Flavor of the Week: Having a Boys’ Name as a Girl


I am not just one of those people who, at eight, could tell you what I wanted to name my children. I am one of those people who has, at different stages of her life, had such clear ideas of what I wanted to name my children that my best friends can give you a catalog of baby names that have been or still are in my repertoire.

In a strange way, this herd of imaginary children that I dreamed up is, or was, an extension of me. My best friend Nicole still taunts me about “Milo”—that one was from, like, fifth or sixth grade—and I kind of deny that I would still use it but a) I still have a strong connection to/association with the name, it’s like the Milo I envisioned myself birthing some twenty years down the road was an imaginary friend of sorts, and b) any validity of my denial completely falls through when you talk to my mom about how, just last year, I refused to let my family name our new puppy Milo in fear that one day, I would want to use it for a child but would not be able to because “Milo” would be forever ruined with images of a small labradoodle.

I’ve spoken before of my thoughts on baby names and how the name game, like any other sport, changes over time and adapts to the strange ways in which our social interactions present themselves. For example, when you think about Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter “Apple,” (is it offensive that I put someone’s name in quotations? Does that make it sound like imitation meat on a kosher Chinese food menu?) and then you think about her obsession with green juice, everything makes a lot more sense.

So what about this whole giving your girl a boys’ name-thing?

When I was born, my parents named me Hannah Dylan. I thought Hannah was a relatively unique name—I’ve always considered any name that isn’t Britney, Ashley, or Melissa (sorry Britneys, Ashleys, and Melissas) to be a unique name—and Dylan, for obvious reasons, even uniquer.

In my preschool class there was another “Hannah.” According to my mom, she taught me what sex was but I don’t remember learning about sex until third grade when this girl who shall remain unnamed showed me a picture of it on Google, and my epiphany at that moment was so great that I don’t find it possible for me to have had ANY prior knowledge of sex beforehand. Anyway, so there was this other Hannah and for that reason, people called me Hannah Dylan. I have vague memories of my teachers writing it on my finger paintings. I have vague memories of introducing myself as Hannah Dylan. I have less vague memories of practicing my signature to ensure the “D” was included between the “H” and the “P.”

I loved my middle name. I always have, and I always will. As I get older and the babynaming gets weirder, there’s an infinitely larger amount of not only girls with “boys’” names, but also of “gender-neutral” names. In my eyes, “Blake” is just as well-suited for a girl as it is for a boy. This may be because I know a very cool female Blake who is not Blake Lively, in all seriousness, and a very weird male Blake. Of course, this also has larger implications when we consider how perhaps there should no longer be “girl names” or “boy names” at all. I won’t let that go unmentioned, yet it deserves many an essay on its own to be elaborated upon. There are certain names, though, that we have undeniably been programmed to think of as “boy” or “girl” names.

Last night, I was speaking with some friends about names and I mentioned how I used to pretend my name was hyphenated Hannah-Dylan, and though I neglected to mention it to them, I did used to go around telling people that my first name was Hannah Dylan, not just Hannah, because my birth certificate said “Hannah Dylan” in the “first name” spot. In reality, I don’t even know if there is a first name spot on birth certificates, I don’t really remember the last time I even saw a birth certificate, and I do know that my birth certificate says “Hannah Dylan” but just because it says that does not mean my parents had any intention of “Hannah Dylan” being the “Mary Ellen” of our generation.

I don’t think I love having “Dylan” be a part of my identity precisely because it’s a “boys’ name” as much as I love it because it’s a unique name that avoids sounding absurdly ridiculous or reflective of green juice culture. Girls with “boys’ names” are always proud of them. Last night at the table, when a friend with an objectively good taste for cool told me that she wished I went by Dylan (as, you know, some people do go by their middle names as their first names, I don’t always understand how this works or comes to be but it does) and that she thought I would “pull it off” really well, I felt like I had gotten a nice pat on the back. Really? I thought. Thank you, I told her.

Why am I thankful that I could “pull off” a boys’ name? Why do some of my peers insist that they don’t know what they want to name their children, but know they want to use a boys’ names for a daughter? And, we can’t not wonder: why did Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds name their daughter “James?” Do they just love the “idea” or the “concept behind” crossing traditional gender boundaries?

Also, what is it about me that makes “Dylan” such an integral part of my identity? Why does almost every individual in the male species instinctively call me “HDP” and not “HP?” And, really, how do I make sure I continue to be able to “pull off” my fancy middle name for all of eternity?

Tell me, I’m ahb-so-lutely dying to know: what is it about a girl that makes her well-suited for a name usually granted to the other half?

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