I’m going to talk about my son Jayne.
Jayne is a sometimes happy, sometimes whiny, always snuggly terror of a two-and-a-half-year-old. Basically, he’s a typical toddler. Jayne is also big. He’s tall and very dense, and people constantly think he’s older than he is. I’m giving you this detail for a reason that will make sense in a bit.
He also has a traditionally female name: Jayne. There is no difference in how it is pronounced and no, we don’t shorten it and call him Jay, or Arthur (his middle name) or Wyatt (another middle name). His name is Jayne.
He was named after Jayne Cobb, the badass mercenary on Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” People who know the show and movie recognize it immediately and are usually in a bit of happy disbelief that he really is named after Jayne Cobb. Jayne Cobb is awesome. He’s not a good guy. He’s not exactly loyal, or kind, or tactful, but he is an awesome character with a fantastic name.
Those are the responses we love to receive. People have started singing “Jayne’s Song” to us, or asked if I ever sang it to him (which I do, on a regular basis) and then of course we all break out into the first verse and chorus. No joke. The other positive reactions we get to his name are from the people who pause and then ask how we spell it, then pause again and comment, “Oh, I really like that!” with full sincerity. (Trust me, I can tell the difference.) These two responses make up the majority of our interactions regarding his name.
And yet somehow, the negative ones stick out:
“Oh really? You named your son Jayne? Why would you do that to him?”
“Have you thought about what it will be like for him in school?”
“What does your husband think of this?”
“He better grow up to be a big boy to make it through school with that name.”
“What’s his middle name? Good thing, at least he can go by one of those.”
“Were you secretly hoping for a girl?”
“I’ll just call him Jay.”
“That poor boy.”
I’ve heard all of these responses more than once. All of these comments have been from family or random people, rarely from our friends (we have awesome, progressive friends).
The one thing these commenters all have in common? They’ve all been adults. Not once have we heard anything about his name from a child.
Jayne was a Roots of Empathy baby starting at three months old, and in the class of grade one and grade two kids we visited monthly, not one questioned why my baby boy had the same name as a girl in the class. He was just baby Jayne.
So when adults then ask me, “Have you thought about what it will be like for him in school?” I can’t help but ask them what they mean. Wouldn’t it be best to teach our children not to pick on a child based on his or her name? By asking this question in front of your own children, you are perpetuating the idea that it’s OK to question, make fun of, or single out my son for his name—which it definitely is not.
The two comments that bother me the most are, “What does your husband think of this?” and “He better grow up to be a big kid!” Apparently it’s incomprehensible that a man could give his son a feminine name.
Truth is, naming him Jayne was my husband’s decision. He loves the character, there was no arm-twisting, no convincing and not once did he have any second thoughts. So that’s what my husband thinks about this.
And about Jayne’s size: Really? He has to grow up to be big and burly just because his name is feminine? If he’s going to go through life named Jayne, apparently he can’t be too small in stature, or too sensitive, or too emotional. Do people understand what they’re implying here? They’re basically saying that he needs to be a tough, masculine guy to counteract having a girls’ name.
We’ve also been told it’s a good thing that our eldest son, Henry, wasn’t named Jayne, as he’s an artsy, sensitive kid. Um… WHAT!?
Because it’s not really about a name, and it never was, whether our critics realize it or not. In fact, most people love the name Jayne: It’s a classic, beautiful choice. For us, it’s also a strong name.
When people imply that our son will be hurt—physically or emotionally—because of it, they are doing so because they have been trained to think of femininity as inferior to masculinity. It’s one way of demonstrating the view that females are somehow worth less then men. That to be feminine is to be considered weak. Most people would never admit how sexist this is—and they argue fervently with me that no, they’re not sexist—but they are. Their comments are.
We need to educate the parents who don’t let their sons dress up as princesses for Halloween even though they want to. We need to reach the moms who are attached to their daughters’ long hair and won’t let them cut it, and somehow get through to the men who thoughtlessly retire to the living room after a big family meal while all the women tidy up. All of these smaller examples—and this kind of thinking—is what leads us to larger issues, and to rampant sexism. It’s what allows society to ignore and deny the gender pay gap, it’s what allows rape culture to persist, for women’s health organizations to be chronically underfunded and over-scrutinized, and for the vicious online attacks of female journalists and female politicians. It’s what allowed Judge Aaron Persky to hand down a six-month jail sentence (reduced to three) to Brock Turner, a convicted rapist, because anything longer would leave a “severe impact” on the rest of his life.
With the events of the last few months in the US, I fear that our access to equal rights will only get worse. So we need to push back, and call people out for their ingrained sexist behaviours—even the seemingly minor or insignificant ones. It matters.
That’s why I challenge my son’s critics to reconsider how they think about sex and gender. (Yup, those are two different things.) I want to make people question how we treat young girls and boys, how society expects us to dress them, and yes, what we name them.
Meagan Botterill is a mom of two, blogger and handbag-maker who lives in Thunder Bay, Ont.
This article was originally published online in February 2017.