Celebrity Names Blog

Storm of Controversy Around Gender-Free Baby Name

The story chewing up the parenting blogosphere this week is about Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, who are raising their youngest child to be, at least temporarily, gender-free. The child's name? Storm. How well does this name support the family's gender-free ideals?

If you haven't followed the Toronto couple's story, they have decided not to reveal the gender of their third child to anyone, not even grandma, until Storm decides on Storm's own to do so. Despite recent books, like Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, that argue for the value of questioning gender roles, criticism of Storm's parents has, not surprisingly, swamped support. 

Still, the story intrigues us. For one thing, we're struck by the difficulty of choosing a name that does not broadcast gender. Even more difficult: choosing a whole set. Storm's brothers are Jazz and Kio. As gender-neutral names go, these are pretty good. Jazz is quite a rare given name in the United States, but it is given equally to boys and girls. The same is true of Storm. Kio is not much used as a given name, although Kiona and Kionte are. 

So the individual names are reasonably free from gender-declarations. However, as a set, the gender-neutral names make a different kind of declaration. Consider these comments we culled from various websites:

  • "Storm??? Jazz??? Kio??? Am I watching the Matrix trilogy?"
  • "Oh well, with names like Jazz, Kio and Storm, they can become characters in a Street Fighter knock-off, I guess."
  • "Storm? Jazz? Kio? Are those names for kids or pets?"

We are wondering: do these names seem "odd" partly because they are so gender-neutral? In a culture where people feel strongly about a name's gender, do we resist word-names because they fail to neatly give us an image of a boy or a girl? And how would reaction be different if the family had chosen classic gender-free names like Robin or Lee or Ashton

We are also wondering if Storm really is gender-neutral. Like Jazz, Storm is given equally to boys and girls in the US. In fact, Storm made the charts for boys in the 1990s, at the same time that Stormy made the chart for girls. But just because a name is given to both boys and girls doesn't mean it doesn't read one way or another. Cultural references for a person named Storm:

  • The X-Men's Storm, one of the first black comic book characters, and the first black woman
  • New York weatherman Storm Field
  • Lisa Marie Presley's son, Benjamin Storm

So does Storm tip toward one side or the other? Lacking other contextual information, would you assume a Storm is a boy or a girl? Can you think of gender-free names?



Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

May 26, 2011 7:35 PM
By izzy (not verified)

I would assume Storm is a boy. If I really, really, really didn't want people to know the gender of my child (which strikes me as very odd) I would choose something somewhat traditional. Like... Lee. or Pat. or Jesse.

May 26, 2011 8:07 PM
By Kelly (not verified)

Storm sounds like Talon's little brother to me. I think taking a page from Gwen and using Zuma would have gone better with the names they already have. If I were to personally choose genderfree names I would pick nature themed hippy names like River or Rain.

May 26, 2011 8:18 PM
By Carrie (not verified)

I would assume Storm is a boy. It just seems like a boy name to me. I've known several little Stormy's, and they were all girls.

If I wanted something gender neutral, it'd go with something like Aston, Jordan, Taylor, Peyton, etc. Storm really isn't my style. These aren't really either, but they're closer. I guess I just don't like gender neutral names much.

I knew a girl named Jensen once. That seems pretty gender neutral, too. A little boy-ish, but not surprising as a girl's name, either.

May 26, 2011 8:45 PM
By Megs (not verified)

Storm does sound "boyish" to me. I don't really see the point in these parents and their experiment either

To Carrie- Jensen is a last name and mostly masculine. Naming a little girl a masculine surname isn't gender neutral. It's trendy and makes people roll their eyes

May 26, 2011 9:13 PM
By Jenny (not verified)

Maybe they're just doing an experiment, but I'm thinking the kid might have ambiguous genitalia. About 1 in 500-1500 babies are born that way, and sometimes the doctors just make a decision and do surgery to "fix" the genitals, and sometimes it's not the right decision. I don't know what I would do if I were the parent of a child like that -- probably not what this family is doing -- but it would be a tricky situation and makes this behavior seem less crazy.

May 26, 2011 9:15 PM
By Jenny (not verified)

Never mind! I read the story and no abiguous genitalia. I rescind my theory.

