This post may be a bit longer and more thoughtful than others I’ve written so far; at the very least, it’s a departure from my usual writing tone. It may also be a bit controversial, but I hope it will provoke discussion without offending anyone.
I’d like to discuss “andro-girly” names. I’ve taken the term from Laura Wattenberg at the Baby Name Wizard blog. It refers to names that are traditionally masculine respelled to be more “girly.” The respellings have a theme: there’s typically a lot of extraneous letters and an abundance of the letter y. A few examples:
I’ve never been a particular fan of this style of names for one main reason: it strikes me as a little sexist. There’s no equivalent trend for boys. There aren’t little boys named Sharlit or Awdry running around. I often hear people say that the andro-girly names are “strong” or “tough”- but why is Trystinne tougher than Maren? And why must a name be traditionally masculine to be strong?
I think the answer is obvious: because we, as a culture, see maleness as strong and femininity as weak. A girl Emerson? Sure! She’ll be the toughest kid at school. But a boy Luna? Outrageous. It’s a “sissy” name for a boy. I recently saw a post on a naming forum where a member was asking about Maesyn for a girl. This response struck me:
“My first thought would be back to the internalized misogyny argument of why you feel the need to give your daughter a traditionally masculine name, then feminize the spelling. But as long as your son is named Zowie, Rowz, Beeyatriss, or Ollyveyah, go for it.”
Internalized misogyny refers to the phenomenon wherein people living in a misogynistic society subconsciously adopt sexist attitudes. It happens to everyone; it’s unconscious and not at all a moral failing. But it does have real consequences- it’s the reason behind many biases that greatly impact women’s lives. There are countless social experiments that demonstrate that even forward-thinking, feminist people (including women) internalize biases against women. Take, for example, the “Draw a Scientist Test.” When asked to draw a scientist, the vast majority of children, both boys and girls, will draw men. These children have picked up on the idea that men are somehow more scientific, more career-oriented, or more intelligent than women. I see the andro-girly trend as both a result of, and contributor to, this culture of misogyny.
I don’t mean to suggest that parents who choose these names are especially misogynistic or somehow value their daughters less than their sons. I’m trying to point out that this trend reflects a cultural sexism, not a personal one on the part of parents who choose these names. Parents choose their children’s names with careful thought great love, and often for no reason other than they like the name. I think the very fact that so many parents choose andro-girly names because they perceive them as strong reflects a desire for their girls to overcome the barriers imposed on them by sexism. Parents want names that signify the qualities they value. Wanting a strong name goes hand in hand with wanting a strong child. This desire for our daughters to have these positive qualities is definitely a good thing, and certainly not sexist.
But I think that instead of using traditionally masculine names to convey toughness, we should redefine what toughness is. Toughness can love monster trucks and play football, but it can also have a frilly name and wear a pink dress. Strength isn’t gendered. Isabella and Bentleigh can both kick butt- it’s not their names, but their character that is the source of their strength.