The view from the farm


The taint of femininity
May 6, 2011, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Lynn, Hilary, Joyce, and Courtney used to be considered perfectly good names for a boy baby.  Not any more.

Those who name babies borrowed those names from the blue column, putting them over on the pink side as well.  And once a name is even 10% attached to pale pink, no parent wants to give a baby boy even a tiny hint of it.

Let’s cut to the chase.  Here’s what I think it boils down to — men can’t be even a little bit feminine.  Women don’t have that problem with masculinity.

News flash, huh?  I know, I know, and Francisco Franco is still dead, too.  It’s just that I keep thinking we’ve gotten beyond that.

Jonathan and I used to think we were making great strides for the unpigeonholing of the sexes when we put our oldest son in a hand-me-down pink onesie.  When strangers admired the cute baby and asked his name, they were horrified to hear that it was Patrick.  But when either of his sisters wore blue, that was just fine.

Our sons had dolls as well as teddy bears, and our daughters were ferociously competitive soccer players.  Real men do cry, and real women do change tires.  Heck, Jonathan stayed home with our kids for most of their youth.  He’s a registered nurse and was the one to suggest that we hyphenate our names, which makes him super-feminine, right?  Not so much.

Why is it that women can wear pants and wear their hair very short without anybody batting an eye?  But if a man appears in public in a kilt with longish hair, he has to explain himself over and over.

Years ago, a little girl at my kids’ school cut her finger during the gardening class that I was teaching.  I told her to sit tight for just a sec and I would get my husband the nurse to check it out.  That was one of the best things I could have done, apparently, because it took her mind off the pain.  She roared with laughter.   “Men can’t be nurses!” she finally explained to me when I didn’t get the joke.  Her mom and dad were both doctors, but they hadn’t thought to explain to her that things cut both ways.

I should have seen this coming when Jonathan was the only man in his nursing school’s graduating class.  There were about 100 graduates, seems to me.  Our double-barrelled last name is so long that his first name was often cut off to become Jonatha — at least I think that’s why it was cut off.  Maybe somebody in the registrar’s office thought that all nursing students were women and so “Jonathan” was a typo.

Our family practitioner has just welcomed his third baby to the family.  He and his wife already had a boy and a girl, so there isn’t even a perceived need for them to use a masculine name for the baby, right?  Her name is Vaughn Catherine, or something spelled very similar to it.  Vaughn is not a family name.  And if she had been a boy, she would have been Elliott.

It is absolutely none of my business what they name their baby any more than it is my business if people eat the inedible, such as Brussels sprouts.  I’m just puzzled.  Why is it okay for a girl baby to have a boy’s name but not the other way around?

What’s so horrible about femininity, anyway?

Advertisements

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The points, in order:

“Lynn, Hilary, Joyce, and Courtney used to be considered perfectly good names for a boy baby. Not any more.”

Not any more is right. None of those names was in the Social Security Administration’s top 200 for U.S. boys’ names in the last decade.

However, none of those names was in the top 200 for girls’ names, either.

Included in the top 20 boys’ names, however, are potential girls’ names Ryan and Tyler. On the girls’ side are Samantha (Sam, a gender-neutral nickname), Alexis (Alex) and Taylor (also a boys’ name). Boy/girl names Dylan, Logan, Jordan and Cameron are in the top 50 for boys.

It isn’t just the 2000s getting few Lynns, Hilarys, Joyces and Courtneys (and Shirleys, Danas and Ashleys): In the 1880s, Lynn, Hilary, Joyce and Courtney were not in the top 200 on either side. (You’d probably have to go over to Britain to find many Lynns.) Regardless, this point is, while an interesting argument, not supported by the evidence:

“Those who name babies borrowed those names from the blue column, putting them over on the pink side as well. And once a name is even 10% attached to pale pink, no parent wants to give a baby boy even a tiny hint of it.”

Moving along:

“Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what I think it boils down to — men can’t be even a little bit feminine. Women don’t have that problem with masculinity.”

I think the point is different. Here’s the easiest way I can explain it:

“It’s a boy.”

