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Is My Daughter's Name Too Confusing?

We named our daughter Kennedy for her first name and Devyn for her middle name. We now realize that when just hearing her name, no one knows if she is a boy or girl, because both first and middle names can belong to a girl or a boy. Did we make a mistake? Should we change her name while she is still very young? - Girl's Mom

You chose two names with a similar style. Most parents do. Our tastes are consistent, and we like the way "matching" names sound together. But as you've discovered, a matching pair can also double up on problem spots like gender confusion.

Does that make your name choice a mistake? That depends on what your goal was when you named your daughter. If your main objective was a fashionable, contemporary name with an androgynous edge, you got it. If your priority was a "can't miss" name that nobody will misspell or misunderstand, then you've gotten a rude wake-up call.

If you do decide that the confusion isn't worth it, the good news is that you only need to change the middle name. That shouldn't ruffle too many feathers. And if you do choose that route, let me make a case for the artful mismatch.

"Mismatched" names have different styles, but they don't have to clash. Like any great pairing, they can and should create a harmonious sound and a pleasing rhythm. Think of it like composing an outfit. Even a woman wearing the menswear trend won't dress head to toe in clothes from the men's department. It's the combination of effects that makes the impact -- the pinstripe suit matched with a statement necklace or a frilly blouse. 

Names can work the same way. An androgynous first name can make a jazzy contrast with a ladylike middle name. A traditional middle name can anchor a a whimsical, offbeat first name. Even a plain-jane, conservative first name can suddenly look like a fashion statement when paired with a middle name that shows a bit of sass.

You might also think of a mismatched name as a kind of dress-up box: it gives your child plenty of room to play around with different identities before settling on the one that suits her best. (One woman who used the variety to her advantage: To Kill a Mockingbird author Nelle Lee, who wrote under her middle name Harper.) So if you do decide to make a practical-minded switch, you shouldn't have to sacrifice strength or style in the process.


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December 6, 2010 11:47 PM
By hwar (not verified)

I think the questioner shouldn't worry. I don't know any boys named Kennedy, and the "y" in Devyn is code for "this is a girl". Modern parents (and certainly kids) will understand the name as feminine. Older generations might think the name is gender neutral, but (at least in my community) it pretty much screams "girl".

December 7, 2010 12:04 AM
By chelbel (not verified)

I also think of Kennedy as a girl's name, and the SSA naming data concur. Kennedy entered the charts in 1994 at #524 for girls and as of 2009 was at #119. It has never been a ranked name for boys. So even though Kennedy is a masculine-sounding surname name, the data show that it is actually used as a female name. Anyone who hears your daughter's name is likely to think she is a she, not a he.

December 7, 2010 12:38 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If you do want something more feminine sounding, maybe something like Kennedy Kathryn?

December 7, 2010 12:54 PM
By PiiNK (not verified)

Agree with the mismatching! I recently met a baby girl who was named Sadie James

December 7, 2010 1:17 PM
By Brandy (not verified)

Honestly, if you've already given her the name and you love it I wouldn't change it. As was previously mentioned, people today think of Kennedy (as a given name, at least) as a feminine name. I know a number of Kennedy's and every last one is a girl. :)

December 7, 2010 1:24 PM
By Amy (not verified)

My older daughter is named Kennedy. While I have never met a boy Kennedy, I was concerned about this and made sure her middle name, Alyse(a-lees) was fairly frilly and feminine. That said, I think if you love both your daughter's names, I wouldn't worry about it. You just need to be okay with having to occasionally clarify without getting cranky with the asker! :)
(Actually, my baby is similarly named, we loved Maren for a first name, but chose Olivia for the middle to frilly things up a bit.)

December 7, 2010 1:28 PM
By Stephanie (not verified)

Agreed-- Kennedy is all girl to me. I wouldn't worry about it.

December 7, 2010 3:56 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Why not call her by her initials? K.D. sounds like Katie while she is still young and hard to pinpoint whether she is a boy or a girl.

December 7, 2010 4:16 PM
By Lisa (not verified)

I don't think you need to change it, but I just wanted to say I know a girl called Devlyn. I like it, it's only one letter off Devyn... so if you really wanted a change, add an "L" :)

December 7, 2010 4:16 PM
By Lysis (not verified)

You say that you now realize that people will not know the sex just from hearing her name, is this a problem you've encountered or just something you are worried about in the future?

Kennedy Devyn is not my style, but that doesn't mean I think you have to change it. Other posters are right that Kennedy is firmly in the girl's name camp and so is unlikely to lead to confusion.

The best argument for changing it is that, as Laura pointed out, giving first and middle names of different styles gives the child more flexibility in choosing a name identity (like Nelle Harper Lee). Of course, we name entusiasts only seem to bring up this critique when one of the names being considered is androgynous. No one ever tells the mom of Amelia Catherinne that perhaps she ought to choose something more modern or androgynous so that the child will have more options. So, I think it is mostly a critique based on a dislike of the style.

