Here are Jermaine’s thoughts on some of the Jackson family names, from his memoir:
I have often wondered how many names my parents went through before agreeing on the final nine. Not that it mattered in the end, because the choice of “Sigmund Esco” for their first son morphed into “Jackie” when Papa Samuel thought it easy to refer to him as “Jackson boy,” then laziness shortened it some more. And “Tariano Adaryl” [sic] became “Tito” because it was easier for us all. I was forever curious as a child about how two people’s taste could go from the exotic-sounding “Jermaine LaJuane” to “Michael Joe.” From somewhere, and especially after Michael’s death, a rumor began that his middle name was Joseph. Maybe this myth prefers the echo with our father’s name because the crossover reads better about a father and son who struggled to see eye to eye. “Joe” was his middle name, as recorded on his birth certificate. His first name was almost “Ronald,” at the suggestion of Mama Martha, but Mother quickly quashed that one.
(Papa Samuel was Jermaine’s paternal grandfather; Mama Martha was his maternal grandmother.)
The Jackson 5, whose “bubblegum soul” sound made them remarkably successful in the early 1970s, consisted of five musically gifted brothers out of Gary, Indiana. Their names were:
Sigmund Esco “Jackie” Jackson, b. 1951
Toriano Adaryll “Tito” Jackson, b. 1953
Records suggest that Tito’s first name was actually “Tariano,” but the press typically spelled it “Toriano.”
Jermaine LaJuane Jackson, b. 1954
Marlon David Jackson, b. 1957
Michael Joe Jackson, b. 1958
The brothers began performing together in the mid-1960s, but Jacksonmania didn’t hit until 1970, with the success of songs like “I Want You Back” (1969), “ABC” (1970), “The Love You Save” (1970), and “I’ll Be There” (1970) — all four of which hit #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart.
At the height of their fame, the boys even had a Saturday morning cartoon show called “The Jackson 5ive” (1971-1972).
So how did the Jacksons’ celebrity affect U.S. baby names in the early 1970s? Let’s go brother by brother…
Jackie Jackson couldn’t stop the name Jackie from trending downward, and he didn’t do much for the unusual name Esco, but the name Sigmund did see a distinct uptick in usage in 1971.
Tito’s first son, Toriano Adaryll “Taj” Jackson, Jr. (b. 1973) — whose nickname was derived from his initials — gave the name Taj a boost. His second son, Taryll (b. 1975), was behind the debut of the name Taryll (also mentioned here).
Jermaine Jackson, the co-lead vocalist of the group (with Michael), brought so much attention to the name Jermaine that it not only entered the top 1,000, but nearly cracked the top 100 as well:
1974: 1,628 baby boys named Jermaine [rank: 151st]
1973: 2,039 baby boys named Jermaine [rank: 127th]
1972: 1,966 baby boys named Jermaine [rank: 135th]
1971: 1,015 baby boys named Jermaine [rank: 233rd]
Jermaine’s middle name, LaJuane, also debuted (in 1971).
Jermaine had a total of nine children, one of whom was named (rather infamously) Jermajesty.
Marlon Jackson was the main reason that the name Marlon saw peak usage in 1972. (But he had some help from Marlon Brando, whose movie The Godfather came out the same year.)
Michael Jackson — who was still a decade away from releasing his massively popular solo album Thriller — couldn’t ultimately reverse the decline of the name Michael. But the combined influence of Michael Jackson and other famous Michaels (like basketball star Michael Jordan, and TV star Michael Landon) did help the name’s usage level out somewhat during the 1970s and ’80s.
Which Jackson 5 name is your favorite? (And, if you were around during Jacksonmania: Which group member was your favorite?)
While you ponder these questions, check out the group’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in December of 1969:
My first thought was that Debraca might be mashup of Tristaca and Debbera, but some digging revealed a far more likely influence: Debraca Denise Foxx, the stepdaughter of comedian Redd Foxx (stage name of John Elroy Sanford).
Debraca appeared with Redd on an episode of his TV show Sanford and Son in January of 1977. Perhaps more importantly, in late 1977 she was presented as a “beauty of the week” in Jet magazine. (Other Jet beauties include Meyosha and Tchanavian.)
Looking for baby names that work for both genders?
Actually, let me rephrase that: Do you want to see which names are being given to sizeable numbers of baby boys and baby girls in the U.S. right now?
I wanted to ask the question in a more specific way because I think the details matter. Names can be gender-neutral in theory, but that doesn’t mean they’re being given to babies of both genders in practice.
Gender identity is a big topic of conversation these days, so it’s not surprising that an ever-growing number of parents are searching for baby names that aren’t strongly associated with one gender or the other.
To know what’s happening with baby names in real life, though, we need to focus on the data. That’s why I didn’t consider anything but data when I created the list below.
