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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: What to Name the Siblings of a Child With a Gender-Neutral Name or With a Name Traditionally Given to the Opposite Sex

M. writes:
So we are due to have our second child late March and are struggling with names. Our first child, Micah, is a girl. We know it isn't a traditionally used as a girl's name but we felt it was beautiful and loved the writings of the prophet by that name. Since then, it is not secret that I have had some name regret worrying about how she will feel about her name when she meets boys with the name. But much of that regret, I feel, was fed by post partum hormones. And now, pregnancy hormones have made me so fearful of naming the second. I think this will be our last child and the two kids will be approximately 2 years apart.

I guess the struggle that I put out to you is what do you name the second when the first has a gender 'neutral' name? If we have a boy will folks always think we have two boys? If we have a girl and go feminine with the name are we running the risk of making Micah seem even more masculine in comparison? I am truly at a loss.

Names we like:



Many thanks for any input you have. I am taking this very hard and keep thinking that i didn't think through our daughter's name/vet it enough.

Thank you in Advance.

[I should warn everyone that every time I went through my reply to make it shorter, I ended up adding more. So it's a bit. Er. LONG. It was just SUCH an interesting topic.]

In the early 1990s, the baby name book that was blowing my mind was Beyond Jennifer and Jason. I remember it giving this advice: that if you give one child an androgynous name, a child of the opposite sex should be given a name that is very clearly the sex that they are---and certainly not a name that leans more towards the opposite sex.

...I'm not putting this well. I need pictures. Imagine us sitting in a coffee shop, and I will draw on a napkin. I think of a spectrum of names, like this:

If the first child is a girl, and is given a name that is more often used for girls but isn't ultra-feminine, a mark goes on the spectrum:

When it is time to name the next child, we draw brackets. If the next child is a boy, it's important that his name not be to the RIGHT (the girl direction) of his sister's name---and I've drawn the bracket closer to it than I think it should actually go (I think it's better to have a nice gap). If the next child is a girl, her name could go more girlish or a little more boyish, but shouldn't go MUCH boyish or she'll sound like a brother:

But that's not what we have in your case. You haven't chosen a gender-neutral or boyish-girl name for your daughter, you've chosen a boy's name that is occasionally used for girls. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2009, 341 new baby girls in the U.S. were named Micah. More than ten times that many baby boys were given the name Micah: 3490. Furthermore, the name is falling for girls and rising for boys.

So we're not talking about a boy name that's WAY to the left (Michael, for example, which was given to 40 baby girls in 2009 but to well over four hundred TIMES as many baby boys), but we are talking about a name that falls on the boy side---in that most people hearing the name Micah would assume the baby was a boy (as opposed to wondering whether the baby was a boy or a girl, as they would with a neutral name such as Jaden):

(It looks like I've got that mark right in the middle of boy names, but the arrows go well off the napkin on either side.) Now we make our brackets, so that a future brother will not be to the right (the "girlish" side) of his sister's name, and so that a future sister will not be so much more girlish that she will make her sister's name seem like a brother's name:

Again, I'm not sure my brackets are quite right, and the left edge of the brother bracket ought to be an arrow, but you get the gist: no sisters named Clarissa, no brothers named Avery.

Our goal, then, is to find you a boy name sufficiently masculine to help people remember which of your children is a boy and which is a girl if they hear both names and know you have one of each; and to find you a girl name that isn't so feminine it creates the illusion of differing expectations for each girl. This is assuming we can find names you really like that meet those conditions: sometimes I think the only solution to a situation like this is to shrug and choose a name that doesn't work as part of a sibling set, with the knowledge that in the big-picture/long-run, it's okay: people may be a little surprised, they might make a mistake at first, but eh, they'll soon adjust, and your kids will eventually be adults whose sibling names won't be a big deal.

I think we will have the happiest result if we go into this thinking that we will do our best to diminish the issues, but YES, people who just hear the two names still WILL think you have two boys, or else a boy and then a girl: no name we find for your second child will make Micah feel like an obvious girl name. And that is annoying but it is okay. We will correct them, and then they will know. And everyone who actually knows you will ALREADY know you don't have two boys.

