The stability of androgynous names: Dynamics of gendered naming practices in the United States 1880–2016

Charles Seguin, Chris Julien, Yongjun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Scholars have argued that androgynous names—names given to both boys and girls—are unstable because parents prefer single-gender names. This single-gender preference creates bandwagon effects: as a name is increasingly given to girls, it becomes less attractive for parents of boys, and vice-versa. We contrast this bandwagon model with a taste model: in the taste model parents evaluate name gender based on how a name's spelling or phonology signals its similarity to other gendered names. We first show that previous research on androgynous names makes conceptual errors which render its conclusions unreliable. Using more extensive data and new analyses, we show that popularity for both boys and girls for most androgynous names tends to rise and fall in tandem, as opposed to popularity with one sex making the name less popular for the other. Androgynous names, moreover, remain in use for longer lengths of time compared to nonandrogynous names. In short, androgynous names, although rare, are stably androgynous. Finally, we show that many examples of names switching from one gender to another, such as Leslie or Ashley, were part of a larger shift in tastes which made the long-e suffix more desirable for girls’ names. Following other work on name adoption, and larger debates in the literature on cultural consumption, we argue that gendered baby-naming is more consistent with a taste model of cultural adoption, as opposed to a bandwagon model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101501
JournalPoetics
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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