Bottom line: if you still love Kennedy Devyn, stick with it. If you don't love it, then by all means change the middle name to something that you think will better suit your daughter.

December 7, 2010 4:24 PM
By Amy (not verified)

Sorry to disagree with everybody but... maybe in parts of america Kennedy is popular for girls, but in the rest of the world (where we haven't had a president with that name) it's pretty unusual and sounds like a fairly typical masculine surname-based name. Now that doesn't mean you need to change it (after all, traditonal boys names for girls can have a very cutting-edge sound to them), but i would seriously consider NameLady's suggestion about the middle name mis-match option - Devyn to me is just a mis-spelling of the very masculine Devon. So if i were your child's teacher at school, i would call the name out off the role and be a fairly surprised to see a girl answer. Ultimately its up to you - if you still love her name, stick with it but be prepared to politely correct people, but if the masculine sound of it has soured the name for you, then maybe a middle-name change would be a good move.

December 7, 2010 8:40 PM
By Taylor (not verified)

I say stick with it; it's fine, completely gorgeous. Kennedy isn't even regularly used for boys.

Also, I have what is considered androgynous first and middle names, and I've never been mistaken for a boy.

December 7, 2010 9:20 PM
By a mom (not verified)

Personally, I don't care for androgynous names. They are confusing and uncertainty makes people uncomfortable. If it were me I would change her middle name to something simple and feminine like Ann so she can easily include it on business cards and letterhead (I share this because I know a woman named Cameron who hates getting mail titled as Mr.). Remember, it's not about what you like it's what's best for her.

December 7, 2010 9:23 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Add a third name, why not?
Kennedy Devyn Jane
Kennedy Devyn Anne

December 11, 2010 8:41 PM
By A British Laura (not verified)

I would be more likely to think Kennedy was a girl than a boy, even as a Brit who never had a president with the surname.
I used it as the middle name for a female character in the story I've been writing for about 14 years.
I don't think that Kennedy Devyn sounds like a boy's name so much, but if it worries you so much maybe the second middle name option would be the way to go, that way you wouldn't have to sacrifice either of your original choices.

December 13, 2010 10:00 PM
By Elisabeth (not verified)

Disagree with the writer who thinks androgynous names make people confused and thus uncomfortable. The name pool is swamped with androgynous names these days. I think most people are used to it.

Also, for what it's worth, there is a male Devyn in my seven-year-old daughter's class this year. I too thought the "y" gave the name a more feminine look, but apparently his parents didn't think so. So much for "y" being code for "this is a girl".

As for whether or not the child will appreciate having an androgynous name: who knows? Maybe she'll be like the woman Cameron who hates being labeled Mr., and she'll develop a huge complex about her name. Or maybe she'll love her name, and appreciate the fact that you can't tell her gender by looking at her CV. You never know with people. As a child I disliked my name because it was too boring, but I had a friend who hated hers because it was too weird. Anyway, my point is that whether or not the name Kennedy Devyn is your style, you've got to admit that it's not ridiculous, like (the probably fictitious) Crystal Chanda Leer. And as long as a name is not ridiculous, it's a fine name for a child.

December 14, 2010 4:17 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I hate to burst the bubble of Amy, but Devon isn't a "very masculine" name, at least not anymore. It's pretty firmly in the Angrogynous Camp. I know a number of Devons, and all but two are girls. (Coincidentally, all the girl Devon's I know use the o spelling, and all the boys are Devin).

I personally don't see what difference it makes if a person knows whether she's a boy or girl based on the name. Who cares? After the first year or so, boys and girls tend to be easily distinguishable by other characteristics, unless they choose not to be, and then they probably WANT people guessing. People who've only seen my name almost think I'm African American all the time... so what?

Besides, my son has a bibilical boys name, and doctors offices still say "she" all the time until they see him. It doesn't hurt anything.

December 15, 2010 2:36 AM
By Top 10 Name of the 70s (not verified)

I have to back up Amy - I think Kennedy is a very masculine name. It is not at all popular here in Australia either. I have only known one - and he was a boy shortened to "Ned". I think it is the allusion to the (quite daggy now!) "Ken" at the start that screams "male" to me.
That sweet little tiny, tiny girl with the primordial dwarfism is the only girl Kennadie I have heard of in real life.

That said - I have a lovely female friend called Devyn (spelled that way). We are originally from the West coast of Australia. Over here on the East "devon" is another name for luncheon meat/baloney!!

I have heard it for a boy - Devon Malcolm was an English cricketer.

I think it is a cultural thing. Here in Australia we are much more down the English line - lots of Charlottes, Imogens, Emmas, Olivias, Ellas, Sarahs and Avas over the past decade. Not so much the androgenous surname path.
One of my sons is called Jonty. This is a name in its own right, and also a relatively common English contraction of Jonathon. I had an American travel agent mistake him for a "Princess" in our Disney bookings!!

So- I would not think you would have a problem if you plan on living in the US all your life. I am guessing that people are not so quick to make assumptions there about the gender of a name.