This evokes a masculine response in many people. Many people want a strongly gendered name for their child. (Jacob, the most popular boy’s name from 2000-2010, is the name of a very thoroughly male character in a popular book series. It’s not quite on par with naming a boy Harry, but it’s the same concept.)

You gave your children unmistakably gendered names. Two kinds of people would see your kids’ names and get their genders wrong — morons and people not familiar with gender in Anglo names.

When babies are born, there isn’t a hell of a lot to distinguish boys from girls. (For the sake of convenience, I will omit the issue of when the gender is mixed or undetermined.) The skin and publicly visible contours aren’t going to help much, so parents use names and clothing (and accessories — infants with their ears pierced, 3-month-old girls with a bow over a meticulously brushed tuft of hair) to establish gender.

Boys’ names tend to be associated with men and men alone. The 2000s list has something like 10 percent crossover. The 1880s list is nowhere near that gender-bending: Jesse, at #28, is the first even quasifemale boys’ name. (I knew a girl named Robinson Walter, but her parents thought she was going to be a boy. She was not. At all.) And other than Minnie Minoso (not his real name), the girls’ list doesn’t have a boys’ name until #40, Jessie.

Based on the data, names have become more gender-blind in the last 120 years, but you’re not going to find a girl named Richard or a boy named Margaret. The issue is not one of a lack of femininity for boys, I think, but the desire to have gender expressed in names. Boys’ names are masculine in at least two ways (the vowel endings and the typicality), and girls’ names are as well. Now, more girls are being given names we used to give only to boys, and relatively few boys are being named Emily, but this is not really doctorate-level cultural anthropology.

“Jonathan and I used to think we were making great strides for the unpigeonholing of the sexes when we put our oldest son in a hand-me-down pink onesie. When strangers admired the cute baby and asked his name, they were horrified to hear that it was Patrick. But when either of his sisters wore blue, that was just fine.”

And you also dressed me in something that made me look like a small monk. You were poor, the clothing was clean and kept my temperature where it needed to be and you did what you wanted to do and challenged anyone to take issue with your child. (Doesn’t happen often, and the people who are offended will many of them move on or just get huffy.)

But pink is a girly color. Blue, however, is not a masculine color. Black? Sure, manly — but there’s also the little black dress. Plus, most babies’ clothing is not black because black hides stains and other things that can get parents worried about illness and toxins and such — plus, let’s face it: Unless your baby is your 25-year-old hot wife, you’re not dressing your baby in black. It’s boring and it absorbs heat, which is a great way to give your kid a fever.

Purple is a girly color. Boys’ clothing rarely comes in purple. Brown is a masculine color — the darker the color, the more masculine, but the less of a chance infants’ clothing comes in it, again because 1) it isn’t cute and 2) body temperature regulation.

“(My husband is) a registered nurse and was the one to suggest that we hyphenate our names, which makes him super-feminine, right? Not so much.”

Omitted from this story is that you didn’t want to be the 506th Mrs. Smith at the yearly Christmas gathering. Also omitted from this story is the relative lack of personal connection he has to his family name. When I changed my name when I got married, he was … upset? No. Confused? No. He ribbed me about it? No. (Mostly, he was too focused on getting out of his suit and into something more comfortable.)

I wouldn’t call Daddy manly, but I think that term is useless anyway.

“Why is it that women can wear pants and wear their hair very short without anybody batting an eye?”

As Barney Frank said, on what planet do you spend most of your time? Google Elena Kagan lesbian. People questioned her sexuality because she wears little makeup, she wears pants (and loosely fitting clothing) and her hair is short. She pointedly wore skirts and feminine colors when she did her Capitol Hill Senate tour. Then there was Janet Reno, who had short hair and was assumed to be gay. The notion that women can look like boys, so to speak, and escape unscathed is simply not the case. Look at Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe — sure, she wears pantsuits, but when she’s in the Middle East, you’re not going to find her in pants.

“But if a man appears in public in a kilt with longish hair, he has to explain himself over and over.”

I explained twice — once to airport security because they didn’t know what a kilt pin is, once to some guy from California who wanted to know what my sporran is. Then there are the people at the Highland Games and the Scottish field hockey team (all men — field hockey was a men’s sport, as was everything else).