One thing working for you here is that by sound alone, Micah OUGHT to be a girl name. It, like many of its biblical contemporaries, is made up of girl-name-like sounds---especially the -ah ending, which is mostly feminine in U.S. English, with most of the exceptions being those biblical names (Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, Ezra, Elijah, etc.). If we separate the name from its associations, Micah belongs with Mila and Monica and Kayla and Jessica and Erica. In fact, if it were spelled Mica or Mika, no one would blink (but you'd lose the prophet association you wanted).

Awhile back we answered a question about a family with a girl named Emma, wanting to name a second girl Ezra. It may be the only time I've ever put my foot down on an issue. You're in the opposite situation: you have the equivalent of an Ezra FIRST, and one of the names on your list is Emma, and again I say no: mixing the #2 most popular (and not even slightly neutral) girl name in the U.S. with a "boy's name occasionally used for girls" is unfair to both girls. You could, however, use Ezra.

The names on your list with the most potential, I think, are the ones that are unfamiliar enough to give people pause: if you have a Micah and a Rebecca, people hear "biblical traditional" and assume a boy and a girl; but if you have a Micah and a Sivan, or a Micah and a Sigal, people feel uncertain and they think twice before making any assumptions.

For other possibilities, I'd look in these categories:

1. Biblical boy names with girl-name sounds (Asher, Noah, Jonah, Elisha, Ezra)

2. Names usually thought of as boy names that have already started being used for girls so it's no longer a total shock to hear them (Blake, Carson, Evan, Greyson, Hayden, Mason, Sawyer, Tristan)

3. Androgynous names (Avery, Casey, Grey, Hollis, Parker, Peyton)

4. Boy names that have been abandoned by the boys and might work well for girls, as Sydney worked for Sidney (Clarence, Sterling, Winslow, Murphy, Percy)

I put those examples up there pretty casually, so there could easily be disagreement with one or another ("Hey, that's not androgynous, that's a boy name starting to be used for girls!") but this shows you the gist of what I'd be looking for.

For a boy, I think any of your choices are fine. I'd lean toward the more definitely boyish ones, but I don't think there are any boy names that would make Micah seem like a girl name by comparison. And as with Sigal and Sivan, I think the benefit of using a name like Etai is that it's unfamiliar enough to call the whole sibling group into question: people will be less likely to make assumptions.


Barb @ getupandplay said...

FIrst of all, I actually only know one person named Micah and she's a girl (I think she spells it differently though). So don't worry about naming your daughter that- you like it, it's her name, and it's not unheard of.

Now, onto baby number 2. I think Swistle has some good points here- an androgynous name for a girl and a masculine name for a boy would probably be best. (Although, these are YOUR children, name them what you want!)

For those reasons, of your list, I like:


Best wishes!

Abby@AppMtn said...

FWIW, Micah comes from the Old Testament Micaiah, which has some history as a feminine name.

Okay, nobody who isn't name-obsessed is likely to know that. And I do think Swistle is exactly right: this is another case where any clearly feminine name would be a mistake.

So Micah and Emma, no. Ditto Emily, Sophia, Zoe, and Rebecca.

But Micah and Orly would be great. They're both unexpected and frills-free.

Would you like Seren? It's a Welsh name that means star.

For a boy, I think you can use any of your choices. But if you're looking for a vote, I like the sound of Micah and Everett. Everett is so sharp, I think it sounds quite masculine.

franziska said...

Interesting topic indeed. Swistle makes many great points.
I like Orly and Sigal very much for you. I like Sivan as well, but it comes up as a boy's name only on both searches I put it through...(??)
For a boy, all of the names on your list could work, and my favorites (sound-wise, in combination with Micah) are Everett and Evan.
Good luck!

British American said...

Personally I wouldn't do Samuel, Simon or Aaron for a boy - as paired with Micah it makes me think "traditional Biblical boy name" for both of your children - making the 'Micah = boy' assumption more likely. I like Owen best from your boys list. Emmett and Everett are nice too, with the harder "t" ending in contrast to the "ah" ending of your daughter's name.

