A boy named Sue, revisited Unisex: People's names are not necessarily clues to their gender anymore.

November 22, 1998|By Joseph P. Kahn | Joseph P. Kahn,Boston Globe

Novelist Leslie Epstein was once offered a fellowship at a prestigious institute in Prague. The invitation was withdrawn, says Epstein, when program organizers realized they had mistaken their man for the woman they hoped and assumed he was.

"Half my admiring mail, including job requests, come addressed to Ms. Leslie Epstein," says Epstein, a middle-aged man for whom having an androgynous moniker is neither cute nor trendy (e.g., Morgan, Taylor, Casey) but rather what he calls a "disadvantage and a pain."

It is hardly news that America has morphed into a largely unisex society, from college dorms gone coed to the ubiquity of one-style-suits-all jeans. The popularity of certain names has always drifted with the fashion tides.

Giving children unisex first names like Kim or Lee or Jamie has been, according to Pamela Satran, author of the book "Beyond Jennifer and Jason" and an authority on names, "a major trend, particularly for girls." But, she adds, "I've also noticed parents going to more ambisexual names for boys, which is something new.

"The new generation of feminist mothers have dealt with these issues in the work force," Satran notes. "They're more inclined to give their daughter a masculine-sounding name, one that neutralizes stereotypes."

According to Edward Callary, editor of the American Society of Names journal, "Androgynous names unfortunately don't stay that way. Once a boys' name becomes a girls' name, it's usually a one-way street. Tracy and Shannon I think of as girls' names now, which was not the case 20 years ago."

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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