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Flipping the Question: Masculine Versions of Women’s Names?

I recently read another blogger’s expostulation against having a name that is the feminine form of a men’s name.  She (Alexandra) complained about the fact that the male form Alexander means “Defender of men” or “defender of mankind.”  She explained that she understood the historical and social contexts for the meaning, but at the culmination of her post she decided that she should change the meaning of her name to something like “defender of life” so as to negate the strictly male-vibe of the standard meaning.  I have my reservations about meaning changes for linguistic reasons (in this case, I prefer to call it a “connotation change”), but I see the point.  Name history is very gendered, and it’s time for some critical perspectives.

There are plenty of women’s names that originated among women (like Margaret and Rebecca), but how many more women’s names are rooted in men’s names?  Many women’s names in the lexicon are feminine versions of names that were originally male.  Lately, I’ve written posts on Charlotte and Frederica, which are both examples.  Others include Josephine, Louisa, Jane, and Georgia.  Don’t get me wrong – such names are absolutely stunning.  But does anyone ever think about men’s names that came from women’s names?  Probably not.  They do exist, though!

I’ve compiled a list of a few men’s names that derive from women’s names in some way or another.  This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, or there would have been more.

Margarito – Masculine form of Margaret or Margarita.  Mostly in use through the 20th-century, but apparently it’s still in use!  There were 18 Margaritos born last year. 

Emmett – surname related to Emma.  Currently ranked #139 in the U.S.

Artemus – Masculine of Artemis, though nowadays the original feminine version is about twice as popular as the masculinized version.  The extended data shows there were 19 boys and 104 girls named Artemis last year, and 8 who were Artemus.  Compare to Juno, which was given to 86 girls and 16 boys. 

Heracles/Hercules – “Glory of Hera.”  There is a plethora of masculine Greek names that reference female deities.  Speaking of which, our next two names:

Demetrius – From the goddess DemeterDemetrius is actually a top 1000 name! 

Athenodorus: – “Gift of Athena,” masculine counterpart of Athenodora

Madison – Although Madison has mostly been bestowed upon girls born in the last thirty years, this is actually a metronymic men’s name; it means “son of Maud.” 

It’s also worth noting that among Catholics, forms of Mary are sometimes given to boys as a middle name, in honor of the Virgin Mary.  Indeed, Germany’s name laws are such that parents are prohibited from using male or female names on the opposite-gendered baby, with the exception of Maria as a middle name for boys in recognition of the religious practice.  

Food for thought: what are the implications for naming a daughter a traditionally masculine name outright, like James?  Not a ‘feminine’ form like Jamesina or Jacqueline or even a ‘unisex’ nickname like Jamie, but James?  Does it transcend gender or perhaps diminish women’s experiences in favor of men’s? 


7 thoughts on “Flipping the Question: Masculine Versions of Women’s Names?

  1. Cool list! I kind of like male names for girls. I think it works especially well when paired with a more feminine middle name. But I don’t really have an opinion on the social implications of that, other than that people will always assume on paper that she’s a guy (and she might not like that). I was really considering naming the protagonist of my current novel James, but I ended up with Jemmie.

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  2. Just thought I’d note there is a Greek name meaning “defender of life”, it’s Alexibia.

    Agathon is a masculine counterpart for Agatha.

    As for unisex (previously masculine) or masculine names on girls… sometimes moms who give these names say they want to give there daughter a “strong/bold” name & intentionally shun feminine names. This in turn implies they avoid feminine names because they are by there nature not strong, but weak. That gives the impression that feminity is weak. I’ve also seen moms saying they wanted their daughter to be able to hide there sex on job applications. This is the thing that makes this trend worrying to me. Why hide? Since when does hiding solve the problem? Also, why teach the next generation of girls that kind of thinking? Being boldly female is not cause for scorn from women themselves. Not sure if that’s the conversation you were looking for though.

