Baby names have always acted as a mirror to the society in which they’re given. Before the Second World War, names reflected a culture of conformity, with children often given religious monikers or named after a late family member. In the 21st century, an increasing number of parents want to give their child an unusual name – or at least one that isn’t incredibly common. And as traditional notions of gender have shifted and stretched in recent years, so too have gender-neutral baby names risen in popularity.
According to research conducted by baby name site Nameberry, unisex names are increasingly popular with parents in the UK. The site delved into the data on which gender-neutral names are currently receiving the most page views, and their findings reveal some very stylish options.
The most popular gender-neutral names currently on Nameberry are as follows, in descending order:
This name will either make you think of a burst of sunshine, or your dad’s Cockney mate who ran a pub. However, Nameberry reports that it’s gaining in popularity for both genders.
Female Rays were traditionally called Rae, but the ‘y’ spelling may have been influenced by Daisy Ridley’s Star Wars character, Rey – or the middle name of Miley Ray Cyrus.
However, Ray is still a much more popular name for sons than daughters. The most recent official Office of National Statistics (ONS) data available showed that it was given to 73 boys in 2015, but didn’t appear in the girls’ rankings.
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There are lots of high-profile female Sashas, not least Beyoncé’s fierce alter-ego and Barack and Michelle Obama’s youngest daughter (although it’s not actually her real name).
But Sasha started life as a Russian nickname for boys named Alexander, and stars including Chris Hemsworth and Shakira have chosen it for their sons.
Sage is a fragrant herb believed by the Romans and ancient Greeks to have wisdom-imparting qualities. It has been sporadically popular in England and Wales for both genders in recent years, reaching its peak in 2012 with a grand total of 15 babies given the name: eight girls and seven boys.
We’ll have to wait and see whether its popularity on Nameberry will translate into a boost in popularity in real life.
An evocative colour name, Indigo is the name of the rich dark blue dye extracted from a tropical plant. It’s also a much more popular name for daughters: it was the 549th most common name for girls born in 2015 (with 79 babies given the name), but the 3908th most popular name for boys (5 babies).
The fifth most popular gender-neutral baby name on Nameberry is Briar, after the thorny wild rose shrub and the character from Sleeping Beauty. While more popular for girls (Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen’s daughter is named Briar Rose), it also entered the top 1000 most popular names for boys in the US in 2015.
Briar has yet to make inroads as a name for boys in the UK – although its Nameberry profile notes that it could be “a fresh option for honouring a Brian” in the family.
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This popular Welsh surname is also used as a unisex first name: it was the 90th most popular boys’ name in England and Wales in 2015, and was also given to 25 girls. Nameberry notes that it could be a more androgynous female alternative to the very popular Emily.
The name Summer peaked in popularity in England and Wales in 2008, when it was the 23rd most popular female baby name in the country. Its frosty counterpart, Winter, seems to be less automatically associated with girls, and both the male and female version are very popular on Nameberry.
Not a million miles away from the name of Beyoncé’s baby daughter Rumi, Remi is a variant on the French masculine name Remy, meaning ‘oarsman’.
While Remy is more common (and given predominantly to boys), the unisex Remi is growing in popularity: it was given to 50 girls and 39 boys in England and Wales in 2015. It’s even more favoured in the US, where it is now in the top 300 names for baby girls.
The most popular gender-neutral name on Nameberry is Quincy, an old French name meaning ‘estate of the fifth son’. Today, it’s most commonly associated with the music producer (and father of Rashida) Quincy Jones, but can also be used as a girl’s name.
Just seven baby girls and 14 boys were named Quincy in 2015, suggesting that the name’s current vogue on Nameberry hasn’t yet been borne out by actual results. But who knows? Maybe by next year, the UK will be overrun by tiny baby Quincies of both genders. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Of course, a high number of page views doesn’t necessarily mean that parents are actually choosing these names for their children. For hard facts on the most popular baby names in England and Wales, we have to turn to data from the ONS – and their run-down of the most popular names of 2017 won’t be published until autumn 2018.
In the meantime, the Nameberry stats provide a fascinating window into the unisex names that prospective parents are considering right now.
Images: iStock / Rex Features