Jun 20 2010

List of Gender-Neutral Names

Published by at 10:41 am under Pseudonyms

If you’re writing for readers that are mostly of the other gender, it may help to conceal your gender by using a pseudonym or your initials.  Here’s a list of unisex pen names.

  • Alex/Alexis
  • Amari
  • Angel
  • Aubrey
  • Avery
  • Blair
  • Cameron
  • Carey
  • Casey
  • Dana
  • Devin/Devon
  • Drew
  • Harper
  • Hayden–it’s not just for awful actors and actresses!
  • Hunter
  • Jackie
  • Jamie/Jaime
  • Jean (hey, don’t laugh! Jean Claude Van Damme?)
  • Jessie
  • Jordon
  • Kelly
  • Kerry
  • Kris
  • Lee
  • Leslie
  • Marion
  • Morgan
  • Riley
  • Robbie
  • Robin
  • Sydney
  • Taylor/Tyler
  • Terry
  • Tracy
  • Willie

Would you like to suggest any other names? (In particular, I think I’m short on names of Asian and African origins).

31 responses so far

31 Responses to “List of Gender-Neutral Names”

  1. B. Macon 20 Jun 2010 at 11:00 am

    Some situations where it might help for the author to conceal his/her gender:
    –The author is a male writing romance or chick lit.
    –The author is a female writing action or thrillers, particularly something focused on superheroes or military/espionage.
    –The author is a female writing comedy? (This is more of a guess based on there being more male comedians than female ones).
    –The point-of-view character does not share the gender of the author, particularly if the book is narrated in the first-person. (When there are several POV characters covering each gender, I think readers will be most sensitive to the one that starts the book).
    –When the author is submitting to a publisher where most of the published authors do not share his/her gender.

    It’s hard to pinpoint how much this actually affects whether readers will eventually buy a book or not, but I think that a substantial number of readers have preconceptions about an author based on gender. According to Elizabeth Barrette at the Internet Review of Science Fiction, a computer program was able to guess the gender of an author from a passage almost two-thirds of the time, so so there may be some significant differences between most female writers and most male writers*. For a more detailed look at gender dynamics in the publishing industry, I’d highly recommend her article.

    *In particular, I think women are far more likely to spend significant space on romance and men are significantly more likely to spend significant space on action.

    PS: The Gender Genie gender identifier was around 70% sure that that this comment was written by a male.

  2. Mileyon 20 Jun 2010 at 11:24 am

    I remember when I was in grade school I was obsessed with Animorphs. Imagine my shock when I found out K.A. Applegate was a woman!

  3. B. Macon 20 Jun 2010 at 11:35 am

    Yeah, I had a similar reaction with J.K. Rowling. In retrospect, what surprises me was that the publisher asked Rowling to use her initials even though she was writing in a genre where most of the readers are female.

    (I think it’s harder for a reader, regardless of gender, to buy into a main character written by an author of the other gender).

  4. Contra Gloveon 20 Jun 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Most of my stories have female protagonists, but I’m a heterosexual male. Does that mean I should hide my name?

  5. Wingson 20 Jun 2010 at 3:59 pm

    The majority of my protagonists are female in a male-oriented genre. However, Scott Westerfield managed to pull off writing the opposite gender rather well in my opinion, although your milage may vary whether his books were considrered male or female oriented.

    However, I have been toying with the idea of a pseudonym. I’ve gone by other names before, the mainly used one being Alexander/Xander Wright, but I remain indescisive.

    Meanwhile, after running my novel through the Gender Genie, I am…male!

    …Should I be offended or proud?

    – Wings

  6. the somewhat silent lurkeron 20 Jun 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Well I have to say the gender genie didn’t know quite what to do with me. Half of my stuff is male and the other half was more female. I guess that’s good? I hope it’s not jarring to m’readers tho o.o; Lol.