People ask about my hair because they’re curious, not because they think I am a girl.

“(I) should have seen this coming when Jonathan was the only man in his nursing school’s graduating class. There were about 100 graduates, seems to me. Our double-barrelled last name is so long that his first name was often cut off to become Jonatha — at least I think that’s why it was cut off. Maybe somebody in the registrar’s office thought that all nursing students were women and so “Jonathan” was a typo.”

My name was cut off in SAT results because there were insufficient letter spaces. Same with a class at Raddy. Seems a reasonable issue — Jonathan is already long, and a hyphenated last name is going to take up a giant chunk of space.

“Our family practitioner has just welcomed his third baby to the family. He and his wife already had a boy and a girl, so there isn’t even a perceived need for them to use a masculine name for the baby, right? Her name is Vaughn Catherine, or something spelled very similar to it. Vaughn is not a family name. And if she had been a boy, she would have been Elliott.”

Did you ask if this is their last child and they really wanted to name a child Vaughn?

Now, in your argument that femininity is seen as bad, did you consider the advent of metrosexuality? Shows in which men have style? Guyliner? The 3.4 million Google hits for gender studies versus the 3.9 million for women’s studies? Long hair on football players? (In the last few days before the Super Bowl, ESPN did a story comparing the Packers’ and Steelers’ hair. They had run out of other angles. There’s also Troy Polamalu’s hair insurance.) The growing acceptance and understanding of GLBT folks? A presidential candidate running on repealing DOMA, enacting ENDA and ending DADT and facing serious heat, after being elected, for doing none of those things?

The president’s name, btw, is Blessed — a concept name, similar to Patience, Charity, Hope and Faith.

All girls’ names.

Same as his father.

Comment by iampunha

Why do people feel the need to exhibit their babies as BOYS or GIRLS? There’s no need to treat them differently unless you’re going to change their diapers, in which case you will almost always see at once what needs to be done. Is it really necessary for everybody to know that little Ashley (there’s another former boy’s name) is a girl or that little Carson is a boy?

Oh, and that’s another thing. What’s with people naming their babies stuff that ends with -son? Jackson, Harrison, Carson, etc. There was quite a wave of it a few years ago, and there’s still some around.

I gotta work.

Comment by phantomdiver

“Why do people feel the need to exhibit their babies as BOYS or GIRLS?”

Ask them. I’d say it’s a combination of:

thinking traditional gender roles are good/appropriate
having been raised that way themselves
getting a pile of gender-specific clothing at a baby shower
expressing affection by showing they know their infant — if gender is the only knowable thing, you go with that.

“There’s no need to treat them differently unless you’re going to change their diapers, in which case you will almost always see at once what needs to be done.”

A need argument in this case may be a mistake, given how few people need to reproduce to sustain the species.

“Is it really necessary for everybody to know that little Ashley (there’s another former boy’s name) is a girl or that little Carson is a boy?”

I think it’s an extension of the general pride people feel in their children. You can’t talk about a 2-month-old’s report card, after all — “She’s getting a B in not spitting up much after feedings, but her nappy time cues are an incomplete so far.”

“What’s with people naming their babies stuff that ends with -son? Jackson, Harrison, Carson, etc. There was quite a wave of it a few years ago, and there’s still some around.”

Sometimes, people want their kids to have distinct names. (One ethnic group takes this to new heights by inventing name prefixes, but we will not go there for now.) Sometimes a famous person shapes a generation of names. Jacob is one such name. Lyndon Johnson said, after he nominated Thurgood (born Thoroughgood) Marshall to be the first black Supreme Court justice, that he imagined a generation of black babies would be named Thurgood.

Didn’t happen. Why not? Because naming a kid Thurgood is up there with naming him Outerbridge.

Comment by iampunha

Who’s the famous Jacob whose name spawned all those millions of Jacob babies?

You don’t see babies named Henry Aaron, either.

Oh, and more boys’ names gone pink: Stacy and Shannon.

Comment by phantomdiver




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: