Boy Names Used as Girl Names in Pop Culture

Madison, Whitney, Ariel and Paris used to be boy names. Thanks to pop culture, all four are now considered girl names.

Madison became a girl name after Splash came out in 1984. The other three were basically unisex until Whitney Houston, The Little Mermaid and Paris Hilton made them unfashionable for boys.

In each case, all it took was one female–real or fictional–to tip the scales.

So maybe we should start keeping track of pop culture females that have male names. This might give us some clues about which male names will be the next to fall. Even better, it will help those expecting baby boys to avoid names that might not be considered boy names much longer.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Blake, actress on Gossip Girl.
  • Elliot, female character on Scrubs.
  • Leighton, actress on Gossip Girl.
  • Quinn, female character on One Tree Hill; female character on Glee.
  • Reed, female character on The O.C.
  • Remy, female character on House (though I don’t know if her name is ever used on the show).
  • Rory, female character on Gilmore Girls.

Blake, Elliot, Reed, Remy and their variants have never ranked among the top 1,000 girl names in the U.S. Leighton ranked for the first time in 2009 (at 669th). Rory has ranked three times since 2003 and Quinn has been on the list since 1995, but both are still more popular for boys.

There are also female TV characters named Addison (Grey’s Anatomy) and Peyton (One Tree Hill), but Addison has long been more popular for girls, and Peyton has been headed in that direction for years.

What others can you come up with?


18 thoughts on “Boy Names Used as Girl Names in Pop Culture

  1. I understand your point. But my concern here is the parent who wants a definitively male name for his/her child. For this person, it would be wise to avoid male names being used for females in movies, music, TV, etc.

    And I don’t think the problem is any set of parents–either girl-parents using boy names, or boy-parents abandoning boy names. The root of the problem is sexism. Parents use boy names for their girls, but never girl names for their boys, and it has to do with the way we perceive gender.

    I’m not a fan of unisex names, but one thing I do like about them is that they seem to indicate that parents care less about the male/female divide than they used to. Maybe this is a sign of progress?

  2. Don’t apologize, you bring up some terrific points.

    Yes, I think fame level and changing attitudes could definitely factor in. But don’t forget fashion. And the fact that names can catch on over time.

    For example, parents now naming their girls Madison have the movie Splash to thank, but I doubt many of them have ever seen (even heard of?) Splash. Madison is simply fashionable now.

    If the people/characters named Elliot, Leighton, Blake, Quinn, etc., stick around long enough, even if they never become super-popular, that might be enough for their names to stick as girl names.

  3. About your statement on how you think parents should avoid using these “new girl risers” for boys: I think the opposite – if you like one of those names for a boy please keep it in contention. Those who use such names for girls are only half the problem; the other half are those who abandon the names for boys.

  4. Rory is one of my favorites – for a boy. At this point I think it is less likely to tip any further to the girls, since Gilmore Girls is now off the air (it re-appeared for girls in 2008, but if you take a look at the SSA’s new “Beyond the top 1000” name list it has been rising in similar proportions for both genders since 2006 or so). As I said in my previous post, I’d still consider it for a boy without any hesitation.

  5. Thanks for that link. Also, apologies if my comments seem contentious. I do agree with you–if someone expecting a boy likes the name Rory, or Quinn, they should use it. Definitely. It’s just that, for a lot of parents, liking a boy name is contingent upon whether or not it will remain a boy name. If there’s a chance that it could become unisex or feminine, many parents will move on.

  6. Sorry for three comments by me, but I ended up with further thoughts after each one. The reason most of the names you mentioned don’t seem to be runaways for the girls is that most of those characters don’t have the mass fame that Madison, Whitney, Ariel, and Paris did. For example, with Elliot it’s been since Scrub’s debut in 2001 and only a minor effect on the name’s gender identity at this point (using the aforementioned new expanded SSA list Elliot [and Elliott] have risen in usage for girls since then, but not enough to make the top 1000 for girls or stunt the name’s usage for boys). In addition, I think the shifting attitude of the rising generation is slowing down the plight of names to the pink side, with names like Avery and Riley remaining roughly steady for boys despite rising for girls and ones like Finley and the aforementioned Rory rising in similar proportions for both genders (there’s several blog posts about the relationship between names and social generations at my blog, many of which bring up the unisex subject).

