24 April 2015

Unisex Names

**My theme for this year’s A to Z Challenge is THE NAME GAME. Everything you’d want to know about naming characters.**

Most names will only work for one gender. Boys have boy names and girls have girl names. But this isn’t always the case. There are also plenty of names out there that can work for a boy or a girl. These names are called unisex names, since they are not gender specific. While some may be used more often for one gender than the other, it is still possible to use them for both. So why not give your character one?

An expecting parent may choose a unisex name because they really like it and it will work no matter what gender their child is. But as a writer, you already know the gender of your character. So why choose a unisex name? The simple answer is just that you like the name and it fits the character (or the character tells you his name and you have no say in it).

FUN FACT: Unisex names are illegal in Iceland (with exactly one exception). There are preapproved male and female lists made by the Icelandic Naming Committee.

There probably aren’t going to be a lot of situations where your story will require you to pick a unisex name for your character (unless you’re writing something where you don’t want your character’s gender known). Like most other names, it should just be because you like it. The way it sounds or its meaning should just fit your character. Trying to force meaning out of the fact that your character has a unisex name may actually be risky.

The name itself really should have nothing to do with the character’s gender, sexuality, or even just how they behave. For example, giving your girl a unisex name because she’s a tomboy. It’s perfectly fine to give her that name, but probably not to point it out, or to make it seem like your character acts this way because of her name. You may get a few readers rolling their eyes. 

A unisex name can be fun to use, though. Maybe you choose a name that’s usually a boy’s and give it to a girl, and maybe that just adds a bit of quirkiness to her character. Maybe two characters meet for the first time and one is surprised at the gender of the person they meet, having only heard their name. Hilarity ensues. Who knows?

WHAT I’VE DONE: Oh come on, do I even have to say it? Oh, all right, some of you may be new here…I feel like there should be fireworks or something…
*kicks muse* Weren’t you supposed to set up the pyrotechnics??
I’m pretty sure he’s faking. Anyhoo, my muse/MC has a unisex name: Jordan. I’m really fond of unisex names and I have no idea why. I’ve also used Madison, Cameron, and Jamie (I think that’s it…for now…). 

Have you ever given a character a unisex name? For a full list, check out Behind the Name!


  1. I don't think I have. Might have done, but not really consciously thinking about it, you know? I guess that's what you're saying - it should just be to suit the person, not for any preconceived agenda. Great advice! Iceland sounds pretty draconian on the name front.

  2. I read a novel in which the male character was named "Jere." Was that pronounced "Jerry" or like "chair"? I don't know. But it took on a peculiar unisex feel because while the character was definitely male, he felt like a female character. I think it was just bad character development on the part of the author.
    ~Visiting from AtoZ

  3. I think it's interesting that a girl with a masculine-sounding name can be seen as tough or tom-boyish or strong, but a boy given a feminine-sounding name is destined to be ridiculed. Either way, name choice can have an impact on how the character sees themself and how others relate to that character. I can't think of a character of mine with a gender-neutral name, but then again, my memory isn't the best.

  4. I love giving girls boy's names. I actually done it yet, but I have a list of them waiting for an appropriate story. :)

  5. I've never used one in my writing, but my name is unisex when it's shortened. I know several women named Alex.

  6. I've used a few unisex names. Hubby has a unisex name too. Kelly.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  7. That was quite interesting about the naming committee in Iceland. I'm trying to figure out the motivation behind that one.

  8. We met a woman named Russell once, the sister of our downstairs neighbor who had been a war bride. She got the name because she was born when her father served on the HMS Russell during World War I, and they thought the ship had been lost at sea.

    Speaking of Iceland, there was the case a few years ago of a beautiful young woman named Blaer Bjarkardottir who ended up having to go to court to be allowed to use her given name, because it wasn't on the government's list of approved names. Here's the story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/iceland/9839677/Iceland-teenager-wins-right-to-use-her-name-Blaer-that-officials-said-was-not-feminine.html

  9. There's that football coach named Lovie Smith. Real name. I think his parents were going to name him "Laverne" had he been a girl.

  10. How odd, having a government approved list of names. Mind you Icelandic names are exceptionally complicated. There is a TV personality called Michael Learned (I think) anyway, she is female.

  11. I love names that shorten.
    Alex. Sam. Or names that I will shorten anyway. Maggie=Mags.