Forenames common to males and females

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Most English forenames or first names are not epicene (common to males and females): they are the names either of males exclusively or of females exclusively.

Native speakers will usually know immediately whether a particular forename is the name of a male or a female. So such traditional forenames as John, James, Peter, Stephen, Paul, David, and William are names of males exclusively, and such traditional names as Elizabeth, Mary, Ann(e), Jane, Jill, Susan, and Alice are names of females exclusively.
Generally it is impossible to tell from the forename itself, i.e., the form of the name, whether it is the name of a male or a female. However, names which end in 'a' (e.g., Victoria, Anna, Olivia, Angela, Susanna) are always the names of females.
Sometimes there are male and female forms of the same name, e.g., Peter (male) and Peta or Petra (female); Victor (male) and Victoria (female); Stephen or Steven (male) and Stephanie (female); Alexander (male) and Alexandra (female); John (male) and Joan or Joanna (female).
  • There are, however, a few names which are common to males and females (e.g. Evelyn, Kim, Hilary). In more technical language these names may be said to be epicene forenames, i.e., they are common to both genders.
  • Besides this, there are some abbreviations or familiar forms of forenames which are common to males and females. Thus Alex may be an abbreviation of Alexander (male) or Alexandra (female) (though Alec is nearly always male); Chris may be an abbreviation of Christopher (male) or Christine (female); Steve may be an abbreviation of Stephen or Steven (male) or Stephanie (female); Gerry may be an abbreviation of Gerald (male) or Geraldine (female).
  • There are also some forenames which sound the same whether they are the names of males or females (so that when the name is spoken one cannot tell whether it is the name of a male or a female), even though the male and female versions of the name are spelt slightly differently. Examples are Francis (male) and Frances (female); Leslie (male) and Lesley (female); Robin (male) and Robyn (female), originally familiar forms of the forename 'Robert'. These distinctions used to be very strict; they are becoming much less so. Both males and females may now be spelled either Lindsay and Lindsey. See also the articles in the category Short names.