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Name gender over time

February 23rd, 2016
gender, names

There are various gendered patterns you hear people talk about with names, one of which is that names go from male to female but not the other way around. After a friend put up a challenge to find even a single name that went the other way, I decided to look into the data.

In the US, the Social Security Admninistration provides a list of all names that at least five social security card holders have had, broken down by year and gender. I looked at this list and found all the names that had a decade where they were 60%+ one gender and then a later decade where they were 60%+ the other gender. For example, 86% of babies named "Gale" were male in 1920s, but by the 1950s 81% were female:

Overall, I found 62 popular male-to-female names and 26 female-to-male ones. What do these look like?

Names that moved from male to female
NameMale % (n)Male
Female % (n)Female
Addison100% (n=170)1880s93%(n=51348)2000s
Allison100% (n=70)1880s100%(n=74418)1990s
Angel87% (n=1088)1930s60%(n=16816)1970s
Ariel67% (n=1477)1970s86%(n=28135)1990s
Ashley100% (n=80)1880s100%(n=301779)1990s
Aubrey97% (n=3371)1950s95%(n=29506)2000s
Avery100% (n=132)1880s72%(n=41680)2000s
Bailey100% (n=78)1880s90%(n=4079)1980s
Beverly100% (n=107)1880s100%(n=3347)1990s
Billie78% (n=123)1880s89%(n=9978)1970s
Blair100% (n=43)1880s67%(n=3562)1990s
Brook70% (n=709)1960s88%(n=3009)1990s
Carey96% (n=144)1880s67%(n=5603)1970s
Courtney67% (n=628)1940s97%(n=113275)1990s
Dana67% (n=90)1880s91%(n=7930)2000s
Dee76% (n=276)1880s88%(n=4829)1960s
Elisha100% (n=336)1880s83%(n=4840)1980s
Emerson100% (n=185)1880s62%(n=6199)2000s
Emery100% (n=449)1880s68%(n=3546)2000s
Gale86% (n=2008)1920s81%(n=9479)1950s
Garnett79% (n=46)1880s63%(n=219)1900s
Harley100% (n=685)1880s62%(n=8192)2000s
Harper100% (n=52)1880s80%(n=5663)2000s
Hollie72% (n=52)1880s100%(n=2883)1990s
Jackie66% (n=15674)1930s73%(n=25895)1960s
Jaime91% (n=769)1940s66%(n=22772)1970s
Jodie65% (n=324)1910s95%(n=4256)1980s
Kelley100% (n=81)1900s92%(n=9786)1980s
Kelly100% (n=119)1880s93%(n=21607)2000s
Kendall100% (n=355)1910s81%(n=21020)2000s
Kennedy99% (n=1128)1960s94%(n=27554)2000s
Kerry90% (n=535)1930s71%(n=16128)1970s
Kim68% (n=2724)1940s93%(n=94380)1960s
Lacy84% (n=873)1940s97%(n=8404)1980s
Lauren100% (n=383)1910s100%(n=97115)2000s
Leigh100% (n=33)1880s95%(n=11412)1970s
Lesley100% (n=74)1900s98%(n=4121)2000s
Leslie93% (n=10629)1910s97%(n=31036)2000s
Lindsay100% (n=62)1880s99%(n=12258)2000s
Lindsey100% (n=109)1880s99%(n=21629)2000s
Lindy87% (n=546)1920s97%(n=1777)1980s
Loren100% (n=230)1880s64%(n=3519)1990s
Lynn95% (n=272)1880s89%(n=51935)1960s
Madison100% (n=218)1880s99%(n=193063)2000s
Morgan100% (n=252)1880s90%(n=91179)1990s
Paris100% (n=64)1880s91%(n=10321)2000s
Pat100% (n=220)1880s75%(n=16149)1940s
Patsy60% (n=1845)1910s98%(n=40274)1940s
Reese100% (n=81)1880s68%(n=13819)2000s
Regan62% (n=583)1960s90%(n=6041)2000s
Rosario85% (n=821)1910s77%(n=1380)1950s
Sandy100% (n=191)1880s94%(n=2849)2000s
Shelby100% (n=115)1880s97%(n=31283)2000s
Shelly100% (n=54)1890s99%(n=9095)1980s
Sidney97% (n=12794)1910s75%(n=8400)2000s
Skylar75% (n=1576)1980s78%(n=21860)2000s
Stacy64% (n=586)1940s96%(n=36989)1980s
Stevie99% (n=3571)1960s71%(n=2842)1990s
Sydney91% (n=137)1880s99%(n=76409)2000s
Taylor100% (n=276)1880s85%(n=100918)2000s
Tracy84% (n=846)1930s89%(n=28489)1980s
Whitney100% (n=335)1910s99%(n=32883)1990s

Names that moved from female to male
NameFemale % (n)Female
Male % (n)Male
Angel60% (n=16816)1970s79%(n=94237)2000s
Artie85% (n=699)1890s81%(n=570)1960s
Ashton63% (n=3609)1980s87%(n=32400)2000s
Audie92% (n=54)1880s93%(n=632)1960s
Dell68% (n=169)1900s71%(n=599)1960s
Donnie91% (n=179)1880s97%(n=3824)1980s
Elisha83% (n=4840)1980s67%(n=3456)2000s
Frankie100% (n=439)1880s82%(n=3656)1980s
Garnett63% (n=219)1900s62%(n=505)1940s
Germaine100% (n=230)1900s63%(n=972)1970s
Gerry76% (n=800)1920s86%(n=1339)1970s
Jackie94% (n=150)1900s66%(n=15674)1930s
Jaime66% (n=22772)1970s84%(n=12040)2000s
Jan84% (n=12827)1960s96%(n=2054)2000s
Jean98% (n=80360)1940s76%(n=2613)2000s
Jessie83% (n=9186)1880s67%(n=8697)1960s
Joan100% (n=121)1880s64%(n=1805)2000s
Kris63% (n=7157)1960s72%(n=1182)1980s
Lennie92% (n=511)1900s76%(n=568)1960s
Maxie87% (n=48)1880s72%(n=579)1950s
Merle65% (n=717)1890s91%(n=929)1970s
Pat75% (n=16149)1940s77%(n=788)1970s
Patsy97% (n=193)1880s60%(n=1845)1910s
Robbie96% (n=293)1890s78%(n=2487)1980s
Theo64% (n=212)1890s65%(n=680)1930s
Toby65% (n=947)1930s91%(n=9889)1970s

The first thing I noticed with these two lists, is that it's not as lopsided as I expected. While there are definitely more male names that have become female, it's only 2-3x more and there are quite a few that have gone the other way:

And even some that have switched more than once:

One thing that jumps out at me about the female-to-male list, though, is that there are a lot of diminutives, like "Frankie".

My guess is what's happening here is that instead of a traditionally female name becoming a common male name, we're mostly seeing changing norms around what to put down as official names for Social Security purposes. The idea is that maybe there have always been more men going by "Frankie," but initially most of these men had been given the name "Frank" and later more parents started putting down the diminutive as the official name. I don't know how I'd test this guess though.

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