These names were culled from the 2021 U.S. baby name data (provided by the U.S. Social Security Administration). Each one saw usage that was at least one-third female and at least one-third male, making all of them relatively gender-neutral among today’s newborns.
Top gender-neutral baby names
Let’s start with a quick rundown of the 20 most popular gender-neutral baby names in the U.S. right now:
Now here’s the same list again, but this time around I’ve added more information: data, rankings, popularity graphs, and definitions.
Last year, the name Parker was given to 6,229 babies. Of these babies, 2,406 (38.63%) were girls and 3,823 (61.37%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Parker placed 115th for girls and 93rd for boys.
Parker is an English surname that originally referred to someone who was employed as the keeper of a hunting park.
Last year, the name River was given to 5,317 babies. Of these babies, 1,862 (35.02%) were girls and 3,455 (64.98%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, River placed 151st for girls and 110th for boys.
River, the English word that refers to a flowing body of water, was derived from the Latin word ripa, meaning “riverbank” or “seashore.”
Last year, the name Charlie was given to 4,190 babies. Of these babies, 2,202 (52.55%) were girls and 1,988 (47.45%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Charlie placed 127th for girls and 189th for boys.
Charlie is a diminutive of the male name Charles, which ultimately comes from the Germanic name Karl, which meant “freeman” (i.e., not a serf or slave).
Interestingly, Charlie is a top-10 name for boys in some regions (like New Zealand and Ireland) and a top-10 name for girls in others (like Quebec).
Last year, the name Blake was given to 3,337 babies. Of these babies, 1,497 (44.86%) were girls and 1,840 (55.14%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Blake placed 199th for girls and 205th for boys.
Blake is an English surname that can be traced back to either of two Old English words that happen to have opposite meanings — one being “black,” the other being “white.”
Last year, the name Hayden was given to 3,283 babies. Of these babies, 1,096 (33.38%) were girls and 2,187 (66.62%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Hayden placed 290th for girls and 176th for boys.
Hayden is an English surname that originally referred to someone from one of several different like-named locations. In many cases, the place names were made up of elements meaning “hay” and “hill.” (Depending upon the location, though, the first element sometimes meant “fence enclosure,” and the second element sometimes meant “valley.”)
Last year, the name Emerson was given to 2,952 babies. Of these babies, 1,729 (58.57%) were girls and 1,223 (41.43%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Emerson placed 167th for girls and 279th for boys.
Emerson is an English surname that originally referred to the son of someone named Emery.
Last year, the name Amari was given to 2,880 babies. Of these babies, 972 (33.75%) were girls and 1,908 (66.25%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Amari placed 333rd for girls and 199th for boys.
Amari is a modern name that doesn’t seem to have a specific origin or meaning.
Last year, the name Finley was given to 2,705 babies. Of these babies, 1,407 (52.01%) were girls and 1,298 (47.99%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Finley placed 211th for girls and 265th for boys.
Finley is based on the Gaelic name Fionnlagh, which is made up of elements meaning “white” and “warrior.”
Last year, the name Remington was given to 2,475 babies. Of these babies, 890 (35.96%) were girls and 1,585 (64.04%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Remington placed 348th for girls and 231st for boys.
Remington is an English surname that originally referred to someone from the town of Rimington, in Lancashire. (It’s also an American gun brand.)
Last year, the name Phoenix was given to 2,454 babies. Of these babies, 1,032 (42.05%) were girls and 1,422 (57.95%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Phoenix placed 308th for girls and 248th for boys.
Phoenix, the word that refers the mythological bird that rises from its own ashes, was derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “crimson” or “purple.”
Last year, the name Oakley was given to 2,292 babies. Of these babies, 1,524 (66.49%) were girls and 768 (33.51%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Oakley placed 193rd for girls and 403rd for boys.
Oakley is an English surname that originally referred to someone from one of several different like-named locations. In all cases, the place names were made up of elements meaning “oak” and “clearing.”
Last year, the name Dakota was given to 2,090 babies. Of these babies, 1,147 (54.88%) were girls and 943 (45.12%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Dakota placed 270th for girls and 344th for boys.
Dakota, the name of a Native American tribe, means “friendly” or “allied” in the Siouan language of the Dakota people.
Last year, the name Tatum was given to 1,959 babies. Of these babies, 1,125 (57.43%) were girls and 834 (42.57%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Tatum placed 279th for girls and 385th for boys.
Tatum is an English surname that originally referred to the homestead of someone named Tata.
Last year, the name Rory was given to 1,919 babies. Of these babies, 789 (41.12%) were girls and 1,130 (58.88%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Rory placed 396th for girls and 295th for boys.
