I don't know if it's normal to spend hours reading baby name books as a kid, but I totally did. I made countless lists of beautiful names (although, to be fair, I wanted the names for made up characters and future pets, not actual babies). I especially loved names from literature, to add some gravitas to the name of my hypothetical future puppy. And what's even better than a literary baby name? A gender neutral literary baby name.
I think we're all pretty clear at this point that gender is a social construct—there is, in fact, no biological reason that girls should have names ending in "a" and boys should have names ending in "o." But we're also pretty used to assuming people's genders based on their names. We would assume that any little ones named after Elizabeth Bennet would be girls, and that any kids named after King Arthur would be boys, and that any baby named after Holden Caulfield would be pretentious and disillusioned.
But if you want your future child (or pet) to have a name that works for all genders, you're in luck. The literary world is full of names that work for boys, girls, and everyone in between:
1. Jo, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Her full name is Josephine, but Jo March is so much more of a Jo than a Josephine. Jo's a fierce character who refuses to let her gender hold her back, and insists on using slang and whistling even though she's a girl. "Jo" works just fine without the "e" for little boys, too.
2. Brett, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
"Brett" is usually considered a boy's name. But then you also have Hemingway's Lady Brett Ashley, the irresistibly beautiful divorcee with short hair and multiple lovers. If you're hoping that your precious baby grows up to be a sexually liberated, globe-trotting party animal, then Brett is a great name for fun people of all genders.
3. Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Scout bucks traditional gender stereotypes in To Kill a Mockingbird. She doesn't want to dress or act a certain way just because she's a girl. But, beyond all gender distinctions, she's a smart, courageous kid with her heart in the right place. Perfect for any adventurous child with a bowl haircut.
4. Tristan, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bédier
If you want your baby's name to mean "full of sorrow," consider "Tristan." Tristan is a figure of tragic romance from ancient Celtic lore. And, while he might be a bit gloomy at times, but you can't do much better when it comes to characters who represent grand, transcendent love. It also sounds just as romantic and tragic for a little girl.
5. Charlie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
I always secretly hope that someone will give me the nickname "Charlie." No one ever does. But it's still a classic name for both boys and girls. After all, Charlie is by far the least horrifying child from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
6. Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Captain Nemo may not be the ideal role model for a child, but it sure is a cute name. And it sounds equally cute (and vaguely aquatic) for both boys and girls. "Nemo" is Latin for "nobody," and it might not be the most conventional name, but it's one to consider if you're hoping for a little submarine captain.
7. Artemis, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
OK, so the name "Artemis" is actually from Greek mythology. She's the goddess of the moon and the hunt. But Eoin Colfer decided that "Artemis" also makes a pretty great boy's name. "Artemis" works for any regal baby, and "Art" is a fairly adorable nickname.
8. Ariel, The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Most people associate the name "Ariel" with redheaded mermaids. But Shakespeare's Ariel was there first: in The Tempest, Ariel is a spirit who works for Prospero on his island. Ariel possesses great magical power, and the character has been interpreted as both male and female.
9. Sawyer, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
For anyone into the whole last-names-as-first-names trend, "Sawyer" is a classic. Tom Sawyer is a good-for-nothing prankster kid, who specializes in tricking other children into painting fences. "Tom" has a definite masculine vibe, but "Sawyer" works for tricksters of all kinds.
10. Piscine, Life of Pi by Yann Martel
"Piscine" is far from an ordinary name, but it's most certainly gender neutral. Almost no one else is named "Piscine," so you'd be hard pressed to associate any particular gender with it. And "Pi" is a cute (if... very unique) nickname. Plus, Pi Patel is a great character with one hell of a strong will to survive.
11. Theo, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
"Theo" can be short for "Theodore" or "Theodora." In The Goldfinch Theo is a boy, but the name works for any kid who gets hopes to one day get caught up in the mysterious underworld of art.
12. Dany, A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I know that some people are running around naming their kids Khaleesi, but if you're going to go the Song of Ice and Fire route, I much prefer Daenerys' nickname. "Dany" easily works for kids of all genders (and what kid doesn't want to be named after a character with her own dragons?).
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