Lately I’ve been thinking about names, specifically my own. I’m wondering how I’d feel if I had a more neutral name, something less obviously girl, but not a fully masculine name either. However, names that are used for boys and girls, usually started out as, or are derived from, single gender names. So I got to wondering what the conversion rates were, how many former boy names are now seen as boy and girl (or even purely girl) and vice versa. This starts out as a mostly anglo-centric piece as I tend to gravitate towards those names myself, but I will touch on Dutch names at the end.
Starting with some current, more or less gender-neutral names that I like – both English and Dutch – such as Riley, Alex, Puck, Robin, Max, Noah or Chris, I notice something. It seems that all these names come from a masculine base, or were used as purely masculine names before becoming unisex. Of those that could come from a feminine base (Alex-Alexandra, Max-Maxine, Chris-Christina), all these bases are themselves derivatives of masculine names (Alexander, Christian etc..).
Now, there must be unisex names that started out as feminine and are now used for boys, however I’m having trouble locating them. I find many examples of what we now see as girl names that used to be boy names (Kelly, Meredith, Ashley, Hilary), but not so much the other way round. And since this is supposed to be more of a random thought kinda thing and not in depth research, I can’t really be bothered at the moment to investigate further. I just think it’s unfair, but given western society’s male-centric history, not unexpected.
To briefly touch on some Dutch specific things, I don’t think we really have a lot of original Dutch names that are unisex. However, a lot of traditional girl names are derivatives or diminutives of boy names. The masculine Geert gets the diminutive suffix -je and turns into the feminine name Geertje (which is then, literally, small Geert). Same goes for the masculine names Jan and Jaap, which become Jantje and Jaapje. Feminine forms can also be made by adding the suffix -a. Johan becomes Johanna, Hendrik becomes Hendrika, Jacob becomes Jacoba. There are also individual feminine names (Grietje (short form of Margaretha), Aaltje, Maria) but they are few.
I’ve also only been able to think of one traditional Dutch name that is used in a unisex way, but this is very dependent on which part of the Netherlands you’re in. I’m talking about the name Anne. This is mostly known as a girl’s name, but in specific parts of the country (Drenthe, Groningen) this was traditionally a boy’s name as well.
More modern unisex names in use over here all have a foreign origin. Names like Jamie, Sacha, Luca or Beau all come from non-Dutch roots (English, Russian, Italian, French in these cases).
So… I don’t really have a point, with all this, just something that was on my mind. As for neutral names I might want to use, at some point… For now my preference lies with Riley.
Edited to add: Here’s some links [Dutch].