I like the more unusual picks from your girl's list, rather than the traditional Emma, Anna, Emily, Rebecca or Sophia. Maybe Orly is my favourite.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone here- no Emma,etc. but Farah, Orly, Sivan, and Sigal.
I figure going with a slightly less common name will help give pause before people jump to assumptions. I think Farah is beautiful and with the same ending as Micah might be a nice link between the two names, making it more obvious that Micah is a girl. Or maybe Avivah?

Some names that may work - Avi, Nurit, Tamir/Tamar, Taryn.

Of your boys names, I wouldn't use the common names, like Aaron or Justin because I think people will automatically assume Micah is a boy too. I think Everett would work best.

Some other ideas: Barrett, Magnus, Garrett, Heath, Dawson (or any other son names), Duncan, Victor, Xander, Boris.

Kacie said...

I say strike Aaron from the boy list, since it could sound like Erin and it wouldn't be clear who was the boy.

Looking forward to this baby update!

Meggan said...

Just wanted to mention that "Orly" is an internet meme thingy and that might influence how you feel about the name.

I went to elementary school with a female-Micah so it reads as a girl name to me. I like Sigal and Sivan from your girl list.

Sara said...

I have only known 1 Micah and it was a girl so I only think of it as being a girl's name. In fact, I was surprised that Swistle said it was usually a boys name! That being said, I do think that the overly feminine names paired with it sounds a little off.

Rayne of Terror said...

I have known two Micahs, one woman and one man. The woman named Micah had a sister named Jayde. I loved that sibling pair and always wondered what other mineral/rock name one could use.

Micah & Flint
Micah & Colbalt
Micah & Emery
Micah & Galena
Micah & Jasper
Micah & Jet
Micah & Onyx
Micah & Olivine
Micah & Opal
Micah & Ruby
Micah & Schorl
Micah & Umber
Micah & Granite
Micah & Slate

Carolyn said...

I think my friend had a vintage Barbie doll, and Barbie's companion doll was named Mika (the name was written on the packaging by Mattel, if I'm not mistaken). If I didn't see the spelling, I'd assume Micah was a girl's name.

For a sister, I'd definitely go modern, but not necessarily tomboyish. Maybe Kinley or Kerrigan, or something else (not necessarily beginning with a K, but those are the only names that I can think of that fit the category I have in mind.

Hope T. said...

For a girl, I think Dena is interesting. It seems to come from the name Adina. Since Adina was a male Biblical figure (a brave warrior under King David), I think it goes very well with sister Micah.

For a boy, I think the most masculine name on your list is Justin. The second most masculine is Ethan and though it is Biblical, I doubt most people initially think of it that way.

Patricia said...

You shared that you named your daughter Micah because you found the name beautiful and loved the writings of the prophet Micah. Those are wonderful reasons for choosing the name for her. It seems to me that it's more important that you choose a name for your second child that is also very meaningful to you rather than being too concerned about finding a name that somehow makes it clear that Micah is a girl.

However, if your second daughter also has a name ending in 'ah', but a typically female name, that might help indicate that you have two daughters whose pretty names are linked by their 'ah' endings. From your girl's list Rebekah would make an excellent name for Micah's sister. Pairing Micah with Rebekah (or Sarah, Susannah, Leah, Hannah, Deborah, Dinah, Tirzah...) looks like two girls because I think it's far less likely a family with a boy named Micah would emphasize that ending when choosing his younger sister's name.

When choosing a boy's name, you might want to consider names that are strongly male and maybe not another biblical name. I think another biblical name -- and especially another from the Old Testament -- makes the name Micah seem more likely to be another boy in your family. On the other hand, because Micah is a traditional name (you chose it partially for it's biblical reference), I don't think a trendy name -- for Micah's brother or sister -- goes very well with it. I like Owen from your list, also Justin.

Patricia said...