  7. Nancy – I wasn’t trying to contradict your statement. It was just the way you worded it that you thought parents should not use one of those names even if they wanted to (from your post it seems you’re neutral on that point).

    Also, if you (or anyone else reading this) haven’t seen the expanded SSA list, you can download it from the page at the SSA site linked below:
    http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/babynames/limits.html
    The list comes in a zip file, with lists for each year going back to 1880 down to 5 occurrences for each gender for each name (they don’t go further than that for privacy reasons). Warning: you may find yourself with many hours of interesting stat analyzations that you want to do.

  8. Talk about timely. I just saw an advertisement for a brand new series on ABC called Pretty Little Liars. Looks like it features four young female characters–three with feminine names, and one named Spencer. I could see Spencer catching on for girls if the show does well. Even if it doesn’t do well.

  9. Here are some people I forgot about: actresses Evan Rachel Wood and Drew Barrymore.

    According to IMDb.com, Evan “hates her middle name, Rachel, but kept it in her stage name so casting directors wouldn’t confuse her gender.”

    And Drew’s name had been her father’s middle name. He changed his name from John Sidney Blythe Barrymore to John Drew Barrymore in 1958.

  10. This is nothing new – think of all the “common” girls names that used to be boy’s – Jody, Carol, Leslie, Tracy, Terry, Robin, etc. etc. etc. Each generation has some.

  11. @Gem – You’re right, nothing new.

    But these names haven’t made the switch just yet. They’re just at-risk.

    That’s why I’m posting about them. They could end up going either way, and expectant parents ought to have some forewarning.

  12. I named my son Quinn and it is irritating that now it is a girl name. But a lot of people are stealing boy names for girls. I just hope he doesn’t get made fun of if there is a girl in his school with the same name. But it is considered a unisex name in Ireland. So whatever everybody has the same name as someone else. My name ia Courtney and in Jamaica they thought i was lieing because there it is a boys name.

  13. Were you in Jamaica recently? How interesting that it’s still thought of as a boy name there. Must be the UK influence.

    In the U.S., Courtney started being given to more baby girls than baby boys in the early ’60s. When the name suddenly shot up on popularity for girls in the mid-1970s, well, that pretty much sealed its fate here.

  14. I hadn’t realized that Quinn wasn’t a girl’s name. I guess I’ve gotten used to hearing Harley Quinn (just look up batman Harley Quinn if you don’t know what im talking about) as a female’s name in Batman comics, and Batman cartoons, and Batman; Arkham Asylum, etc., etc… So. Cool. :) good list, btw. I couldn’t think of anything else. :D

    -Lily

  15. I was in Jamaica in 2008. So pretty recently. I can understand if you read a lot of comics with Harley Quinn you would think girl. But it is still her last name and I think if you give a kid a last name for a first it should be for a boy. Because for me last names are more masculine.

  16. I’m a reporter and often notice names that are growing in popularity. Tyler is one that is becoming popular for girls, while I have noticed girls named Austin and Syndey is more popular for girls now when it used to be a boys name.

  17. I guess it’s great to name your daughter any name if you don’t care about the actual meaning. After all, Madison translates to “son of Matthew” but who cares if it sounds “cute” – right? I guess I’m just upset that names are getting stolen by the females. Even Ryan, which means “Prince or Son of a King” is somehow being taken by girls and 40 years ago it was strongly male so the premise of worrying about larceny by ignorant parents not doing research seems a little pointless if stupidity reigns supreme. It’s almost like everyone is trying to “out-unique” everyone else. I’m just waiting in my life to meet someone named Waffle or Glove because parents “wanted a name as unique as their unique baby.” I really hope there is a resurgence of names being chosen because parents knew the meaning.

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