Noticing my son's playmates and classmates, the following thought occurs to me: Didn't Sidney used to be a man's name? And August? And Loren?
Being an empirically-minded philosopher (and one with a little time away from classes), I had to check. I went to the U.S. Social Security Administration's baby names site and I looked up the 1000 most popular boy and girl baby names for 1900 and for 2000. August, to my surprise, didn't rate among the top 1000 girls' names (though I know two young Augusts, both girls), but Sidney and Loren both made the gender switch. In 1900, Sidney was #108 among boy names and #777 among girls. By 2000, the ratio had flipped to #594 for boys and #264 for girls. Same with Sydney: In 1900 #730 among boys, unranked among girls; in 2000, unranked among boys and a startling #23 among girls. Loren/Lauren pulled the same trick: In 1900, #342 and #943 for boys, unranked for girls; in 2000, #704 and #11 for girls, unranked for boys.
In other words, Loren/Lauren and Sidney/Sydney went from being modestly popular boys' names to being leading girls' names. But does it ever go the other way around? Do girls' names ever become boys' names? I wouldn't think so: Calling a girl "Joe" (or "Jo") or "Jack" ("Jaq") is cute; calling a boy "Anna" or "Mary" doesn't have quite the same effect. In fact, it might be perceived as something like a lifetime curse.
So I ran a few analyses. In the SSA lists, I found 26 names that switched from masculine in 1900 to feminine in 2000 and 4 that went the other way. (That's p < .0001 on the binomial test, by the way, if you want the statistics.) Here they are:
Male to Female:
(apologies for the small reproduction: click to enlarge)As is evident from this list, 5 of the top 25 girls' names in 2000 (Madison, Taylor, Lauren, Sydney, Morgan) were boys' names in 1900! The gender migration of girls' names to boys' names looks very different.These seem to be aberrations, not a trend. Two appear to be due to an increasing acceptability of "-ie" and not just "-y" as a proper spelling of the long-e suffix for male names. The other two are due to the precipitous decline of "Jean" and "Joan" as girls' names, coupled presumably with the retention of those names as foreign equivalents of the durably and internationally popular boys' name "John". None ranks among the top 500 boys' names.
I can't resist concluding with the thought that if trends continue, someday every Tom, Dick, and Harry will be a girl.