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The Perks Of Being A Girl With A Boy's Name

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
"What’s it short for?" "Who are you named after?" "Does it say that on your birth certificate?" "HAHAHAHA YOU’RE A BOY". These are just a few of the things said to someone who has grown up with what is traditionally a boy’s name. That last quote is obviously from primary school; most adult humans can cope with the concept of a unisex name, or so I thought before I read about the mother who recently posted on Mumsnet about calling her daughter Iris James, and everyone freaked out.

“Why lumber your daughter with a boy’s name? Pretty ill thought out,’ said one outraged anonymous user. Another added: “My middle name is Ross and I have always hated it.” Some were positive, sure, but it still caused a debate that raged enough to make headline news.

As someone whose first name is thought of as male (you can call it unisex, and cite Stevie Nicks, as much as you like, but there’s a reason every Uber driver says, "No, this is for Stevie" when I clamber in) I can vouch for the fact that there are comments. When I meet someone new, my name is almost guaranteed to come up in conversation – just like if I’m wearing a pair of incredible bright shoes, or blue lipstick – because it’s something to talk about when you’re grasping at straws. What else are they going to ask me? My thoughts on what happens after we die? Yes, I’m more than happy to skip the small talk, but you’ve got to ease yourself into the conversation somehow, and commenting on my name is the easiest way.

I’m pretty sure Blake Lively and Ryan Reynold’s daughter James will have similar conversations. And Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s daughter Wyatt. And, going forward, is that really such a huge problem?

The next generation coming through are going to be well-versed that ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labels are starting to blend

I grew up during a time where the phrase ‘gender fluidity’ meant nothing. When I cut off my hair aged nine so I could be like George from The Famous Five (who wants to be a boy), mothers at the school gates would essentially be dicks to my mother. "Why have you cut off all your beautiful hair?" teachers would ask, and I’d just say "I didn’t like it" and carry on playing football with the boys. I didn’t know what gender fluidity was then, and neither did anyone else, but I sure as hell got called my sister’s brother a lot, and nobody knew how to deal with it. The next generation coming through are going to be well-versed that ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ labels are starting to blend, and the fact that unisex names are becoming more and more popular reflects this.

In 20 years time, when James and Wyatt are fully fledged adults, is anyone going to care that they’ve got, by early millennium standards, male or unisex names? Girl's and boy's names are going to be as outdated as names like Alan and Steve and Hilda are now. Actually, Hilda is pretty cool.

But it’s true that kids will find something to pick on. I got picked on a bit for being called Stevie. In the playground, girls would ask me if I was a boy and I’d have to explain no, and pretend I hated my name to fit in with them. I also, though, got picked on for being clever. And for wearing bizarre clothes. And for having a mole on my face. You can get picked on for literally anything, regardless of your name – it’s not as if being called Claire makes you bulletproof.
And, if I’m honest, I’m really glad I’m called Stevie now – because the benefits far outweigh the negatives, which only seemed to happen when I was very young (unless you count the aforementioned Uber driver confusion). I get to write for men’s magazines because nobody realises I am a woman. When I’ve written something, people remember my name more than if it was Laura Smith (Laura, this is just an example, you’re killing it and never forget that).

It’s an instant conversation starter at shit parties. It makes people think I’m more interesting than I am, because I have an interesting name. If I wrote a crime novel, I’d get a more gender balanced readership than if I wrote it under a female name. You know, the important stuff.

Yes, I agree that it can sometimes cause confusion (and the odd bit of name-calling in the playground), but at a time when we’re moving towards breaking gender boundaries and the concept of pink for girls and blue for boys, we probably shouldn’t be discouraging unisex names. We should probably start blurring the concept of male and female names even more.

In the future, I want to see men called Sarah and women called Geoff. Or, more likely, Wyatt and Ainsley and Stevie and Brook and Corey and all those other confusers that have people surprised to meet you because they were expecting the opposite sex. Because a name is just a name, sure, but it also forms a part of your identity – and if that identity gives you freedom from gendered stereotypes, then why not?
Anyway, there are more pressing things to worry about. Like the fact that my middle name is Meredith. I mean Jesus fucking Christ parents, what the hell were you thinking?

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