Are These Names Sexist?

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:

Jaedyn
Trystinne
Konner
Mykenzi
Blayke

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.

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5 thoughts on “Are These Names Sexist?

  1. Your article describes the exact way I’ve always felt about masculine names for girls- or andro-girl names, which is a much nicer term. I’ve always thought how contradictory it was when I read about parents wanting to give their daughters unisex or masculine-sounding names because it sounds strong but names like Isabella or Rosalie are considered too frilly and girly to be taken seriously. Girls don’t have to be like boys to be strong or smart, and their names shouldn’t have to be masculine-sounding to make them sound strong or to be taken seriously. I don’t mind masculine names for girls, it just annoys me how people think it supposedly makes them strong. It’s as you said, strength isn’t gendered and there are many kinds of strength in life, not just physical strength.

    I also think it’s rather interesting how there’s a concern for a name once it’s considered having gone to the side of the girls. Just because names like Ryan, James, Spencer, Riley, Lincoln, Sasha and Shannon (and many more) have been used for girls, it doesn’t necessarily make the names off limits for boys. Just because a name has been tagged feminine, there’s a fear that giving a boy a girl’s name will somehow affect him negatively in the playground or at school, or that it’s somehow tainted, which I think is ridiculous.

    Anyway, this was a great article. I just discovered your blog through Name Scoop and I can’t wait to read the rest of your blog. Nice to meet you 🙂

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  2. I have two daughters named Dylan and Finley. Both masculine names for strength, a God and a warrior. I choose names with meaning. I wanted to stay true to the popular spelling and instead feminized them using nns Dylie and Fifi. I also used mns on the top ten girls list, honor names and very girlie. I love Elowen for a third girl, but prefer the Elowyn Americanized version. All the names in our family have a “y” and I think it helps with pronunciation. But I love Ellowyne and Ellawyn. I guess I like the name so much I can except any spelling. Does this make it andro girly I guess, but the wyn is masculine in Cornish. Wen being the feminine. And I think it will be more popular in the States with the y. As we changed Locklyn and Aislyn.

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  3. Hi Jossy.
    Responding to the above + your post on Appellation Mountain here. I realise you didn’t ask for advice here, but you did there, so please forgive if you didn’t want me to butt in with my opinion.

    Sorry it’s so long!

    Elowen is a beautiful name.
    I have some familiarity with Celtic names (though not Cornish ones), so Elowyn immediately looks invented to me.
    It reminds me of Eilonwy (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
    I prefer Elowen, and think it looks feminine. I’m not sure whether ‘wyn’ is actually masculine in Cornish names, like it is in Welsh ones, but the name is so distinctively Celtic that ‘wyn’ does seem a bit masculine.

    I do understand why you want the ‘y’, though. I’m not from the US, but I believe that it’s pretty common to substitute ‘y’ for ‘e’ or ‘i’ there, especially for Cletic names (e.g. Bronwyn, Gwendolyn, Caitlyn).
    I think this is actually a bit different from the Andro-girly thing, as those names are traditionally feminine in their country of origin. It’s a Kreative Spellyng, perhaps, but not necessarily about gender signification.
    Names have always been altered and invented – Audrey’s pretty newfangled compared with Æðelþryð. We have our preferred spellings and naming styles, but we can’t pretend that any of us have some sort of special access to the Only Right Way to Name a Child.

    Some things that might be worth thinking about:
    If ‘Elowen’ maintains its current popularity, I expect you (and your daughter) will have to spell her name out no matter whether it has a ‘y’ or ‘e’. This isn’t necessarily a problem, and you might already be familiar with that when mentioning Finley’s name.
    If Elowen becomes more popular, people might automatically spell it that way. Again, not a big deal, but you might have to get used to saying “Elowyn : w-Y-n” or something. People might also pronounce it slightly differently if they see it written (in my accent, “wen” and “wyn” are a bit different, even if they’re not the emphasised syllable). But, again, it’s uncommon enough that you’ll probably get a bit of mispronunciation however you spell it.

    I did notice that “Elowyn” is a slight departure from your naming style with your other daughters – both Finley and Dylan are conventional spellings of traditionally masculine Celtic names (but ones that have some history of use on girls). Elowyn is an unconventional spelling of a traditionally feminine name (albeit not a frilly one). Again, not a problem. If you are worried about the spelling thing, though, I did think of some other names that might fit your style. Feel free to ignore:

    -Merryn (Cornish version of a male saint’s name – Mirin/Merrin/Merinus – http://nameberry.com/babyname/Merryn). Listed as unisex in Nameberry. Don’t know if the religious thing is your style, but I know a woman named Merrin. It works. Plus, ‘Meri’ apparently means ‘sea’ in Finnish & Estonian (tie in to Dylan?) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meri_(name)

    -Silyen (Cornish version of the Welsh ‘Sulien’, ‘sun born’). The most learned man in ancient Wales, says nameberry. not sure about nicknames, but it’s nice strong meaning and a traditional ‘y’ spelling (http://nameberry.com/babyname/Silyen)

    -Galyn – I’ve seen this listed as a Scottish name meaning tranquil or a Celtic variation of Galen (the great Roman physician, whose work was the basis for medieval medicine). Either way, a pretty good meaning if you like the sound of the name.

    -Emlyn (Welsh. ‘Rival’ according to Nameberry, which seems to take it as a version of the Roman family name Aemilianus. Other sites seem to list “around the valley”). Used for boys and girls

    -Carys (a girl’s name, but with the y in the original spelling). Welsh, means ‘love’.

    Or here are some more Cornish ones: http://www.britishbabynames.com/blog/2011/04/cornish-names.html .Endelyn seems like it might fit?

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    1. Sorry, just thought of a more obvious variation: Elwyn (it’s Anglo-Saxon -i.e. English – not Celtic originally but I would guess Celtic spelling influenced its development) http://appellationmountain.net/elwyn-baby-name-of-the-day/ .
      And then, other Anglo-Saxon -yn names like Elfwynn/Alfwynn (also Alwyne or Alvina these days), who – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86lfwynn – means ‘elf-friend’. Actually, the “wynn” ending in Old English could mean ‘joy’ or ‘gladness, and ‘winn’ could mean ‘struggle’, ‘strife’, while ‘wine’ means friend. Spelling wasn’t fixed yet, so I’m never quite sure how baby name sites can be so confident with the ‘friend’ meaning of those names).
      Sorry, I’ve written way more than I should – especially since you didn’t actually ask for other names. Carried away by the lovely Celtic (sounding) names.

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