Spellings signal gender in names that sound the same

Happy Friday! I’m up far too late on what started on Thursday night, but had to share this with you before I go to bed. I was reading this article on gender-neutral baby names, and was distracted by this statement: “spellings have long signaled gender in names that sound the same: Yves vs. Eve” — of course I had to make a list of such names! These are some I’ve seen/heard:

Adrian and Adrienne
Elliott and Eliette
Francis and Frances
Gene and Jean
Jesse and Jessie
Julian and Julienne
Marian and Marion
Micah and Meike
Michael and Michal
Noah and Noa
Noel and Noelle
Rhys and Reese/Reece
Ryan and Ryann(e)

I know they’re not all strictly traditional (Ryan and Ryann(e)); and I’ve seen women with the masculine spelling (Gene), and men with the feminine spelling (except it’s not always feminine, like Jean and Reese/Reece); and the pronunciations aren’t always that simple (knoll or no-EL for Noel?), but still — pretty fun! What can you add to this list?


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42 thoughts on “Spellings signal gender in names that sound the same

  1. Michel and Michelle
    Dominic and Dominique
    I guess there could be more French examples.
    As for Micah, there’s also a Polish name Majka (a diminutive of Maja) that’s pronounced just the same.
    I’ve also seen Eliotte as a feminisation of Elliott.
    Recently I’ve read somewhere about Cullyn as a feminine formm of Cullen and I’d think there must be more such modern feminisations that are created via -lyn at the end.
    And there seems to be that tendency that -ie ending names are feminine, while -y ending are masculine, though of course there are lots of exceptions so I’m not sure if that counts here.
    That’s all I can think of right now but now that I actually think of it I guess there could be many more such names, also such that are used for different genders in different cultures/languages.

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    • You’re so right about the modern feminizations created via -lyn, or adding in y’s or changing an ending y to an i or ie. I think the French really do it well — there’s a a similar-sounding feminine name for so many masculine names!

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  2. Erin and Aaron

    Also, I would disagree about Reece/Reese. That to me is a male name that has been co-opted for girls. Before the 1990’s it was pretty much exclusively a male name with that spelling (Rhys has always been the least common way to spell it for boys – until recently). I think Reese Witherspoon made it popular for girls. Never heard it for a girl before her. Reese Witherspoon’s first movie was in 1991. First time Reese makes the SS list for girls is 1992 (9 babies). Previous years it is <5 – which could mean zero (except for 6 in 1924???) and has been climbing ever since. Reese is a middle name anyway (from her mother's maiden name) which she took for acting. Boy name becomes girl name.

    So I think of it more like Ashley, Shannon, Leslie, etc. and more recently the whole James, Micah, girl thing.

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  3. Reese in all its spellings is traditionally masculine, as is Elliott. I don’t think there is any one feminine spelling of either. Jean and Jeanne are said the same way in France, with Jean masculine and Jeanne feminine. Also Gabriel and Gabrielle, Rene and Renee, Denis and Denise, etc.

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    • One of our readers’ grandmother was named Eliette! Behindthename has it as a feminine form of Elijah, like Elliott. I think it’s so lovely, and that was the first time I’d heard it! Reese is definitely traditionally masculine, yes; I’d assumed that Rhys was the only spelling of it that was still exclusively male, but I just looked it up and there were actually 31 girls named Rhys in 2013, bah! Rene and Renee is a good one, and Gabriel and Gabrielle are said the same in French, aren’t they? I never think of that, since they’re said differently in English. Are Denis and Denise said the same though? In French?

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      • Denis and Denise are not pronounced the same in French. Denis is Duh nee and Denise is Duh neez. For the most part, French is an unaccented language, with all syllables receiving equal emphasis.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re probably right that Lee is traditionally masculine, since it started as a surname, which usually goes to boys as a first name before girls, though I know loads of girls with the name Lee (usually the middle name). I would definitely think Leigh has predominantly feminine usage these days (though its etymology is the same as Lee and it was used as a boy name before it was used as a girl name) — especially with its usage on the end of names like Charleigh, Paisleigh, Harleigh, Finleigh, etc. in an attempt to further feminize them. I just looked it up and there were 46 girls named Leigh born in 2018 and 8 boys

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  4. Jesse & Jessie
    Billy & Billie
    Tony & Toni
    Bobby & Bobbi, Bobbie
    Carroll & Carol

    I find French names follow this pattern quite often:
    André & Andrée
    Corin & Corinne
    Esmé & Esmée
    Émilien & Émilienne
    Emmanuel & Emmanuelle
    Fabien & Fabienne
    Germain & Germaine
    Lucien & Lucienne
    Marcel & Marcelle
    Maximilien & Maximilienne
    Pascal & Pascale
    Raphaël & Raphaëlle
    René & Renée
    Sébastien & Sébastienne
    Sylvain & Sylvaine
    Vivien & Vivienne

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  5. In some of the examples, like the French ones ending in -ette or -enne, the feminine form with that ending is pronounced differently, though, so the difference is clear to a listener, not just a reader. E.g. Gabriel and Gabrielle, Julian and Julienne, sound different. While Francis and Frances, Lee and Leigh typically are said the same (though some people do pronounce Francis and -ces a little differently I think).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh interesting, I also say Julien and Julienne the same! I definitely say Gabriel and Gabrielle differently, but I thought they were said the same in French? (I also say Francis and Frances the same. I think I would drive you crazy! )

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  6. Loren & Lauren

    I would also argue that more females are being named Elliott now than previously, so I think that one may not work for the current crop of babies.

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      • I was just reading about all this over the last few days, it’s so interesting! I do think there are some names that continue to feel masculine to some people, even as more girls use them, and some that truly start to feel unisex. And of course there are the names that used to be exclusively male that are used so much for girls more recently that they’re mostly considered girl names, like Ashley, Leslie, Shirley, etc., so many of which were surnames to start.

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      • My maiden name is Elliott and I’ve always wanted to name my daughter that. Since I was little! And now I’m finally pregnant with a girl and Elliott has become so popular for a girl lately! So frustrating haha I was hoping to be original 😂 I love the Elliette version. So beautiful. But I don’t think I could pull it off when my maiden name is spelled Elliott.

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      • I’m 1000% on board with a mom’s maiden name being used for a daughter! If my maiden name was Elliott, I’d want to do that too! I hope you do!

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    • I love the name Rowan/Rowen! They’re both definitely being used for girls now! I hadn’t thought there was a spelling difference though, so I looked them up — indeed, both spellings are used more for boys than girls (186 girls named Rowen in 2018 vs 585 boys; 1447 girls named Rowan vs 3020 boys), though good usage for both.

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    • I had a professor in college who could accurately guess where each of his American students were from in the US just from listening to them talk — it was the first time I realized how different dialects within the same country can be, never mind different countries!

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  7. These are not from the same roots, but Llewelyn and Lou Ellen sound similar. I love Llewelyn but don’t think I could use it for that reason!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My daughter has a little girl named Alyx in her class. I know “Alex” is used for both boys and girls; but I’ve seen Alyx, and an Alixe I knew in college, for girls only. Funny enough little Alyx often goes by Alli (spelled Alli…I’m so baffled why they don’t just use “Aly” as a shortening of her given name, or even Ally if they want 2 L’s but using her given vowel. Just interesting!)

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