Questions about grammatical gender abound on this forum and on other linguistics forums. It's well known that in general, grammatical gender need not coincide with natural gender.

However, I am interested in whether there exist languages in which the grammatical gender of a given name appears not to coincide with the natural gender to which that name is generally assigned.

I will exclude ambigeneric names and names belonging to non-human/neuter noun classes. The question is whether, in any languages you know of, a given name of feminine grammatical gender is used as a masculine given name, or vice versa.

EDIT: I know of one case where this apparent constraint was strong enough that a Japanese female name ending in -o became a Latin first declension noun ending in -a, to avoid a conflict between grammatical and natural gender -- when Princess Michiko of the Chrysanthemum Throne visited Salamanca University!

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    "Gender" isn't always gender-based. Grammatical genders can be divided based on all sorts of things- size, shape, material, animacy... May 15, 2012 at 15:28
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    Even considering Japanese has no gender, female names usually end in -o.
    – Alenanno
    May 15, 2012 at 16:08
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    @Alenanno: In particular, many female Japanese names end in 子 (ko "child"). A number of others end in -a (Rika, Reika) and some in -i (Yuki, Yuri, Aki, Megumi). Anyway, I'm not sure the final vowel is significant, but there are a number of final characters (子, 香, 華, 美) which are popular in female names.
    – jogloran
    May 15, 2012 at 22:45
  • @AdeleC I realise that grammatical gender (or noun class, more generally) does not necessarily coincide with the classes masculine and feminine. I will restrict consideration to languages which do have noun classes traditionally called masculine and feminine.
    – jogloran
    May 15, 2012 at 22:51
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    My first thought was: names have grammatical gender separate from the gender of the bearer? They don't in my L1. A girl with a masculine name would still be a she and the adjectives would be in their feminine form.
    – kaleissin
    May 16, 2012 at 7:08

4 Answers 4


I do know of at least one example in Latin where a feminine noun is given as a name to a male, namely cupido, a normally feminine noun meaning "desire", but given to the male deity Cupido (Cupid in English).

You restrict your question to given names, though I think family names might be more likely to exist with a mismatch between grammatical and natural gender. In Spanish, for example, family names do not have to be words of the same gender as the referent, i.e., a woman can have the surname Delgado (delgado, a masculine word meaning "skinny, slender") and a man can have the surname Vega (vega, a feminine word meaning "meadow"). The same thing of course happens in English (a woman can be called Johnson even though son is masculine), but compare Russian and other Slavic languages, where surnames usually change form depending on whether they are given to a male or a female; a man's surname can be Толстой (Tolstoj, from толстый = "stout") but his wife or daughter will have the feminine form Толстая (Tolstaja).

  • Interestingly, the Pocket Langenscheidt has under cupīdō the annotation f (m). I wonder if the influence of being associated with a male deity flowed back to the original abstract noun...
    – jogloran
    May 16, 2012 at 13:16
  • @jogloran Added a link to Lewis & Short's entry. They mention a few places that it appears as masc. and also give the note "personified in all authors"(!) Possibly masculine attestations of the word are more likely to refer to the concept as personified?
    – Muke Tever
    May 16, 2012 at 13:23
  • Very interesting. This is why I love this site!
    – jogloran
    May 16, 2012 at 13:34
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    @MukeTever: My guess would be that it was normally m. when personified, f. otherwise. That is because I cannot imagine cupido to be personified in Latin other than as a boy; if desire needed a feminine personification, Venus was chosen.
    – Cerberus
    May 9, 2013 at 6:42

I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you mean by "a given name of feminine grammatical gender used as a masculine given name."

Gender assignment in given names is usually lexical, i.e. the Russian boy's name Petja is M and not F - although nouns ending in -a are usually F in IE languages - precisely because that particular name is given to boys, and not girls.

UPDATE: A couple of words on gender in linguistics. Gender in linguistics doesn't mean biological gender - linguistics is not biology, after all. It is understood as a type, kind.