    To drop into the discussion… most of my characters are male in action-based story, but I’m a girl. I’ve been toying around with the idea of a pseudonym myself but I don’t really have one yet… it just has to be simple. XD My real name is not American and it’s very hard for some people to pronounce and spell. Not good.

  7. the somewhat silent lurkeron 20 Jun 2010 at 4:48 pm

    And Contra Glove, that depends what genre you’re writing in? Are you writing like fantasy or action or…?

  8. B. Macon 20 Jun 2010 at 5:46 pm

    “Most of my stories have female protagonists, but I’m a heterosexual male. Does that mean I should hide my name?”

    Hmm. I don’t know much about the story in question (Target audience? Genre? Subject matter?). I’d cautiously lean towards going with something gender-neutral in your submissions and then consulting with your editor after you get published. The slush-pile reader will still (probably) see you’re a guy, because the manuscript would say something like “JOHN SMITH WRITING AS ALEX RODRIGUEZ* RODRIGO,” but I think it’d help a bit because it shows you’re flexible and aware of the issue.

    *Oops. “Alex Rodriguez” is actually a poor example of a penname. Unless your marketing strategy is getting nailed with a multi-bajillion dollar lawsuit. 😉

  9. B. Macon 20 Jun 2010 at 6:16 pm

    “Meanwhile, after running my novel through the Gender Genie, I am…male! …Should I be offended or proud?”

    I wouldn’t recommend worrying about it (or getting happy, for that matter). I don’t think that many significant problems are likely to crop up in this sector of the writing/publishing process, and I doubt any of them can be detected with the Genie test. (It’s fun, though). I just mentioned the Genie test as a way of suggesting that there might be some discernible differences between stereotypically masculine and feminine writing.

  10. Contra Gloveon 20 Jun 2010 at 6:29 pm

    @ B. Mac

    The stories are superhero tales — typical good-vs.-evil stuff.

  11. Beccaon 20 Jun 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Ha… it thinks I’m male. By a LOT. I win. Or lose?

  12. Contra Gloveon 21 Jun 2010 at 4:59 am

    I ran a couple of my works through the Gender Genie, and both times, it came up female — though my novel’s first chapter had a much higher difference with the male score than my short story did.

  13. Wingson 21 Jun 2010 at 6:56 am

    Well Becca, if I win, you win. Masculine writing females unite!

    – Wings

  14. Ragged Boyon 21 Jun 2010 at 7:20 am

    My synopsis was stronly female, but my first five pages were male by a good margin. However, I doubt the Genie’s ability to properly read a comic book script seeing as the only tangible aspects of the actual issue are the dialogue and sound effects. Where as it incorporated by panel descriptions into the score, Haha

  15. B. Macon 21 Jun 2010 at 8:20 am

    I don’t think it would work at all on comic books. Good luck writing pages of panel descriptions that aren’t loaded with dry sentences like “the [noun] is [visual description or location]”, thereby setting off the genie test with “the,” “is” or “are,” and possibly “below.”

    The largest point-scorers in the first 9 pages of my script were “the” (602 male points), “with” (416 feminine), “is” (408 male), and “if”* (329 feminine). By instance, “the” came up 86 times, “is” came up 51, “a” came up 47, and “and” came up 28 times in a 1800 word passage.

    *”If” came up pretty much every time I let my artist know that a scene was tentative or that she could do something different if she wanted.

  16. Milan Dareon 21 Jun 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Gender Genie was fun! My chapters are androgynous, swinging from male to female. I’ll think I’ll try breaking it down by POV next, since the gender varies.

    This is a part of characterization I had not ever heard of before. It’s nice that they list the words below, so you get a sense of what might reveal a stereotypical gender (such as talking about people in first and second person, and being more or less direct). I might be able to make my tomboy more boyish, and my hopeless hero more girly…

    Back on topic, I think my readers might tend to be girls (assuming I finish my first novel). Do girls read guys? Could I make up ground by having mushy cover art?