May 26, 2011 10:26 PM
By mk (not verified)

Storm sounds more masculine to me, so I would assume a girl. Which makes me think that was the parent's intention, and the baby is a girl. So I guess their plan worked.

It's really not that difficult to pick a gender-neutral name though. Taylor, Dakota, Quinn, Jamie, Riley and the list goes on. Quite simple, really.

May 26, 2011 11:59 PM
By Burriol (not verified)

While I am most familiar with the X-Men's Storm, the name feels more masculine to me when it is applied to a real person. Using Storm on a girl just feels like the parents are letting their geek colors fly.

May 27, 2011 6:52 AM
By janfi (not verified)

As an American living in South Africa, I can't fathom why anyone would use the name Zuma, and thought Gwen was crazy when I heard about her son's name. The current president of SA, Jacob Zuma, is best known for having 6 wives, publicly stating that you can prevent HIV by showering after unprotected sex, and is embroiled in corruption and scandal. Zuma is a very uncool baby name!

May 27, 2011 7:50 AM
By Susan (not verified)

If I got a kindergarten class list with little Storm Jones on it and no other info, I'd assume boy. I think maybe because a storm is forceful so reads more masculine to me. Rain on the other hand, I would probably think girl. Weird.

May 27, 2011 8:10 AM
By Michelle (not verified)

Do we really want a genderless world?

May 27, 2011 8:49 AM
By Missy (not verified)

I like the name Storm and I don't assign it a particular gender. I do think of both the weatherman and the singer from Rockstar Supefnova

May 27, 2011 4:01 PM
By Emily (not verified)

I've had a student named Storm (boy) and Stormi (girl). I'd assume boy for Storm- but I'm not sure how much that is just based on the one Storm I already know.

In regards to the story itself, I had a couple of reactions when reading it- first of all, do they really think the 2-year-old understands and can keep this a secret?? And secondly, are they REALLY doing this for the child's benefit, because it seems to be more self-serving and attention-getting than anything else. Anyone else get that impression?

May 27, 2011 8:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The only 'Storm' I know of is a singer from Portland, Oregon-- Storm Large. I believe Storm is her middle name. She is pretty popular here. So I read Storm as feminine, though I understand how it could be seen as masculine.

May 29, 2011 3:47 AM
By Dearest (not verified)

Storm is an exclusively masculine name here in Norway, so how anyone could consider it for a girl is beyond me...

I like the concept of not introducing gender to the little one. It's intriguing :)

May 31, 2011 12:41 AM
By Marie (not verified)

I think the point of it is to deconstruct gender roles, not sex in and of itself. Why should pink be for girls and blue for boys? Why should Sally play with kitchen toys and Robbie play with Tonka trucks? Why do we get so offended when Robbie wants to play with dolls? Does that make him any less of a boy? Does it mean that he will be unable to live a healthy, productive life, have a spouse, and children? Why has the standard for so long been that men be the providers and women the stay-at-home parent? Women are not any less intelligent than men and most physically demanding jobs can be performed by at least some women. Does that make them any less of a woman?

That being said, would I do what this parents did? No, because I don't feel it's necessary to publicly state that my child has the right to like girl and boy things or be a great cook but a lousy mechanic or vice versa.

May 31, 2011 12:48 AM
By Marie (not verified)

As for the response to the names, I would say that the response is largely influenced by the lack of name-iness to them. Jazz, Kio, and Storm are all nouns that are typically NOT first names. They are not named Bailey, Riley, Taylor, or Alex, which are typical names that are equally represented by both sexes.

It's more like the naming your kid Cash, or Rocket, or Pilot wackiness than an actual dislike for the 'gender-neutralness' of the name.

May 31, 2011 12:26 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

@Marie, I'm right there with you about the gender roles. I'm not going to not tell my son he's a boy, but I'm not going to deny him dolls or nail polish, just like my parents didn't deny me trucks and LEGOs.

May 31, 2011 12:32 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The name Storm reads much more mausculine to me, so I'd assume it to be a boy's name. Perhaps this is because the only Storm I've ever known personally was a man.

As for not "assigning" your child a gender on birth, it's a little out there in my opinion. Guess what folks, genetics has already done that for you. My guess is that Storm is their third boy (after two kids of the same gender in a row, your odds of #3 being the same are high) and this is partly a way of holding on to their dream of having a wished for girl.

May 31, 2011 12:33 PM
By Chuckle (not verified)

My take on this is the parents are a little surprised by how this blew up in their face. If you question gender roles at all in this country you get a lot of public punishment- just look at what happened when the J.Crew CEO painted her son's toenails pink or when the mom let her son dress up as Daphne for Halloween. People were freaking out! For some reason the general public is still *really* uncomfortable when boys or men do things that seem remotely feminine. It's so sad.

As for the name, I hear Storm as "girl" probably from X-Men but it does seem very androgynous.

May 31, 2011 12:50 PM
By Sandie (not verified)

I agree! Really, what is wrong with gender??? I don't want a gender free world. There are great things to be appreciated about both genders! If these parents wanted to do a social experiment, do it on THEMSELVES!!! I don't see them trying to be private about their gender??? These children should not be in these peoples custody, they are purposefully harming their children. I'm all for the experiment, just do it to themselves, not their poor children.

May 31, 2011 12:55 PM
By Sandie (not verified)

Just to clarify my point of view. I don't feel that a "style" should be forced on the kids. If a boy wants to wear pink, whatever...my problem is with the serious consequences of concealing the childs gender. There will be serious issues these children will have to deal with. Their one boy has already said he doesn't want to go to school because he's afraid he will be teased. Think about what it means to you to be a man or woman? You can be proud of that without denying/hiding who you are. Couldn't they just have taught their children that they don't have to follow gender sterotypes? Did they really need to go this far?

May 31, 2011 1:21 PM
By Patricia (not verified)

I'm conflicted: just considering the name, I think Storm may be a girl.

But it seems that when a family has 2 boys, the odds are in favor of them having a boy the third time too -- at least that's what happened in our family -- 3 brothers [through adoption] each having 3 sons in a row). So I'm guessing Storm is a boy.

Yet again, it may be that Storm is a girl and the parents don't want her raised or treated differently from her brothers so they're not revealing her gender.

I'm wondering how the parents keep Storm's older siblings from telling. It seems that someone really wanting to know could trick one of them into telling -- or it could just slip out. I think this little experiment would have worked better with the first child.

May 31, 2011 3:27 PM
By Piers (not verified)

How are they purposefully hurting their child? I think that raising children without gender roles would be a great thing. I think that raising a little boy to never show affection, cry when he gets hurt or want to be associated with anything remotely feminine is hurting the child. I don't think that parents should force gender roles onto their children; a child should express him or herself the way he or she wants to - whether that be in a masculine, feminine or androgynous way. Letting their child decide what he or she wants to express him or herself as is probably the best thing they could do, in my opinion. Just because they're influencing this doesn't mean that their child is going to end up messed up - the child will probably be a very confident person, happy with his or her appearance and how he or she presents his or herself. So what if it's a boy and he wants to wear pink or a dress? So what if it's a girl and she wants to wear blue and cargo shorts? So what if it's a boy and he wants to wear blue and cargo shorts or if it's a girl and she wants to wear pink and dresses? If the child decides what he or she wants it can only be beneficial towards him or her - not destructive.

May 31, 2011 3:38 PM
By hyz (not verified)

Ditto the point about getting the older kids to keep the secret. My neighbor's 7 year old accidentally spilled the beans on her in utero baby brother's gender to me, and all I asked was whether they had a nursery ready for the baby yet (parents had said they didn't find out the sex and were leaving it for a surprise, but the 7 yo was very clear with her pronouns). So I don't see how you can get those kids to keep the secret, and even if you could, I don't think I'd want to put my young kids in the business of keeping secrets from the world.

In general, I get their impulse, and I kind of like the idea in theory (there really are so many subtle gender differences people impose on kids even without trying, like complimenting how pretty or sweet a little girl is, but about how strong or tough a boy is, etc.), but I think it's too hard on the kids in practice. Unfortunately, I think this type of thing actually puts gender in the spotlight rather than making it less important than individual personality. The thought of the older child wanting to avoid school because of alienation makes me a bit sad.

May 31, 2011 3:46 PM
By hyz (not verified)

Oops, forgot to mention--I'd assume Storm was a boy's name. I know of a boy named Rain, or else that one would lean more feminine to me. I'd also assume Jazz and Kio were boy names without more information. I'm trying to think of nature names that wouldn't lean one way or the other on gender for me, and I'm having a tough time. Maybe the less common months, seasons, and days would be a good bet (Winter, January, July, October, Sunday, Friday, etc.). Maybe boy names that sound and/or have gone girly sometimes (Zephyr, Rowan, Juniper, etc.)?