Doing a google search, I came across this reference to a family with 3 daughters, the youngest one Micah Joy (called "Micah Joy"), who were seeking help finding a name for their expected baby boy:

And I also found a mention of a little girl named Ezra whose mother explained: "I've seen quite a few women named Micah, and I think Ezra is similar in that it's a more obscure biblical name with an ending that (in Romance languages, and in English) is traditionally considered feminine. When we meet new people, we introduce her as Ezra Grace rather than just Ezra."

I'm wondering if your daughter has a usual feminine middle name and if you sometimes use the two names together. If so, that would clarify that Micah is a girl and might make it easier to chose a name for her sister or brother. (Eg., Micah and Ethan could be two brothers, but Micah Rose and Ethan makes it clear that they're sister and brother.]

StephLove said...

This is a tricky one. When I saw Noah in the suggestions, though, I immediately thought of Noa, which is a traditional girl's name but has a boyish feel since the boy's name Noah is more well known. I do like Brooke from your list as well. Other non-flowery nature names might work, too-- Ivy for instance.

I feel less restricted on the boy side. I would steer away from the Biblical ones (Aaron, etc) for reasons other people have explained. Owen is a personal favorite of mine, but I really like Emmett for you. Micah and Emmett sounds good to me.

♥OSD♥ said...

i am so happy to see this topic being covered... i do not yet have children, but the names i love for girls fall into that "boys names occasionally used for girls" category--including micah!

maybe you'd like micah's sister to be camden, or rowan? my thought was that if a girl was to be named something that COULD be mistaken for a boy's name, then she should have a very feminine middle name.

micah and camden brooke? micah and rowan rebecca?

another name i really like for girls is rory, and i like it a lot with micah.

micah and rory. makes me happy. :)

for boys, i agree with swistle and the other posters who think that a boy's name in this case should be ALL MAN. micah and max, micah and jack, micah and anthony.

while i do love many of the names on your boys' list myself, there are a lot that i wouldn't use for the following reasons:

**owen, evan, emmett, and everett - i actually know baby girls with these names, and while not common, it could be an issue. i actually LIKE evan for your baby girl!

**samuel, simon, aaron - biblical association may make micah seem more like a masculine biblical choice

**aaron/erin - sound too alike, and could easily be mistaken for the other sex in conversation.

now, i am a girl named tracy, which is not uncommon, but i grew up with several boy-tracy's as well, so i am familiar with the situation on several levels... my sibset was tracy, luke and abby. i read that as neutral, boy, and girl. i came out pretty normal. :)

your little micah will grow to love her name, and whatever her sibling is named will seem natural once he/she is introduced to the world.

Taylor R. said...

I grew up with a Mika. Her sister's name was Sarah. (Their brother was Travis). I always thought the cadences and "ah" ending sound of Mika and Sarah helped establish Mika as a feminine name. They matched, sort of.
So, my faves from your list are Farah, Anna or Dena.

The Mrs. said...

Someone above posted the idea of Magnus for a boy. It has the sound of guts right in it... very masculine! How do you feel about other older (super masculine) names? Orville? Bruce? Mortimer? Hershyl? Micah sounds down-right girly in comparison!

For a little sis to Miss Micah, some other possibilities are:
Cote (KOH-teh)
Dara (DARE-uh)

From your list, Talia seems appropriate. And Tirzah (TEER-zuh) from another post above is a wonderful pairing, too!

Best wishes to you! So excited to hear what you choose!

Frazzled Mom said...

I note Owen is on your boy list, and while it is clearly mostly used on boys like Micah, I have heard of Owen on a girl. I think Owen was the name of Cass Elliot's daughter, from the Mamas and the Papas. I actually remember ths from an episode of VH1's Behind the Music years ago.

I bring this up to say maybe Owen may actually work better on your girl list than boy list.

mrsfrema said...

