Names like Brave and Warrior have surfaced in the U.S. baby name data over the last couple of decades, but Valiant first appeared way back in the 1940s:
1949: 7 baby boys named Valiant
1948: 5 baby boys named Valiant
1947: 6 baby boys named Valiant [debut]
My best guess is comic strip character Prince Valiant, who’d been familiar to newspaper readers for a decade by 1947.
Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur by Nova Scotian artist Harold “Hal” Foster is an action-adventure comic strip set in sixth-century England.
It is difficult to imagine the impact Foster’s “Prince Valiant” had on 1930s and 1940s popular culture. When “Prince Valiant” began, Superman’s debut in “Action Comics No. 1” was still over a year away. […] “Swipes” of Foster’s art can be found in the origin of Batman and in comics drawn by Jack Kirby, the co-creator of many of today’s movie heroes, including Captain America, the Avengers, the X-Men and Thor.
Other characters from the strip also influenced U.S. baby names.
The earliest example I’ve found is that of the maid Ilene, Prince Valiant’s first love. During 1938, Val fought rival suitor Prince Arn of Ord for her. The same year, the baby name Ilene saw a spike in usage:
1940: 227 baby girls named Ilene [rank: 451st]
1939: 283 baby girls named Ilene [rank: 397th]
1938: 343 baby girls named Ilene [rank: 347th]
1937: 248 baby girls named Ilene [rank: 412th]
1936: 263 baby girls named Ilene [rank: 392nd]
Turns out neither suitor won — Ilene died in a shipwreck — but Arn and Val did end up becoming good friends.
Several years later, Valiant met Aleta, the grey-eyed queen of the Misty Isles. She became a central part of the storyline in the mid-1940s, and the characters finally got married in October of 1946.
As a result, the baby name Aleta saw a steep rise in usage from 1945 to 1947:
Val and Aleta went on to welcome five children, 3 boys and 2 girls:
Arn (who was named after Prince Arn of Ord) in 1947
Karen (twin) in 1951
Valeta (twin) in 1951
Galan in 1962
Nathan in 1982
The name Arn debuted in the data in 1949, and the name Valeta saw peak usage in 1952.
Interestingly, the three middle children were all named via contest:
After Val and Aleta’s twin girls were born, King Features held a contest to name them, but Foster reserved the right to select the winning entry. A young girl, Cindy Lou Hermann, sent in the winning names “Karen” and “Valeta” and visited Hal in Connecticut. For Val and Aleta’s fourth child, a boy who would become the king of the Misty Isles, John Hall won the competition with “Galen” after the Greek physician, Claudius Galen.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Valiant? (Would you use it?)
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).
If you were paying attention to sports that summer, no doubt you’ll recall the source: Ecaterina Szabo, the Romanian gymnast who battled it out with Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. (Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country that did not boycott the ’84 Games.)
Ecaterina Szabo, 17 years old at the time, was the most successful competitor overall at the 1984 Summer Games, winning four golds and one silver. (In second place was American track and field athlete Carl Lewis.) Mary Lou Retton, who was 16 years old, won one gold, two silvers, and two bronzes.
But what most people remember is Retton coming from behind to beat Szabo in “the big one” — the women’s individual all-around competition — by a mere five-hundredths of a point. (The usage of the baby name Marylou increased in both 1984 and 1985 as a result.)
Ecaterina Szabo, an ethnic Hungarian, was born with the first name Katalin. She told Romanian news site Transylvania Now that her name was changed (from the Hungarian form of Katherine to the Romanian form of Katherine) in order to mask her background:
It happened in 1980 when she participated at the Youth European Championship in Lyon. “This was the place where I arrived as Katalin, and left as Ecaterina,” she remembers. “The name change happened without my knowledge. Actually I didn’t have the chance to realize it, since I never even saw my passport.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Ecaterina?
For Wendy Osefo, being named after a popular fast food restaurant chain is a constant reminder of her family’s hard work and success.
“My parents came to this country with nothing. My dad worked at a fast food restaurant and one day he found out that he was being promoted to manager,” Wendy recalled on The Real Housewives of Potomac‘s November 8 episode. “He was so happy that to thank this country for giving him the opportunity to be a manager, he named his second daughter after that restaurant: Wendy.”
She added, “I am literally the embodiment of the American dream.”
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask returns Saturday to his home state of Texas, where he will play on the field he was named after.
His parents both went to Texas A&M, so he grew up an Aggies fan.
His father, Micheal Trask, and mother, Melissa Charba, both attended the school in the late 1980’s. When they welcomed their second son on March 6, 1998, his first name came from A&M’s football stadium.
“My mom and dad were Aggies, so they named me after Kyle Field,” Trask revealed Monday. “My whole family is full of Aggies.”
The story of his own life began on the Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines, where he was born Louis Diamond Upchurch in 1962. His interesting name has an interesting back story: His father, Gerald, named him after U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland “Lou” Diamond (known as “Mr. Leatherneck,” he is considered one of the finest Marines of all time); after his dad died, Phillips took his stepfather, George’s last name.
The inevitable question that the Tilton School’s 6-foot-5-inch, 190-pound shooting guard has heard countless times before: Are you named after that Terence Mann?
“Most people think it’s from the movie ‘Field of Dreams,'” which featured a character portrayed by actor James Earl Jones, explained the junior, who, when not attending the boarding school in New Hampshire, lives in Lowell with his mother, Daynia La-Force, and 15-year-old brother, Martin. “But my grandma’s name is Terancia, and they named me after her.”
It’s a name that makes you wonder. Run into Gurf Morlix in album credits for Peter Case or in a concert review of Warren Zevon, and you imagine one of two things. Either he’s a refugee from some republic trying to secede from the Soviet Union, or else he’s hopelessly addicted to science fiction novels.
In truth, he’s an emigrant from one of Buffalo’s ostensibly normal suburbs — Hamburg — and, if anything, he looks a bit English as he talks over a plate of pasta fazool in his favorite hometown restaurant.
“A friend of mine changed it for me,” he responds in answer to the name question. “It was kind of a stupid thing. I dreamed this name when I was 13 years old and I told my friend about it and he said, ‘Well, I’ll never call you anything else.’ And then everybody did.”
“What are the names of those mountains?” I ask Michael, bear biologist and de facto trailblazer, as I gesture at a sweeping wall of wild windswept cliffs.
“I don’t think they have names,” Michael answers, smiling when he sees my astonishment. “A lot of mountains in Katmai are unnamed.”
I was thunderstruck by the concept. These peaks are as magnificent as any in the lower 48, each with its own striking contours, but they had no known name attached to them. Throughout the park are mountains that may never have one. My first reaction was one of awe: here is a place so wild that massive features are untouched by the human predilection for labels. My second reaction carried a hint of melancholy: these remarkable forms felt strangely underappreciated, no title to lend them texture and personality.
As I sit on a ridgeline drenched with tiny pink alpine azaleas and a host of other curious forms of tundra life, I consider that it is perhaps better for some mountains to remain ever-nameless, at least officially. Names carry a tremendous amount of power. Cultures across the world affix the act of naming with spiritual weight. Consider Mount Solstice: one could just as easily name this mass Butterfly Hill, Stormclaw, or Timothy, and each would lend different shadings to how we interpret the location, each would shape how we consider it. Can a name really capture the essence of such a place? Do we pay more attention when we cannot neatly affix a place by a pin and conveniently categorize it?