What Makes a Name ‘Gender Neutral’? the Answer Might Surprise You

According to the experts, it's not just subjective.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
May 2018
pregnant woman holding name tag over her belly

Consider the name Alex. You probably know both males and females with the name. Is that enough to make it gender neutral? And then there’s a name like James. Now that Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have a daughter with that name, can we start calling it “gender neutral”? Maybe you feel it’s totally subjective. But Names.org put some actual parameters on gender neutral names—and the criteria for a name being “gender neutral” is probably looser than you think.

According to the team at Names.org, if US Census Bureau and Social Security Administration data shows a name is assigned to a particular gender 95 percent of the time or more, it is not considered gender neutral. But if, like the name Leslie, that percentage dips below 95 percent (in 2016, 94.7 percent of babies named Leslie were female), Names.org considers it gender neutral.

With that in mind, you might expect a lot of names to be gender neutral. But only 6 percent of them are. Names.org also listed out 200 of the most popular gender neutral baby names, from most popular to less popular, since 1880. These are the top 10:

  1. Willie
  2. Kerry
  3. Terry
  4. Jordan
  5. Taylor
  6. Alexis
  7. Leslie
  8. Jamie
  9. Shannon
  10. Shawn

Of course, Willie isn’t the “it” name it was back in 1919. Narrowing in on more recent data, gender neutral names like Jordan, Taylor and Alexis have taken the cake since 2000.

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