish lady I believe – and she was definitely Murray, not Marie).

  32. Yet every one of these traditionally masculine names might as well suddenly have become Sue, since all it took for most parents to stop giving these names to their sons was for them to become popular names for girls.
    I wonder sometimes whether this urge to define manliness away from anything female is why, or part of why, those who champion it feel besieged by “the female.”

  33. All of those names, bar Hilary, Leslie and Lindsay are very popular for boys where I live (rural Victoria, Australia). Names facinate me, always have… I am still trying to decide if I am going to legally change my name to my chosen name or not…

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