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Here's why gender-neutral baby names are hotter than ever

These baby names do double duty.
/ Source: TODAY

Trending now: unisex baby names. Ask New Jersey mom and author Melanie Mannarino, who recently found out in a Facebook post about the birth of a relative’s baby.

“It read, Welcome to the world, Quinn Riley,” she told TODAY Parents, adding that her first reaction was sheer delight.

Her second response, she says, was natural curiosity: Is this cute new member of the family a girl or a boy?

After all, every name, to varying degrees, carries gender cues. With this name — names, actually — it could have gone either way. (PS: Quinn Riley is a girl.)

Both Quinn and Riley would work well for a baby girl or boy and are included in Mannarino’s new book, “The Best Gender-Neutral Baby Name Book,” out July 16.

In this resource for moms and dads she writes that gender-free names are, in a way, like a blank canvas. They come with fewer, and in some cases with no, male or female indicators.

“Without a traditional ‘girl name’ or ‘boy name’ as a cue, the uniqueness of your baby can shine even brighter,” she said. “Close your eyes and try to imagine what a kid named ‘Frankie’ looks like. It’s difficult, right? ... Gender-neutral names defy stereotyping.”

Which explains why the androgynous naming trend has been on an upward trajectory. Mannarino observed, based on figures, that “15 percent of babies born in 2017 were given gender-neutral names, a number that’s nearly doubled in 20 years.”

The top gender-neutral baby names of 2018, Mannarino wrote in her book, are Noah, Logan, James, Harper, Ezra, Everly, Nova, Quinn, Kinsley and Asher.

The author points out that names that can do double duty and serve as names for girls and boys usually favor one gender or the other (Noah, for example, is still largely a male name) — and that can change over time. Such shifts can be influenced by factors like pop culture and sports.

“We’re all thinking right now beyond boy-girl right now when it comes to gender and identity,” Mannarino said. “We’re stepping away from the traditional names like Jennifer and the Michael now. We’re in a moment when people are looking beyond conventional personalty traits of men and women — and we’re talking about what our pronouns are.”

Mannarino, like others tracking the game of the name, has observed anecdotally that “more than ever, younger parents want to give their kids a name that feels original.”

The more unusual a name is the more likely it is that it’s unisex. Her book, organized by alphabetical lists, includes sidebars of unisex names inspired by everything from rivers (Nile) and astrology (Aries) to trees (Grove) and the periodic table of elements (Silver). It’s meant to be an inspiration for new parents, but not just for moms and dads.

“I was joking the other day that this book can help you name your baby, your pet or your boat,” she said. "Have fun with it.”