Is it ok to give a baby girl a boy’s name, and vice versa?

Gender distinction and differentiation is something we enforce in our children before they are even born, and we do so by selecting our child’s name from a list of names broken up into the categories of “boy names” and “girl names”. While there are names that are considered to be unisex, giving your child a unisex name isn’t quite the same as awarding them one that is deemed to “only be appropriate” for a child of the opposite gender.

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have just had a baby girl, and named her Wyatt.
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have also just had a girl, and named her James.
Both are masculine names for girls.

When my partner found out about this particular parental choice, she was shocked.  How could caring parents do this to their baby?  I on the other hand was quite impressed at the rejection of socially constructed gender norms and a significant debate ensued between us, the crux of which was, “Is this irresponsible parenting?  Is it something that non-celebrities could ever do?  What example does this celebrity trend set for the average parent?”

The challenge with going against gender naming conventions is that when adults break gender norms, they are doing so with an adult understanding of how those norms are created, enforced and most importantly, what breaking them means.  A child does not.

As a conscientious parent you can attempt to enlighten your children to the trials of adhering to or breaking gender conventions, unfortunately you can’t enlighten all the other school children or their parents…  That can make life very difficult for your child.

The problem with breaking gender norms is that it isn’t too different to breaking cultural or religious norms, all three are just belief systems.  The average human being doesn’t like people or actions that go against their core belief systems.  I have a 7 year-old son who is required to go to a generic-Christian religious studies class as part of his public state-school curriculum, though you can choose to have your child opt out by filling out tedious paperwork that says you don’t want to have your child participate. I find the idea of enforcing generic-Christianity at a state school to be incredibly inappropriate and just another step the fine nation of Australia takes to keep itself white and free from “brown-people religion”, or heaven forbid, rational atheism.  My choice to make this particular stand has not made myself or my son any friends in his overwhelmingly Christian school…

Opting out of gender norms is a much tougher sell than abstaining from religion, because gender norms are so subtly ingrained in our everyday lives most of us barely register them until something flies in the face of them… like naming your child something we feel is “inappropriate”.

As a child I grew up with a boy called Kimberly.  He was ridiculed constantly and often bullied or beaten.  Breaking the gender norm of boy names for boys and girl names for girls will mean that your child is likely to spend their entire youth getting physically attacked, or mercilessly teased, a situation the child would most likely blame the parent for (and possibly rightly so).

I doubt that this is an issue that “Wyatt” and “James” will likely ever have to deal with; being rich, famous and having bodyguards probably comes with perks like not needing to deal with school yard bullies.  Although they may need to deal with tabloid trolls and cyber bullies in their place.  The other side of that debate is girls becoming more masculine is seen as acceptable in a world that still strictly enforces male gender-role, I sincerely doubt the same would be said if these were celebrity male babies being given girl’s names…

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

What do you think of their decision to award what is considered a masculine name to a girl?  Do you think the child will suffer for that decision or will they be fine?


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