May 31, 2011 3:47 PM
By Shadelit (not verified)

I totally get what they're trying to do with the gender-role deconstruction. I think it's terribly sad that so many get so emotionally invested in boys playing with trucks and wearing camo-print socks and girls having everything pink and EZ-bake ovens, and I ultimately find some gender restrictions emotionally damaging and terribly limiting: "boy's don't cry," "all girls are princesses" etc.

I do think these parents are going a little too far, but I have the luxury of living in an area where nobody cares if you paint your son's nails or your daughter likes trucks. My little boy likes the color pink and his favorite new possession is his fuzzy puppy purse, which he keeps full of toy dinosaurs. No big deal. My daughter takes martial arts, climbs trees, and is like a live-action version of Charles Schultz' Pigpen. Also not a big deal, now that she does her own laundry.

I'm cool with the name Storm but nature-themed names are also common where I live. I find it pretty gender-neutral, like Jazz. The only name I dislike of their trio is the made-up sounding Kio.

May 31, 2011 3:48 PM
By Top 10 Name of the 70s (not verified)

Gender is a socio-cultural thing, but sex is biological. I have no problem with encouraging cross-gender play, but you don't have to deny the biological sex of a child to do so, surely. That smacks of the notion of "shame" attached to one sex or the other. The older boy may have gender dysmorphia (based on the plaits and clothes - most children I know are identifying with the cultural gender of their sex at his age. Hence the "girly girls" of my feminist friends.) Culturally, Canada does identify "boys" in a certain Western way (as we do). Perhaps this is their way of dealing with HIS gender issues, not the new baby's (which is also a boy, I am led to believe).

May 31, 2011 4:55 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

I can see dealing with a new baby this way if there were some question about the child's gender. I know the family said this isn't the case with Storm, and I do agree it's odd... BUT... perhaps this family's trailblazing will make it easier for some family with a child with ambiguous genitalia to tell people, "We don't know yet. We are waiting for Terry to tell us."

I have heard too many stories of children born with ambiguous gender whose parents have been pressured to let the doctors operate, and then raise the child as one thing or another, usually a girl... where the WRONG decision was made.

In coming across these stories I've wondered what would do if faced with a child where the gender was in question. I thought a DNA test would be enough, but it turns out that doesn't even tell you what gender the child is at heart. Seems to me the only wise choice, as hard as it would be, is to tell people, "We don't know yet" and hope they can be loving and understanding about it. Even if the kid is two or three years old, people should be able to understand that, and I think what this family is doing... as strange, and possibly wrong and it might be... maybe it can help others down the road to find a way through a difficult dilemma.

May 31, 2011 5:49 PM
By NicolaL (not verified)

I agree to an extent with not forcing gender roles on children, but IMO it's not really necessary. I have a fairly feminine name and my parents dressed me in quite a girly way, gave me dolls etc, when I was very young, but when I was old enough to think for myself I became a complete tomboy. Nobody's protests could have changed that. Kids are more independent-minded than we think.

Storm sounds like a girl to me, but I'm an X Men fan so probably biased.

May 31, 2011 11:19 PM
By Tarmie (not verified)

I hear Storm, I think X-Men, so that is more feminine to me. Having said that, I do like the name, although I'm not sure I'd use it personally. Kio reminds me of Kia, which is a car, as well as a name I've encountered on a little boy, so that is a little more masculine to my ears.

Jazz, however ... Jazz I LOVE!! I would certainly call a baby Jazz, either male or female. It's one of the very, very few names out there that I believe is truly gender-neutral. Names like Teri/Terry that sound neutral give the gender away with spelling. I'd love to hear more gender-neutral names if anyone's got them!

May 31, 2011 11:46 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would assume a "Storm" was a girl. Maybe that's to do with being Australian.