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    1. Awesome, thank you! I did think about the fact that changing the meaning would make an entirely different name, but every alternative I came up with didn’t sound right. Alexibia makes sense. Do you know why that name uses the element Bia for life and not Zoe or Zoa?

      No, this is exactly the kind of conversation I’m looking for. Questions like this need to be asked. Conceptually, I don’t see the problem of using most names whether feminine or unisex if the parents just really like the name or it has particular significance. The idea of avoiding a name because of job applications or because it implies femininity is where I believe there’s a problem. Sure, there are studies about names and job applications, but if people are denied or overlooked because their names suggest a particular gender or ethnicity, the problem is with the person reviewing the application, not the person who has the name. That’s a societal problem that shouldn’t only be addressed on the parental level, which I think it usually is.

      As for me, I love names that are super-feminine, and would want strong *female* namesakes for any future daughters. Whether that be Hermione (Granger), Elizabeth (Tudor), or Matilda (Holy Roman Empress), I would want my daughter/s to know that literature and history have heroines.

      Another question: is it problematic if parents give children of one gender unisex names but not the other? Is it equitable to give both genders unisex names, and therefore transcendent of gender?

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      1. I’m not quite sure why it’s Bia & not Zoe/Zoa. I do know Bia was the spirit of force/power or raw energy. Maybe that became tied to the name somehow. I wish there was more discussion on lesser known Greek names. It’d be interesting, I think.

        I don’t necessarily see a problem with using these names on girls in theory. But when it comes down to it, demonstrating societal anxieties from the start through the very name given won’t really help any child. It’s a shame the intentions end up needing to be analyzed when it shouldn’t be so complicated.

        I tend to be drawn to the perfectly legit, but rare or downright ancient, dusty names. That’s how I found Alexibia. I’ve saved oodles of lists full of names from antiquity or different cultures, I’ve even looked through old records online. Roswitha is a granny name in Germany, Solange is outdated in France. Tabitha (tabby) is a cat. I’ve found myself drawn to the -gard(e) (ie. Ehrengard, Ermengarde) names as well, nobody likes those. Lol

        I do think it can be a bit questionable if girls are given these names while boys are given names more stereotypically in line with their sex/gender. It still suggests girls need to be less girly, while boys are just fine the way they are. Some parents give boys unambiguous names so they won’t be picked on for possibly having the same name as a girl in class. They never seem to worry about their girls having the same names as any boys in class though. Unisex names on boys seems less common. If all siblings are given such names, it seems less about making a statement & more about just liking the ambiguity/androgony. More of a genuine naming style.

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  3. This reminds me of a commercial (the link is below) #Like A Girl where it examines the negative stereotypes of girls. After all, hasn’t it always been an insult when someone does something ‘like a girl’, especially if you’re a guy?

    I’ve always thought that giving girls masculine names, or at least not wanting to give their daughters less frilly (obviously feminine) names was sending a mixed message, i.e. being a girl isn’t so great, that they are weaker than boys and thus making them less than. Of course I’m not saying that’s what parents are necessarily saying (or thinking) but it does reinforce the idea of being ‘like a girl’ isn’t the same as being ‘like a boy’. It’s like you said, history has been very gendered and though there have been many female figures in history who’ve broken through the stereotypes of females being weak or less intelligent than their male counterparts, for the most part society has always had a very strict idea of what women can or cannot do- even in 2016. It’s always annoyed me that when a name becomes very popular for girls, parents are worried about giving it to their sons lest they get teased for having a girl’s name – which has always irritated me a little bit because you certainly don’t see that same worry with girls and masculine names. Doesn’t that diminsh the idea that women are just as good, intelligent and strong as men so long as they’re not super feminine or too girly because that’s not what real guys do? I’m well aware that there are differences between men and women but why shouldn’t women be just as proud of their bodies and their femininity? Why should they have to sacrifice it just to be taken seriously and with respect? We may have come a long way when it comes to women’s rights but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the ideas of women and that’s it’s quite alright to be like a girl without it being a bad thing.

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