Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Gender-Neutral Name Debate

Naming your baby will take up much of your time in the first months of your pregnancy. This decision is one you and your baby will have to live with for the rest of your lives. Indeed, it is important. For that reason, many parents fret over the decision for hours upon hours before settling on the perfect name for their little ones.

Over the past few decades, gender-neutral names have become more popular. Not all Moms and Dads want their daughters to grow up wearing tutus around the house and their sons to carry hip holsters and wear sheriff badges. Instead, these new moms and dads want their children to avoid judgment based on name alone. So they consider names like Britt, Carey, and Casey, which can be either boys or girls. Is this the right decision? Only you can decide for your baby.

On the pro gender-neutral side, parents believe that others form an initial opinion based on a name. A teacher who has a Madison will not know if that student is a girl or boy. The teacher will have to wait until Madison arrives to find out. These parents also believe that for girls in particular, a gender-neutral or even masculine name can be a benefit. Although many people believe gender discrimination to have ceased about 40 years ago, the sad reality is that women still face uphill battles in many fields. Patients are likely to be more interested in seeing Doctor Leigh (Lee) Jones than Doctor Bambi Jones, or even Doctor Jessica Jones, goes the reasoning these parents use for giving their children gender-neutral names. Other parents believe that gender has become an unimportant identifier. We do not have to put little boxes around boys and girls that force them into reading certain books, playing certain games, or pursuing certain goals. Why, then, should we have names that identify their sex?

The anti-gender-neutral crowd does not really exist. They are, in fact, all of the parents who named their daughters Amy and their sons John. Why did these parents select gendered names? They probably gave little thought to the topic. Many of these parents likely picked from a list of names they like because they are the names of family members, for example, or because they sound nice to the parents' ears. They did not consciously make the decision to give their children gendered names.

What, then, would these parents have to say about the benefits of gender-neutral names? They likely would argue that these benefits are in the parents' minds only. In fact, teachers do not make assumptions about children by their names alone, that they do, in fact, wait to meet the children before forming an opinion about them. In fact, these parents would argue that it is silly to think that other people would give that much thought to a child's personality or ability based on gender.

Another argument for gender-specific names is that it avoids confusions. Parents who consciously decided against gender-neutral names probably had this argument on their minds when they made the choice. Let us return to little Madison. Is Madison a boy or girl? I am not sure, which means that I cannot assign her to a group in class or put her in a seat if I am putting students boy-girl. There are too many instances in which Madison may feel left out because no one knew where to put him or her. For example, project forward. Madison filled out the paperwork for a dorm at college but forgot to put a gender. Where does he or she go? Guessing could be disastrous and would be much easier if Madison were Nancy instead. Indeed, Madison may be in for a lifetime of explaining that she is in fact a woman or that he is a man. It is easier, then, to pick a name that belongs to one sex or the other.

If you are looking for a gender-neutral name but want something with a more feminine appeal, try out some of these names: Andrea, Ashton, Jada, Dominique, Leigh, Kelsey, and Madison. More boy-friendly gender-neutral names include Aaron, Cody, Dallas, Evan, Francis, Jordan, and Logan. The following names are used fairly equally for boys and girls: Ali, Devan (and variants), Kayle, Kristian, Avery, and Brook(e).

By Julia Mercer

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