June 1, 2011 2:45 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My guess would be that little Storm Stocker is a girl, because it seems that it’s an experiment to see whether they don’t have to raise their daughter differently from her brothers. Imposing obvious gender roles on our children is something that can certainly be questioned; but I believe it’s a mistake to force their family into a secret and to not celebrate whatever gender their child actually is. While it’s good to practice conscious parenting, embracing nature is often the best course. Inevitably, there will be unconscious cultural norms infused into us all, whether subtly or not so subtly, regardless of our efforts at escaping them...although, as humans, we will continue to try, or at least believe that we can.

June 4, 2011 12:15 PM
By Stephanie (not verified)

I do think that there was probably some question of the baby's gender at birth and so they purposely are being less forth-coming about the gender for the child's benefit. They did not do this with their first 2, so, to me, that means there is a good reason. If that is the case, I am not sure I would do anything different. I don't like their sib-set names at all- not my taste at all, with maybe the exception of Jazz, especially for a boy, I do like that- my girls have ultra feminine names, mostly because I believe they sound better. But if I had to go with a gender neutral name, I think I would go with Quinn, Winter (I think Win or Wyn is a totally cute nickname for a girl, but Winter itself is a masculine name and then that lets the child choose, too), Ash (the child could choose to change the name to a name with those letters in it later that denotes more of gender if he/she wanted or could keep it-Ashley, Ashton, Asher), Taylor, Alex, there is a large list of names they could have chosen from. If they had a sib-set of, say, Jazz, Asher and Taylor, I do not think it would be as controversial as it is. Storm and Kio just don't work for me, for boys or girls. Kio is to close to Kia for me, which is either a dog name or a car brand (which is why Sienna is forever off limits now, for me). Along the same line, though, it really hard to find a name, nowadays, that has a purely masculine connatation to it. Girls can pretty much be named anything, so if Storm turns out to be a girl, she won't have issues (and if she is a girl, she can nickname herself Tori or something if she totally hates her name).

June 8, 2011 2:18 AM
By Top 10 Name of the 70s (not verified)

Jazz is SO a girl name!
I taught the "Jazz" daughter of a well-known Australian actress. She was a stand-alone Jazz - but I have also seen it used all the time for "Jasmine". I cannot fathom it being a boy's name!

June 23, 2011 7:51 PM
By Dad in Ohio (not verified)

I wonder what new category will be created when (s)he files an EEO claim later in life because they weren't hired or promoted?!!

June 28, 2011 7:53 PM
By Hen (not verified)

Nobody is expecting the baby to keep its gender a secret, but is instead leaving it up to the baby to do what it wants with its gender. You can't walk into a Babies R Us without seeing pretty clearly how much people impose gender on babies from the very beginning: there is a very clear line between the frilly pink section and the rough and tumble blue section. It seems like the people most upset about this whole situation are the ones insisting that gender is genetic. If gender is genetic, that baby will be whatever that baby is no matter what the parents do, and it's pretty clear from the articles that the parents have no objection to the baby doing whatever it wants. Studies have shown significant difference in the language used on infants as early as a few months old: boys are more likely to get encouraged to be daring and physical, and girls are more likely to get worried feedback for performing the same action. All these parents are doing is saying that gender is not the most important thing about their baby, and they're getting death threats for doing so. They are not the crazy ones.

June 13, 2012 1:39 AM
By Dr. Paul Perito (not verified)

You don't have to deny the biological sex of a child to do so, surely. That smacks of the notion of "shame" attached to one sex or the other. -

October 28, 2016 8:58 PM
By Goggles (not verified)

Pssst. There's no such thing as 'biological sex'. Just as gender is a social construct... so is sex! Oh my gosh. Surprising. I know.

'Biological sex' is humans trying to fit everyone into two boxes. People are the ones that decided 'this is a boy/girl/intersex'.

People are so uncomfortable with the fact that there aren't two concrete, completely separate sexes that when babies defined as intersex are born, they perform surgery to 'correct' the genitals to fit more into one sex category. Often the doctors don't tell parents.

This is non-consensual cosmetic surgery. On a baby. Because they make someone uncomfortable.

You can point out the biological differences all you want, but the box you are putting that person in is completely invented by people. Male and female aren't inherent - they're defined by humans.

The kid can choose whatever gender they want! They aren't informed "This is who you are, and nothing can change that". You know the stress trans people go through, thinking that they're wrong, that they're broken, because they don't fit into made up boxes?

I'm so happy that this is a thing, and I wish Storm and their parents the best of luck.

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