  17. B. Macon 21 Jun 2010 at 6:41 pm

    “Do girls read guys?” I think it depends on the subject material. I would not expect a military thriller or straight-up superhero action, particularly one with a male protagonist, to have many female readers unless there were something unusual going on (like a critical romance that’s heart-felt–read: NOT Bond girls or Shatnernizing with the locals). Even then, I think the gender barrier would be an issue (I don’t think it’ll ever be an asset), although hopefully not major and certainly not insurmountable.

    For example, Dan Brown’s works draw unusually heavy amounts of women, even though the plots are essentially James Bond + graduate degree + laughably bad research. I think it works because the female love interests are somewhat more respectable. It may help that the plots sometimes have feminist themes–I’ve seen a few reviews and newspaper accounts that positively mentioned the patriarchy-fighting stuff in Da Vinci Code, for example.

    (Not to defend Dan Brown. There’s so much wrong with his work it’s hard to untangle it all. Clunky prose, wildly inept research, childish mistakes from characters that are supposed to be masters at their fields, etc. In particular, his take on computer security and particularly the NSA is so jaw-droppingly off that it’s like researching the FBI by watching the X-Files).

    “Could I make up ground by having mushy cover art?”

    I think the cover art can go a long way towards establishing subject material, major themes and letting the target audience know the book is for them. If you’re a guy and you’re worried that women will be inclined to think you’ll focus on stereotypically masculine stuff like action and Bond plots, you can use the cover to show otherwise*. For example, maybe the cover has a female protagonist or co-lead doing something other than getting saved. Maybe the colors are more subdued and the edges are rounder (whereas jarring, hard/jagged lines hint at violent action). I think that books for women are more likely to have women on the cover (or perhaps a Fabio-esque love interest), whereas books for men rarely have ANY characters on the cover. (For example, a military/espionage thriller for guys is more likely to have symbols like a flag or a national landmark or a government seal or perhaps a vehicle than a soldier).

    However, I should caution you that a professionally-published novelist usually has extremely little influence over the cover. So this discussion of cover art is pretty much moot unless you’re self-publishing, doing a comic book**, or an A-list bestseller.

    *Assuming it is. I feel really annoyed by the cover for Play Dead, which falsely suggests the book is an action thriller about zombie football. I read a few chapters and bought it on that basis. It actually turned out to be more of a character-driven romance with 15 pages of zombie football in the climax. Umm, it was actually a pretty good romance, but I’m not into romance. If I had know what it was actually about, I wouldn’t even have picked it up.

    **And comic book authors have their own substantial obstacles to reaching women. For example, comic book stores don’t typically attract many women. But comic books aren’t well-stocked in the places where they would probably reach more prospective female customers, such as general-interest bookstores, supermarkets, airport bookstores, etc. The good news is that this is gradually changing and major bookstores are stocking more comics. Nonetheless, I think that publishing companies tend to work with what they’ve grown comfortable with, and Western comic book publishers are much more familiar with male readers and what interests them. If an author were writing a romance for women, I think he’d have trouble finding an editor who could enthusiastically take on his project because extremely few comic book editors have worked on such projects before. And the ones that have don’t inspire much confidence (Twilight, anybody?)

  18. Contra Gloveon 21 Jun 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I ran 11 chapters of my first draft through the Genie, and only about two or three of them came up male. Most came up female, usually by a few hundred words (I need to record and double-check all the differences.)

    The results don’t bother me, though — I think the Genie is a fun little tool. 🙂

  19. Beccaon 21 Jun 2010 at 11:58 pm

    It may just be for fun… but if you’re a girl and your first-person narrator is a boy, and it says your writing is very “male”… that’s good and useful feedback.

  20. B. Macon 22 Jun 2010 at 10:17 am

    Yeah, Becca. It’s nice to receive feedback that isn’t just designed to make you feel better.

    How valid do you think it is? If you were to rewrite your chapters with the genie’s male-coded words and removed some of the female-coded ones, would the narrator feel more authentically male?

