Quick Tip: Check a Name’s Gender

Sometimes it’s important to know if a person is a man or a woman, just from his or her name. Julia, Julio, Ben, Beth, Hiram, Hillary, Abdul, Abril: which of these personal names are male and which are female?

silhouette of a boy and a girl, uploaded by johnny_automatic at openclipart.org

Americans probably learn which is which by exposure through books and by meeting people. However, I’ve noticed that many of my students and clients are often confused by these kinds of names in their textbooks and workplaces. There are a few rules of thumb, but they don’t work very well–for example, if a name is Latin-based, an “-a” ending is usually female and an “-o” ending is usually male. So, probably, Julia is a woman and Julio is a man. But that doesn’t work for Joshua, a common American male name originating in Hebrew.

Here are two quick ways you can check on a name–however, note that name creativity is part of American culture, so parents sometimes “break the rules” and give a girl a boy’s name or vice versa.

Method 1: Try the Baby Name Voyager! Click on “Launch Name Voyager,” then type in the name you’re interested in. You can see the popularity of names in the US over the last few decades, based on US Social Security Administration data. Names for females are pink, and names for boys are blue (I guess it’s sexist, but that’s the current tradition in the US). You can also see how closely related names are divided as you type–Juliet (female), Julian (male), Julia (female), Julio (male), etc. I think it’s fun to play with, and you can pick up some historical information this way–did you know that in the 1920s the Japanese name “Hiroshi” made it into the top 1000?

Method 2: If a name is more rare, you might not have any luck at the above site. In that case, you can try Google Images. If you check on my name, you’ll see nearly all women and girls in the photos. (You’ll get a few unrelated results, such as a picture of the actor Sean Bean from a TV production of the novel called Clarissa.) It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well. Actually, I do the same thing to check Chinese names sometimes, if I can’t tell from how it’s written.

If you have any other solutions to this problem, make sure to leave a comment.

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