Gender-neutral first names: They call her Max
Chris, Jordan and Kim. More and more parents are giving their children gender-neutral first names. To increase their chances on the job market.
Anna and Lukas are at the forefront every year. Since 1996, these names have been among the most popular in Austria. Of course, the eternal winners, including Tobias and Sophie, hide what is happening in the lower tiers. Every generation has its favourites. The fact that the English name Kevin also appeared more frequently in German-speaking countries from 1990 also has something to do with the success of the comedy “Kevin Alone at Home” and starring Macaulay Culkin. And today name researchers in the USA have long been talking about the “Netflix effect” and are referring to the increasing number of baby names that go back to popular series. Fans of the fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” call their children Arya or Tyrion, and since 2013 the names Frank and Claire have been increasing – that’s the name of the presidential couple Underwood in the political thriller “House of Cards”.
Nomen es Omen – this Latin proverb actually has a core of truth. If you believe name researchers, it doesn’t matter what you name your children. An American naming guide even advises parents to give girls a male first name, which guarantees more success.
Better short than long. A new trend has recently emerged: more and more parents are giving their children gender-neutral names. For babies who are born with both sexes, this shows progressiveness and the desire to let the child decide which gender it wants to live with later. But otherwise? Name researcher Gabriele Rodríguez does not know the exact reasons for the trend. But the expert from the German Association for Name Research at the University of Leipzig confirms that the number of babies with gender-neutral names is increasing. Franzi, Fritzi, Conny, Andrea, Nikita, Max are very popular names today – for both boys and girls. The unisex names are not always in the passport, but are sometimes simply used consciously by the parents in everyday life. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla named their daughter Maxima but introduced her to the world as Max. There’s a new trend right away, says name researcher Rodríguez: Names are getting shorter and shorter these days – and often only in their short form are they gender-neutral, such as Chris (short form for many names from Christopher to Christine) or Kim (Kimberley, actually female ). This would also water down names that used to be clearly assignable to a gender.
This is largely due to the influence of pop culture and the naming culture in the less Catholic American region, where saints are rarely used as namesakes. English names are also being given more and more frequently in Germany and Austria – which can also (not always, but sometimes) be an indication that parents want to make an international career easier for their children.
Oh Nikita! With his song “Nikita”, Elton John made the Russian first name, which was actually intended for men, also possible for girls. The originally male first names Jordan, Ashley or Harley are now also used as female first names in the USA. There are also country-specific differences: In Germany, Kim is more of a girl’s name, while in Asia or Russia it’s a first name for men. The same applies to the Italian male name Andrea, which is clearly associated with women not only in German and English-speaking countries. Astrid is a male name in Kosovo, clearly female in Austria and currently one of the most popular names for girls in the USA. Mischa, Kolja, Sascha are usually male, but are given as girls’ names in English and German. And what is hardly known: Lisa, short for Elisabeth, is a male name in some parts of Africa. By the way, the world’s most popular male names are Mohammed and John.
More names in the south. By the way, the tendency to give a child two or more names is not very pronounced. 60 percent of all people only have a first name, says onomastic Rodríguez. In southern Europe, people tend to have more than one first name, which is also due to the fact that even more given names or grandparents’ names are given. Education is also crucial: “More educated parents give longer names and more.” Conversely, more uneducated parents (or celebrities who don’t care about conventions) give compound names like Chayenne-Blue.
With so many options, uncertainty increases. According to the name expert, inquiries as to whether a name can be clearly assigned to a gender are increasing. Recently people are often asked about Jonte, a Low German-Frisian name that has so far tended to be masculine. However, in the international handbook of first names used by German registry offices, it is displayed as male and female. In Germany, when entering first names, the criterion of “unambiguous gender” must still be met. Rodríguez believes that will soon be the case, in France and the Netherlands it is already irrelevant today. Incidentally, naming rights in Austria are stricter than in Germany. It is not possible to create new names in Austria, but in Germany it is, as long as the name does not harm the child.
A new, somewhat mysterious line of business has established itself. Companies such as My Name for Life or the Swiss naming and advertising agency Success Wave promise expectant parents tailor-made names for their children. The latter calls himself a “pioneer in baby naming”. The agency’s website states: “Would you like to find a name for your unborn child that no one else has? A wonderful first name that sounds so beautiful that you just had to invent it? A brand new name with an exciting derivation and an unmistakable history?” The exciting derivation and history are conveniently offered at the same time. In this way, children should be given the “perfect name” that can help them later in life, for example in their professional lives.
As the “press” reported, such a “naming” costs more than 20,000 euros.
(“Die Presse”, print edition, May 29, 2016)
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