    When I have more time, I’ll go through 10-20 comments from 5-10 commenters of each gender and figure out whether the program is accurate. It would blow my mind if there really is a gender disparity in use of words as commonplace and unloaded as “the” and “with.”

  21. Beccaon 22 Jun 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I think it’s valid, for the most part, especially when you think about things like description and stuff. I recently read an article about the different ways men and women give directions and stuff, and that would probably factor in. I wonder if swear words constitute “male” language, too.

  22. Bronteson 23 Jun 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Completely off topic: B. Mac, could you delete my two review forums and open a new one? Those ideas went nowhere and I have something else that looks promising. Thanks.

  23. B. Macon 23 Jun 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Got it. Here.

  24. Ashleyon 24 Jun 2010 at 8:47 am

    I think I might do the initials thing like J K Rowling. Picking a pen name might be a bit much, and the genre of my stories tend to be a bit more towards a male audience.

  25. Jessie Macon 27 Jun 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I’m surprised to find my name on the list. Always thought Jessie meant girl and Jesse meant boy.

    My first two novels have male main characters so not sure though my next project is from a female point of view. I may have different names for different genres so as to keep them separate.

    Thanks for the post B. Mac.

  26. B. Macon 27 Jun 2010 at 8:21 pm

    I’ve met two guys named Jessie. So I think it’s not completely implausible as a unisex name. (Unlike, say, Ashley. It used to be a guy’s name, but I think that ship sailed a long, long time ago).

  27. Jessie Macon 27 Jun 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Good to know that there are guys out there called Jessie because you’re right, it’s a subconscious thing that people just assume female writers are better at romance and fluffy stuff and male writers are better at blood and gore.

    Even though logically, when you sit down and think about it, the name should not affect how you perceive the way the book is written. But I think it does. I’m guilty of it. It’s like a post I read recently where they did an experiment giving people cakes made to look like poop and even though the rational mind tells you it’s food and it’s tasty, people found it difficult to eat them. My sister told me how there’s a restaurant in Taipei where the whole place is in the theme of a toilet so you sit on a toilet and eat from a miniature toilet. Same thing. The mind can think it’s all clean but she felt sick.

    I will stop my toilet ramblings. You’ve caught me at 6:12am and having not slept at all. Thanks for the response hey.

    Ps. P. Mac is my brother, not the same P. Mac here but another. If the P. Mac in your post is my brother – my brother is leading a double-life I know nothing about! ; )

  28. B. Macon 28 Jun 2010 at 12:57 am

    “If the P. Mac in your post is my brother – my brother is leading a double-life I know nothing about! 😉 ” I hope not. I’m his evil twin, so if he WERE leading a double-life, you’d really have to wonder what I was up to. 🙂

  29. acharaon 25 Dec 2012 at 11:18 am

    I think it might be a little stereotypical to say that romance will appeal to girls, action to guys. I’m the one to insist on watching James Bond or Jason Bourne or some gory horror movie and I’m the one to read the thrillers and sci-fi, while my guy friends like Mean Girla and Glee and romance.
    Anyway, back to the article – great work as always! What would you think of Aisling Kelly, Alice Kelly or Mae Kelly for a pseudonym for YA paranormal horror and fantasy?

  30. B. McKenzieon 25 Dec 2012 at 12:30 pm

    “I think it might be a little stereotypical to say that romance will appeal to girls… my guy friends like Mean Girls and Glee and romance.” With the first Twilight movie, about 80% of the audience was female, and many of the guys present were only there because their significant others picked the movie. Even with a REALLY guy-friendly romance story like Hunger Games (i.e. relatively action-heavy), men only made up 40% of the audience. I’m not sure your male friends are typical of male viewers as a whole. (Age may also play a role).

    I like Alice Kelly and May Kelly better than Aisling. (Also, May is easier for me to remember than Mae–I’m more used to that spelling).

  31. Elecon 31 May 2013 at 3:01 am

    On the Gender identifier it was a pretty even split ( 1030/1247) so I’m pretty happy. Mind you, that’s only my first chapter.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply