Top 25 most gender-neutral names in the U.S.

As a long-time fan of Saturday Night Live, I have fond memories of the Pat sketch where Pat’s friends were always trying to figure out his/her gender through a series of hilarious indirect tests. Despite their every effort — from asking Pat which bathroom he/she uses to asking about love interests — Pat’s friends could never figure it out.

pat_snl

Put on some techno music and watch that GIF for a little bit. It totally works.

Part of the Pat skit relied on the fact that “Pat” is a fairly gender-neutral name. It could be short for Patricia or Patrick, so it’s tough to tell Pat’s gender from his/her name alone. As I was working through the U.S. baby names data set, the Pat sketch got me wondering: What are some other gender-neutral names like Pat?

Below, I calculated the most gender-neutral names using entropy, which gives me the highest value (i.e., most gender-neutral) when the name is evenly distributed between boys and girls.

top-25-us-gender-neutral-names

Disappointingly, Pat doesn’t even come close to the top 25. If we take how America names their babies as any indication of what Pat’s gender was, only 11% of all babies named Pat in the last 30 years were female. America’s parents have voted: Pat is a boy’s name!

There’s a few more shockers on this list:

Who names their child Infant or Baby?! The most likely explanation is that these are placeholder names until the parents/guardians can agree on a name.

Apparently Justice is blind when it comes to gender.

I feel bad for the 7,000+ boys named Elisha. At least there aren’t many boys named Sue any more: 92% of all babies named Sue were female.

Want to explore some more baby names on your own? Head on over to the Baby Name Explorer.

Can you think of any more names that should be on this list? List ’em in the comments below.

Dr. Randy Olson is a Senior Data Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, where he develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms with a focus on biomedical applications.

Posted in data visualization Tagged with: , ,
  • Xan

    I did something similar with local voter registration data a while back. Casey was tops and Morgan was a top name not on your list. My data was all adults, of course, so was almost the inverse your set. It’s also interesting to look at it over time since some names flip genders.

    I weighted my counts based on the proportion of each gender in my data set. It seems you should do something similar since the M/F ratio for births is not 50/50 — more like 1.05, I think. Then maybe Amari wins.

    I hope Infant is an error…

    Many gender-neutral names, like Pat, are underrepresented because they’re nicknames. Wikipedia has a list of unisex nicknames if you want to try to get Pat into the top list where it belongs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_name#Nicknames

    (Btw, your link to the data set is missing the “http://” needed to make it an absolute URL.)

    • Great suggestions, thank you Xan!

      I’m on the fence about adjusting for the relative birth rate. Just because there’s a bias in birth rate, does that mean that we should expect to see that bias in naming as well? I’m not completely sure.

      Trying to capture nicknames like Pat would be particularly difficult, I think, because some names like Elizabeth have over half a dozen possible nicknames. That sounds like a lengthy research project all on its own — definitely a path worth pursuing though!

      Thanks for the note about the link – fixed!

      • Xan

        I suppose considering the relative birth weight is asking a slightly different question. Trying to equate P(name | F) with P(name | M) instead of P(M | name) with P(F | name).

  • Derek B. Bell

    Is it possible that “baby” and “infant” are reported for children that will given up for adoption?

    It’s common practice for hospital to register births as Baby Boy/Girl [Mother’s Last Name], so they may also use Baby/Infant.

    • I suspect something like that is going on because I’m seeing other oddities like “Abcde.” Must be placeholders.

      • Alyson Shiwei

        Supposedly there are people with the name Abcde pronounced “AB-suh-dee”

        • Yes. This is a legit name choice.

          • Manticore

            I would go “actual” rather than legit. -.-

            • Caitlin

              Might be ethnic? Try working in a school with a high population of students from the middle east of Africa, you get to feel like an idiot every time you meet a new kid.

        • Amanda

          I work at a school and we had a student named Abcde.

  • tony

    Robin?
    but Pat is usually short for Patricia or Patrick, and Chris is usually short for Christopher or Christin… so that skews things

    • fngaz

      Here in my office, we have Christine, Christina and a few Christopher’s…. and we all go by Chris. Of course, people named Kristin, Christian may go by Kris/Chris, too.

  • Walter Reinhart

    Elisha is a very old male name. He appeared as a prophet in the time of the kings in the Old Testament.

    • Didn’t know that – thank you for sharing, Walter!

