With celebrity baby names like Apple, Blue Ivy, and now-old-fashioned Moon Unit, it is perhaps a little surprising that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian evoked an uproar by naming their child North West. The blogosphere erupted with jokes about the strange moniker, including many twitter users posting pictures of compasses and Northwest Airlines planes as the child’s first photo.
In a recent article in Vogue, sociologist Dalton Conley comes to the parents’ defense. With his own children named E and Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles (which you can sing to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”), Conley argues that North West is just one in a long legacy of eccentric and often gender-neutral names. He also points to the historical rise in unique black names after the Civil Rights Movement, a trend examined by sociologists Stanley Lieberson and Kelly S. Mickelson.
Conley points out that these strange names often turn out to be less gender-neutral than they may first appear. In fact, many respondents in Lieberson and Mickelson’s study correctly guessed the gender of child in possession of the unique name, and Conley writes:
My own experience mirrors this. Nobody mistakes Yo for a girl’s name. Meanwhile, three other Es, who heard about my daughter’s name from my public musings, wrote me. (So much for unique…) Two of them were female, bringing the total percent female to 75. I only wish I had 25 other kids, so I could test the gender of every letter in the alphabet.
Later this year, Conley will be releasing a new book, Parentology: Everything you wanted to know about the science of kids but were too exhausted to ask.