Saturday, January 30, 2016

Unisex Names

Kelly from Harbor Springs asked for a word denoting a name that can be used both for boys and for girls, citing his own name as an example. Existing examples include Avery Brooks and Avery Winter; Bailey Chase and Bailey Hanks; Cameron Monaghan and Cameron Diaz; Cody Hodgson and Cody Kennedy; Drew Brees and Drew Barrymore; Kelly Hansen and Kelly McGillis; Morgan Freeman and Morgan Fairchild.

Various sources call them unisex names, epicene names, gender-neutral names, or androgynous names. Unisex and gender-neutral are obvious to everyone, so let’s take a quick look at the other two.

Androgynous combines two Greek roots-- aνδρο- male + γυνή- female. Originally, it meant someone exhibiting both male and female characteristics, so it is used here in a less physical sense.

Epicene comes from the Greek eπί  close + κοινός common, amounting to denoting neither sex. Grammatically, sheep would be the common term, while ewe and ram would highlight gender distinctions.

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