Just a note to say that while I agree with your advice in theory, Swistle, a similar situation actually exists among my own sibling set and I have seen no problems with it. Looking at our names (four girls and one boy), there's no way to determine my parents' naming style:

Breain (pronounced Bree-in; I usually go by Bree)
Samantha (sometimes Sissy, sometimes Sam)
Ryan (girl number three!)
George (a junior)
Donna (named after a maternal aunt)

I don't know if Mom and Dad received any slack for their, er, WIDE range of choices, but I always thought it was cool that my sister had a boyish name. As for Ryan, I'm sure she had some initial confusion to deal with upon first meetings, but I have never heard her complain about her name. (It probably helped that we went to an all-girls Catholic high school, thereby throwing the whole name issue out the window for four critical years!)

This doesn't relate at all to the question (though personally I agree, no Emma) - just wanted to throw that out there.

Caitlin said...

I skimmed a bit, and I don't have any suggestions, really, but I just had to go on the record and say that my best friend's little sister is named Micah, and it suits her to a T. It did as a little girl and it does as an adult, and I've always had a soft spot for Micah as a girl's name because of it. To my knowledge, the only time the gender issue has ever really been an issue was when her mom was pregnant, and they decided that whether she was a boy or a girl, her name would be Micah Lee!

(Her two older sisters have more traditionally feminine names, and I honestly never thought about it until now. Maybe because Micah has the -ah ending, which tends to be more traditionally feminine? Do with that what you will! Good luck!)

Patricia said...

Still thinking about your name search and want to suggest these combinations for your family:

Micah and Tirzah

Micah and Justin (maybe Justin Samuel)

Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

I agree that giving Micah's sister a more typically girl's name also ending in AH might bring out the feminine qualities of the name Micah. I like several of the biblical names that have been suggested, but wonder if non-biblical Norah might be a good choice too: Micah and Norah? For me, Micah paired with a sister name also ending in AH yields sibling names that look and sound like two girls.

Farah from your list would have that effect too. I looked up Farah in Behind the Name --

Gender: Masculine & Feminine
Usage: Arabic
Means "joy" in Arabic.

-- and was surprised to see that that Farah can be a masculine name too -- which makes Farah more compatible with Micah than I expected.

Micah with a less usual sister name ending in A -- like Talia and Dena from your list -- could have that effect too: Micah and Talia.

brooke said...

I know a Micah (female) with a brother named Aaron. I think this is a great combo.

Kate said...

I agree with StephLove; I think Noa is a wonderful sister name for Micah. As for boys names, I think Everett or Evan - something clearly manly but not Biblical is a good way to go.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a name ending in -son for Micah's brother - Jackson, Bryson, Jason, Carson, Hudson, Dawson?

For a sister, Micah and Mariah?

Anonymous said...

Alrighty, I'm going to confuse you. I actually think Micah and Emma are a wonderful sibling set. I also like Micah and Farah (though I prefer the spelling Farrah).

My older sister has an unmistakably masculine name (think the likes of Justin). It's not a feminized version of a boy's name; it's the very name given to many, many boys. I have a name that is absolutely a girl's name, but is not "frilly" sounding (Meredith). Now, did my sister get comments on her name? Of course! But does she hate it? She doesn't, and I've never heard her complain about her getting stuck with the "boy's name" while I got the "girl's name."

I would advise against naming your second daughter Penelope or Priscilla, or something equally "frou-frou" sounding. But Emma and Farah both fit well with Micah, and, despite the fact that Micah is traditionally a boy's name, I actually think it sounds about AS feminine as Emma and Farah. Does that make sense?

Now, when it comes to boy's names, I would go with something recognizable and masculine. From your list I like (in order) Evan, Simon, and Everett.

kimma said...

I really appreciated Swistle's advice on this issue, as our first born son has a name that is rapidly becoming gender neutral. A lot of the names on my girls list are also neutral, but I'm afraid to use them for his sake. Perhaps one of them would work for you ... Kenley, Lindsay, Ainsley and Bryce.

From your list I particularly like Farrah for a girl or Dena as a runner up. For a boy I liked Simon and Samuel, though our family is not religious so I don't have the associations with these boys names that some others seem to.

Manday said...

I agree entirely with the rule Swistle explains here! We know a family with kids Hunter and McKenzie, where Hunter is the girl and Mckenzie is the boy. I feel like it breaks that rule and is very confusing for people.