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?