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

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.



Work Title The stability of androgynous names: Dynamics of gendered naming practices in the United States 1880–2016
Open Access
  1. Charles Seguin
  2. Chris Julien
  3. Yongjun Zhang
  1. Names
  2. Diffusion
  3. Culture
  4. Gender
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. Poetics
Publication Date May 15, 2021
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
Deposited March 19, 2024




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Version 1

  • Created
  • Added seguin_poetics_names_10-2020__1_.pdf
  • Added Creator Charles Seguin
  • Added Creator Chris Julien
  • Added Creator Yongjun Zhang
  • Published
  • Updated Keyword, Publication Date Show Changes
    • Names, Diffusion, Culture, Gender
    Publication Date
    • 2021-04-01
    • 2021-05-15
  • Updated