I recently read another blogger’s expostulation against having a name that is the feminine form of a men’s name. She (Alexandra) complained about the fact that the male form Alexander means “Defender of men” or “defender of mankind.” She explained that she understood the historical and social contexts for the meaning, but at the culmination of her post she decided that she should change the meaning of her name to something like “defender of life” so as to negate the strictly male-vibe of the standard meaning. I have my reservations about meaning changes for linguistic reasons (in this case, I prefer to call it a “connotation change”), but I see the point. Name history is very gendered, and it’s time for some critical perspectives.
There are plenty of women’s names that originated among women (like Margaret and Rebecca), but how many more women’s names are rooted in men’s names? Many women’s names in the lexicon are feminine versions of names that were originally male. Lately, I’ve written posts on Charlotte and Frederica, which are both examples. Others include Josephine, Louisa, Jane, and Georgia. Don’t get me wrong – such names are absolutely stunning. But does anyone ever think about men’s names that came from women’s names? Probably not. They do exist, though!
I’ve compiled a list of a few men’s names that derive from women’s names in some way or another. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, or there would have been more.
Margarito – Masculine form of Margaret or Margarita. Mostly in use through the 20th-century, but apparently it’s still in use! There were 18 Margaritos born last year.
Emmett – surname related to Emma. Currently ranked #139 in the U.S.
Artemus – Masculine of Artemis, though nowadays the original feminine version is about twice as popular as the masculinized version. The extended data shows there were 19 boys and 104 girls named Artemis last year, and 8 who were Artemus. Compare to Juno, which was given to 86 girls and 16 boys.
Heracles/Hercules – “Glory of Hera.” There is a plethora of masculine Greek names that reference female deities. Speaking of which, our next two names:
Demetrius – From the goddess Demeter. Demetrius is actually a top 1000 name!
Athenodorus: – “Gift of Athena,” masculine counterpart of Athenodora.
Madison – Although Madison has mostly been bestowed upon girls born in the last thirty years, this is actually a metronymic men’s name; it means “son of Maud.”
It’s also worth noting that among Catholics, forms of Mary are sometimes given to boys as a middle name, in honor of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Germany’s name laws are such that parents are prohibited from using male or female names on the opposite-gendered baby, with the exception of Maria as a middle name for boys in recognition of the religious practice.
Food for thought: what are the implications for naming a daughter a traditionally masculine name outright, like James? Not a ‘feminine’ form like Jamesina or Jacqueline or even a ‘unisex’ nickname like Jamie, but James? Does it transcend gender or perhaps diminish women’s experiences in favor of men’s?