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The 35 Most Popular Unisex Baby Names in the U.S. (And Then Some)

Shift to neutral.

While gender reveals remain as popular as ever, these days, the top trend in baby naming is making it as hard as possible to guess your baby’s gender by reading their birth certificate. As you surely already know, modern parents love gender-neutral baby names, but if the rise of unisex baby names leaves you feeling like somewhat of an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer (“I’m just a caveman. I don’t understand your new, naming ways”), you’re in luck. Favorite data dad, Nathan Yau, has a series of graphs that will leave you a little less frightened and confused. It turns out, popular unisex names aren’t a 21st-century invention. Just ask Jackie Robinson or Jackie O.

As Yau points out, the rise of gender-neutral names in the U.S. between 1930 and 2012 is compelling, even if you’re not ready to name your boy Sue. The graphs looked at names with a 50-50 split between baby boy names and baby girl names. The first set of charts ranks the “mean squared error” of the top 35 names, while the second graph looks at the raw numbers for all 121 baby names. If you’re not Will Hunting, think of it as the electoral college of unisex names (one representative for a collective) versus to the popular vote (one person, one vote). While Jessie, Marion, Jackie, and Alva make up the top four in the first set, Jesse, Casey, Riley, and Peyton dominate in the second. The lesson is that you can let your little Jess(i)e decide their gender, but when it comes to who puts an “i” in their name — that’s still Mom and Dad’s call.

Unisex names were also affected by something called “poisoned” names, which thankfully has nothing to do with little Peyton consuming performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, poisoned names are uncommon baby names that can be traced to a person, event, movie, song, or anything else that popped up in the zeitgeist that makes a unique baby name popular. Just think of all the babies who were named Jackie after Robinson’s 1947 rookie year, Marion after the 2000 Olympics (not so good in retrospect), or Ariel — because Disney. Why non-poisoned gender-neutral names shift is anyone’s guess. More specifically, it’s Yau’s guess. And hopefully he figures it out before your daughter, Duke, is born.


[H/T] Flowing Data 

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