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10.14.09

Gender-Bending Baby Names

Heidi Klum just named her daughter Lou. And George Stephanopoulos has little girls named Elliott and Harper. VIEW OUR GALLERY of celebrity children who cross the line.

Heidi Klum’s cross-gendered name choice for her newborn daughter, Lou, may be chic for girls in Germany and France, but it hasn’t been in the U.S. Top 1,000 since the early 1970s, right about the time other ambisexual names—Jamie and Kelly and Casey—were starting to heat up.

View Our Gallery of Celebrities With Gender-Bending Baby Names

That’s when the first wave of feminist parents began giving birth to little free-to-be-whatever Kims and Jessies, followed in the 1980s by a wave of androgynous junior executives with such upmarket surnames as Courtney, Lindsay, and Whitney.

Sexy female stars with androgynous or frankly male names such as Glenn, Drew, Cameron, and Daryl helped fuel the trend. The boys’ response: initial retreat to safe masculine naming territory. Now, though, parents seem to feel liberated enough to turn to soft classics such as Joshua and Elijah for their sons, confident enough to continue using names like Aiden and Lane for boys even as they’re adopted for girls.

While names may be flowing more freely across gender lines these days than ever before, the practice is as old as naming history. Alice, Crystal, Emma, Evelyn, Florence, Jocelyn, Kimberly, Lucy, and Maud were all originally male names, while Christian, Douglas, Bennet, and Clarence were once common for girls.

The first tally of popular names in America, from 1880, lists dozens of gender-bending choices. Boyish nicknames for girls—Vinnie, Jimmie, Lonnie—were in vogue, and the roster lists 46 girls named John, 30 named William, 23 named James, and a whopping 131 named Lou.

There were also 14 boys named Lou that year (in addition to about a thousand named Louis and Louie). The list includes 476 male Willies and 192 females; 183 girl Ollies and 63 boys. Carrie, in several spellings, was popular for both sexes.

In 1880 there were also a handful—too many to be a mistake—of girls named Henry, Robert, Joseph, Clifford, and Walter, and boys named Rose, Grace, Cora, Flora, and Daisy. One shudders.

Pop culture boasts a long history of, especially, girls with boys’ names, from Hemingway’s Lady Brett to Audrey Hepburn’s Reggie in Charade to Gossip Girl’s femme-y Blair. Ashley Wilkes is the most notable fictional male heartthrob with a girly name, though macho athletes called Peyton (Manning), Jenson (Button), and Tracy (McGrady) are changing all that.

The hottest cross-gendered names today? Alex, Auden, Avery, Bailey, Elliot, Evan, Finley, Harper, Hayden, Justice, Luca, Mason, Noah, Riley, Rowan, and Skyler are all widely used for both sexes. Also fashionable are place names, nature names, surname-names, and word names—from London to Leaf—that don’t come tagged with any gender identity.

A new study even claims that giving your daughter a male name can help her make more money and get better promotions—and the more boyish the name, the better.

My prediction: Gender stereotypes connected with names, as with people themselves, will continue to fall away as boys and girls wear the same clothes, hold the same jobs, and yes, are both called Lou.

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Pamela Redmond Satran is the coauthor with Linda Rosenkrantz of 10 name books, most recently Beyond Ava & Aiden, and a developer of Nameberry.com.