Rory is an Anglicized form of the Irish name Ruaidhri, which is made up of elements meaning “red” and “king.”
Last year, the name Ari was given to 1,598 babies. Of these babies, 649 (40.61%) were girls and 949 (59.39%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Ari placed 478th for girls and 342nd for boys.
Ari has several potential definitions, including: “lion” in Hebrew, “brave” in Armenian, and “eagle” in Icelandic.
Last year, the name Alexis was given to 1,569 babies. Of these babies, 940 (59.91%) were girls and 629 (40.09%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Alexis placed 341st for girls and 472nd for boys.
Alexis comes directly from the ancient Greek (male) name Alexis, which meant “helper” or “defender.”
Last year, the name Armani was given to 1,540 babies. Of these babies, 661 (42.92%) were girls and 879 (57.08%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Armani placed 469th for girls and 369th for boys.
Armani is an Italian surname that originally referred to the child of someone named Armano. (It’s also an Italian fashion brand.)
Last year, the name Remy was given to 1,451 babies. Of these babies, 550 (37.90%) were girls and 901 (62.10%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Remy placed 550th for girls and 357th for boys.
Remy, written Rémy in French, is based on the Latin name Remigius, which meant “oarsman.”
It’s interesting that both Remy and Remington are on this list. Remy is a stand-alone name…but it could also be used as a nickname for Remington.
Last year, the name Reign was given to 1,338 babies. Of these babies, 884 (66.07%) were girls and 454 (33.93%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Reign placed 349th for girls and 608th for boys.
Reign is an English word that can be traced back to the Latin word regnum, meaning “royal power” or “kingdom.”
Last year, the name Milan was given to 1,278 babies. Of these babies, 452 (35.37%) were girls and 826 (64.63%) were boys.
In terms of rankings, Milan placed 655th for girls and 388th for boys.
Milan is a Slavic name based on the element milu, meaning “dear, sweet.” (It’s also a city in northern Italy.)
More gender-neutral baby names
What other gender-neutral names made the cut?
Here are the names that were used a bit less often than the twenty above…
Number of babies*
*Male and female usage added together
All of the above ranked among both the top 1,000 girl names and the top 1,000 boy names last year. Two of the below (Robin and Landry) did as well.
Number of babies*
*Male and female usage added together
Most of the above appeared in at least one top-1,000 list last year. The exceptions were Kacey, Campbell, True, Arden, Shea, and Sol.
None of the names from this point onward reached the top 1,000 for either gender.
Number of babies*
*Male and female usage added together
Here are the gender-neutral baby names that saw overall usage ranging from 100 to 199 babies (in descending order):
Most of the names above don’t have a long history of usage in the U.S., so they aren’t anchored one gender or the other — making them good options for expectant parents who want names that work for both genders.
Note that many fall into a handful of categories, including: nature names, place names, surnames, color names, and virtue names. It may be worthwhile to focus on categories like these as you continue your search, as they’ll tend to naturally contain a good proportion of gender-neutral names.
If you’d like to see popularity graphs for any of the names in this post, check below for the long list of tags. Each tag is a name, so just find the name you’re interested in and click through. The graph will need a moment to load — it’s grabbing a lot of data — but it will allow you to see at a glance the name’s current gender-balance (and make an informed guess about its near-future gender-balance, given the current trajectories).
Right around the time the name Shannon was seeing a steep rise in usage, the name Deshannon debuted in the U.S. baby name data:
Girls named Shannon
Girls named Deshannon
10,965 [rank: 22nd]
12,651 [rank: 21st]
13,548 [rank: 22nd]
10,448 [rank: 31st]
6,402 [rank: 53rd]
3,446 [rank: 101st]
2,992 [rank: 120th]
The influence? Singer Jackie DeShannon, whose biggest hit, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” peaked at #4 on Billboard‘s “Hot 100” chart in the summer of 1969.
But this wasn’t DeShannon’s first hit. She’d already seen success with the Burt Bacharach song “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which had peaked at #7 in the summer of 1965.
So it seems that sudden trendiness of “Shannon” was the x-factor that prepared expectant parents to see more name-potential in “DeShannon” the second time around.
The singer’s birth name was Sharon Lee Myers. She went through various stage names before settling on “Jackie DeShannon.” “Jackie” was chosen because it was gender-neutral, while “DeShannon” was created out of two earlier ideas: “Dee,” which, by itself, made the full name too close to ones already in use (like Sandra Dee and Brenda Lee), and “de Shannon,” which was often written incorrectly.
DeShannon also had a successful career as a songwriter, working with performers like Jimmy Page and Marianne Faithfull. In 1982, she received the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for “Bette Davis Eyes,” which she had co-written with Donna Weiss. (The song was a 1981 hit for singer Kim Carnes.)