As an admitted name nerd, I’ve noticed a trend in YA fiction recently: lots of characters sporting gender-neutral names. Gender-neutral names aren’t new: Morgan, Ashley, and Kelly crossed over from the boys’ side during the mid-20th century, for example, and the gender-neutral naming scene really exploded in the 1980s. Nor is this trend unique to YA literature: we see it in all segments of entertainment and everyday life. (Remember when Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner were dating?) But even though it may not be a new trend, it seems like gender-neutral names are popping up more and more in YA books these days.
So what’s the psychology behind authors giving their characters gender-neutral names? A quick Internet search yields results lauding their “uniqueness,” which speaks to a common desire to use a name that’s memorable — something that stands out. It seems parents often hope to lend their daughters an air of strength by giving them traditionally male names. It’s likely that authors do it for the same reason: to make their character sound strong, maybe even a little edgy. Maybe there’s a certain “cool” factor when a girl has a name typically reserved for boys, as if she’s gained entry to some secret, heretofore off-limits club.
Personally, I wonder if authors feel more free to experiment with character names than they would with actual children, because that “baby” will never grow up to rail against their name. Could it be a bit of fantasy indulgence? The same author who might name a real-life daughter Elizabeth or Abigail could very well name a fictional heroine Rowan or Blake without worrying about the consequences of a nontraditional choice.
Let’s take a look at some of the gender-neutral character names in recent YA novels: Continue reading Boy or Girl? Gender-Neutral Names in YA Novels