December 15, 2010 12:37 PM
By Elisabeth (not verified)

Here in Canada, Kennedy is a decidedly feminine name. However, does it matter? Who cares if some people think Kennedy Devyn looks like a boy's name on paper? It's a fair bet that Kennedy Devyn will not look like a boy, not once she's a year old or so. (Sometimes it's hard to tell with babies).

The commenter Lysis, who brought up the point that people only complain about androgynous names because they don't personally like the style, is correct. It really does not matter if the name is androgynous. In this case, since the mother loves the name Kennedy Devyn, and she has already put this name on the birth certificate, there is a strong argument for leaving it as it is. As I said before, any name that is not ridiculous is a perfectly good name for a baby, and people who might want to make negative comments simply because they are not fans of androgynous names should keep their opinions to themselves.

December 18, 2010 6:22 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I am a working Mom. I chose to give my daughter a name that would not easily be discerned to be male or female. I've seen too many people make automatic decisions based on names, usually to the detriment of women. Much as we hate to think it is true, our world is still pretty male dominated and men, too often, in hiring or other decision making, tend to respond more favorably toward men. Once my daughter shows up in person, however, it is pretty clear she's all girl. Perhaps Kennedy Devyn will benefit from her wonderful name by things as simple as making the cut when some future employer is sifting through resumes. It's a great name.

December 18, 2010 9:25 AM
By Lisa (not verified)

I think you should keep the names the way they are. I have a Noël Isabella, and she is called Nicole or Noel (pronounced Nole, or she will get things in the mail for MR. Noel... I always put make the e = ë, if people misread it, oh well, it is that person that feels like a "dingy" when SHE walks up after being called Noel. The person gets all apologetic. A name is a name, if it has meaning, great, if you like it, great, but don't change it because some people can't accept it. We all had to laugh when SHE got a college letter from a FOOTBALL college, stating they had seen HIM play...yeah, okay! Keep it and enjoy it!

December 19, 2010 12:30 AM
By Renee (not verified)

Really, how many people ever know your middle name? If you're trying to use a middle name to help distinguish gender, it won't help anyone very much.

December 21, 2010 5:28 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think you picked a beautiful name. Maybe if you want to girlie it up a little you can call her Kenzie for short but then again people would probably asume her name is Makenzie.

December 23, 2010 9:03 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Every parent second guesses their name at some point. If I read the name on a class list, I would assume it was a girl. Also, how many people even know or ask about children's middle names? I can't say many people have ever asked me what my kids middle names are.

December 29, 2010 3:15 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Every Kennedy I have ever met has been a girl- I don't think of it as a boy's name at all. And the y in Devyn makes it look feminine to me. I don't think you will have a problem. If you love her name, keep it the way it is.

January 2, 2011 12:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I never seen Kennedy used as a first name, only as a last name. I wouldn't be able to guess gender just going by Kennedy. I do know a female Devin.

If you like the name then keep it. It doesn't matter what some people may think it looks like on paper. Besides, I think most people are used to dealing with gender neutral names now.

January 3, 2011 10:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If parents had found out the real meaning of Kennedy in Irish - the original spelling is Cinnede - they would have discovered that it originally meant "ugly head" and we would have had one less androgynous name.

January 6, 2011 12:38 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's a beautiful name for a girl. I had a friend with a similar issue (last name as first name). She said she felt it really helped her professionally, since it always made her stand out. Interviewers tended to remember her. When she was young, she felt it made people think of her as strong and capable. Guys thought it was sexy. And then . . . fashion caught up with her. She was one of the first girls to be named "Taylor" and now, a generation later, no one ever assumes from her name that she might be a man. She kind of misses it!

I think the same thing may happen to your daughter, although I suspect that by the time she is a teenager, everyone will assume that "Kennedy" is a girl's name.

January 9, 2011 1:49 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have two daughters who both have unusual name combinations, Charleigh Caye and Shelby AnneMarie. I wanted them to have the option later in life to go by a more feminine name. I did change Charlie to a more "girlie" spelling by going with leigh. It does not change anything except visual looks like a girl.

January 16, 2011 4:19 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, way too weird and way too confusing! I am not a fan of unisex names. IMO boys names should be boys names and girls names should be girls. Kennedy is typically a girls name. Not a very pretty or strong or feminine girls name, but a girls name. Devyn is one of those names I see staying in the 80's.

I'm sure she won't get called Sir, but she's going to in that class of kids who's parents went trendy. She will be in a school full of girls with her name. I've been there and hated it! Hopefully, your daughter will appreciate being on of a million.

April 17, 2011 4:44 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I named my son Devyn Aleksandr. With Devyn just being a different spelling on Devin, and it was chosen for the irish. As far as the "y" visually people who live in closets will probably say oh its got a "y" so its a girl. Any one who has stepped out of their front door can see it isn't that way as often as people think. Social Security Administration data for the 90's kinda proves the trend of Devyn to be a male name more often than not. HOWEVER, it can be used in a female name. To me it fits better as a middle name for a female and a first name for a male. Thats just my personal opinion.

April 2, 2013 12:58 AM
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