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The Instability of Androgynous Names: The Symbolic Maintenance of Gender Boundaries

Stanley Lieberson, Susan Dumais and Shyon Baumann
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 105, No. 5 (Mar., 2000), pp. 1249-1287
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3003767
Page Count: 39
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The Instability of Androgynous Names: The Symbolic Maintenance of Gender Boundaries
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Abstract

By definition, androgynous names do not serve as gender markers. Two radically different expectations about their growth are plausible: on the one hand, the rise of the feminist movement, which militates against gender distinctions, would suggest androgynous names increasing in recent decades. On the other hand, cross-cultural research indicates that first names designate gender more frequently than any other characteristic of a child or its family, suggesting a minimal increase. Examining data for all white births in Illinois in every year from 1916 through 1989 produces paradoxical results. Overall use of androgynous names is barely increasing; however, the disposition to use androgynous names has increased among parents of daughters. Analysis of the accidental ways in which androgynous names develop, their special characteristics, and their asymmetric growth patterns, leads to viewing the androgynous process as collective behavior that can be fruitfully examined through the perspective of the Schelling residential segregation model. The minimal increase in androgyny reflects a gender contamination effect that may be operating in a variety of other domains as well.

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