      • Katherine Laine

        It’s probably also a pronunciation issue. Eli-sha for boys, but EE-lisha for girls.

        • Jack Cullen

          I’ve heard almost invariably “Uh-leesha” from girls with the name elisha

      • rand12139029

        Not to be confused with his mentor, Elijah, mind you.

    • Bismarck

      Eli Manning’s full name is Elisha.

    • golden number

      Seriously, when I read “I feel bad for the 7,000+ boys named Elisha.” I assumed the author meant “girls named Elisha”. I thought Elisha was a common boys name, but learning that people are using it for girls was a new one for me.

  • So 8% of the babies called Sue are male?! Johnny Cash turns in his grave.

  • Paul Rubin

    HT for the Johnny Cash reference.

  • Laura

    I work with someone named Baby, so… some people really do name their kids that.

  • It might be a littler harder to put together, but I’d love to see similar chart where names that are spelled different for boys and girls but pronounced the same are included. Such as Ryan/Rian, and the Ryley/Reilly on your chart.

  • luxsypher

    Wait what ? that many people named Marion are boys ? in france it’s only for girls

    • d3331892828

      Marion Barry springs to mind.

      John Wayne was originally named Marion, although he did change it.

    • Jechi-oo Blatfrignor

      Marion is used in (American?) English as the masculine form of Mary. There is some debate how valid that is etymologically speaking.
      The closest French equivalent would be something like Jean-Marie, where Marie is bolted onto a masculine name (presumably so there is no confusion). The literal equivalent to that in English would be seen in most places as “odd”, although it was not uncommon in Catholic Ireland.

    • ZeroCorpse

      Wasn’t that John Wayne’s real name?

  • rilian

    You have 3 variations of Riley on the list…also, Jesse is the usual male form of that name. Jessie (usually short for Jessica) is usually feminine.

    Also surprised Chris isn’t on the list in some form. I used to see both male and female of that all the time. Usually short for Christine (F) and Christopher (M). Many variations of spelling of course..

  • Tyler Durden

    And none of these are good names.

  • Tyler Durden

    And none of these are good names.

  • gskema

    I dont see Alex

  • Rob H

    ha, both Manning brothers make it on to the list.

    • Rob

      I heard Robbie was very 50/50 but it’s not there.

  • Maria DeCiccio

    Why would someone name their child infant?

  • Preston Scott

    Baby? Please tell me people don’t actually name someone, Baby…

  • drewzer15

    What about Jordan?

  • sillysue

    finally my friends can stop laughing for being named sillysue – Silly sue Theomega

  • sebastian muñoz

    I met someone called baby… i still giggle about it.

  • Alberto J. Onetto

    George Carlin knew what’s up https://youtu.be/oo8CrY_ZfFk?t=20s

  • Antiquus

    Dana?

  • Tarun Johnson

    Gail

  • anaebira

    Baby/Infant (usually followed by last name) are used as place holders in hospital forms before the baby is named.

  • Jessica Jeanson

    Who names their kid infant or baby are you fucking retarded???

    • Caitlin

      People who haven’t named their babies yet on the way out of the hospital.

  • Martin

    Dont forget of Chandler

  • yapity

    Elisha pronounced EE-Lie-shah and not EE-LEE-shah, is a boys name from the bible. though Elijah is usually more popular for boys. I was more surprised though that some girls are named Elisha. Some of these other names though just make me sad. I really hope “baby” and “Infant” are placeholders like you said.

  • Grace Yohe

    …. Who names their baby “Infant”?

    • ZeroCorpse

      And how awkward is that name when you’re an adult?

  • journeyv

    Terry, Robin, Leslie, and Kelsey all come to mind as gender-neutral names which apparently didn’t make the list. Any chance these could be checked against later ages? Maybe there’s a trend of, “most women named Pat are aged between 45-60.” I wonder what the numbers would say.

  • Caitlin

    Elisha is an old testament dude, I thought it was weirder that someone would call a girl that. It’s like calling a girl Jeremiah.

  • Justice Miracle

    Hi, Justice here! I am a transgender person who identifies as female more closely than male. Nice article, but you should know that most of us transgender and gender neutral folks are not super keen on being represented by Julia Sweeneys Pat character which we view as a very trans phobic relic of a less enlightened era. Please rethink how you represent gender neutral folks for future articles. Thank you.

  • satyr1con

    According to namespedia.com, Emory is 97% masculine.

  • shmyah

    What kinda assholes name their kids infant and baby