SMPL Q&A: 3 questions on the rise of gender neutral baby names with Christian Turner

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with global director of naming Christian Turner about the trends he’s observed in the top 100 most popular baby names in the U.K in 2016, and the role gender neutrality plays in the names of the future.

What trends stood out to you when analyzing the most popular baby names of 2016?

While the majority of the top 100 names for both boys and girls lean towards gender specificity, there are some noteworthy examples on both lists of names that have migrated across genders over time.

Darcy, for example, was originally a boy’s name before becoming popular for both boys and girls in the 1970s. Nowadays, however, when you hear the name Darcy (or Darcie or Darcey), you are more likely to think it applies to a female, and the statistics support this, with all three variants on the top 100 list of most popular names for girls in 2016. The same can be said of the names Evelyn, Robyn or Robin and Maddison, which have all shifted in popularity from boys to girls.

The boys’ list varies from that a little, in that we don’t see traditionally female names migrating over to male names. What we do see, however, is that some names have a secondary characteristic of gender neutrality. Blake, for example, is the 73rd most popular boys name, but one could be forgiven for wondering if it’s the name of a girl, after Blake Lively. Of course there have also always been examples of girls taking boyish nicknames, such as Francesca (number 88 on the girls list) being known as Frankie (number 63 on the boys list), which allows for gender fluidity on the naming front. 

It’s not uncommon to see certain names rapidly rise to popularity. What are some of the catalysts for a baby name becoming popular?

One point that has always been true of names is that exposure and association is linked to popularity. A well-liked celebrity giving their child a particular name often leads to a spike in that name’s popularity, as we see with Harper (David and Victoria Beckham’s daughter) and, of course, both royal children Charlotte and George.

With more celebrities choosing to break gender traditions with their children’s names, we can expect to see more migration between the two lists in the future. The aforementioned Blake Lively has a daughter called James, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg recently named his new daughter August, and Leighton Meester and Adam Brody’s little girl is Arlo. Another area that might see some growth led by celebrity is the use of gender fluid surnames as first names, such as Lincoln (Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s daughter) and Parker (Frankie Sandford and Wayne Bridge’s son).

How do you predict the naming landscape will change in the near future?

I predict gender neutral names will gain a new relevance in the future as we approach true gender equality, especially in the workplace, where studies have shown which name you have (and what it signals about you) can influence the impact of a resume or influence the mind of an interviewer. Gender neutral names may feel progressive, inclusive and confident in this context.

Christian Turner is global director of naming at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter:@AudibleChill

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