For animate nouns (NB: animate doesn't mean alive), gender assignment is usually based on semantics. In other words, if a word denotes a male (human being), the word is masculine.

For inanimate nouns, gender assignment is based on their morphosyntactic properties, e.g. all nouns taking a particular set of endings belong to gender X. That is why the first declension in Latin includes feminine (mostly) and masculine nouns, both common and proper (for a list of some masculine nouns belonging to the first declension see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_masculine_Latin_nouns_of_the_1st_declension).

Now, let me repeat it here. If a proper noun denotes a male, it is of the masculine gender. It doesn't matter whether it belongs to the first declension or not. It will be masculine. That is why "Catilina" in Latin is masculine, although it belongs to the first declension. Or in Russian, "Petja" (Pete) and "Vera" (a girl's name) belong to the same type of declension.

To make things even more complicated, gender is only one type of noun categorization (see more on noun classes). There are languages where there is no masculine/feminine distinction in nouns.

see a famous passage written by Mark Twain: "the reader will see that in Germany a man may think he is a man, but when he comes to look into the matter closely, he is bound to have his doubts; he finds that in sober truth he is a most ridiculous mixture; and if he ends by trying to comfort himself with the thought that he can at least depend on a third of this mess as being manly and masculine, the humiliating second thought will quickly remind him that in this respect he is no better off than any woman or cow in the land.

In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of the language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib) is not -- which is unfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex; she is neuter; so, according to the grammar, a fish is he, his scales are she, but a fishwife is neither. To describe a wife as sexless may be called under-description; that is bad enough, but over-description is surely worse."

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    Thanks for the response. I'm not interested in the fact that Petja ends in -a, and -a is feminine in a number of IE languages. The sound value isn't relevant. I was wondering if any language which has noun classes traditionally designated masculine and feminine have proper names whose natural gender assignment goes against grammatical gender assignment.
    – jogloran
    May 15, 2012 at 22:45
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    You've stated a principle which is certainly true in several IE languages, but there are a lot more languages than those...
    – jogloran
    May 15, 2012 at 23:32
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    Now you're making more sense. FYI, there are masculine nouns that belong to the first declension in Latin. Is that what you want? As a side note, I'd recommend reading Corbett's book on gender.
    – Alex B.
    May 16, 2012 at 3:59
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    @AlexB.: I believe that's a bit modern, possibly informal, especially when it is very close to Mädchen. At any rate, I'm sure your students wouldn't say die Mädchen: ask them! If Mädchen has any grammatical sex at all, it has to be neuter, because articles should trump other considerations. What your students described I would rather see as a switch of reference in mid-sentence, from "Mädchen" to the actual person (just as you can't say *the community are friendly, while you can say Welcome to Firton! In this community, you will be treated well; they are close-knit but friendly).
    – Cerberus
    May 10, 2013 at 1:13
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    It is interesting that Petja uses feminine declension in Russian, but that is a local specific. In Czech, for example, it is declined as a masculine word (dat. Péťovi). -a is a common ending in masculine words, the předseda (= president) paradigm. Similarly when the Italian name Andrea is used in Czech, dat. Andreovi. The ending is not only a masculine one and feminine version of those words often require a different ending (předsedkyně for a female person, předseda is clearly male). Dec 21, 2022 at 6:20

A popular example in German (at least) is "Maria". E.g., Karl Maria Brandauer.

To be honest, "Maria" is also the only example that really comes to mind for me, and I am very sure that this is a special case based on religious roots - for sure nobody would ever have called Mr. Brandauer "Maria" to his face, at no stage of his life.


I don't know examples from personal names in German (there is a general rule in German naming laws that ordinary words are unsuitable as given names) but with titles like Exzellenz "excellence", Hoheit or Majestät both "majesty" that are grammatically feminine but applied to male persons, like in the old-fashioned address Seine königliche Hoheit Philipp II. "His Royal Majesty Philipp II." (This style of address can be heard on German carnival sessions when Prince Carneval is introduced.).

P.S. See also Languages with masculine nouns for various female entities, or feminine nouns for male entities and the answers there.

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