Baby Gael?
December 6, 2012 1:59 PM   Subscribe

We are considering naming our soon-to-be-born son Gael. I have a few questions about that.

• Do you personally hear "gayl" or "gah-ell" when you read that name?

• Although the name is clearly Scottish/English in origin, my wife who works at a predominantly Hispanic elementary school has several Mexican male students named Gael. How did THAT happen? Is it just because of the hunky actor guy?

• Although this isn't a girls' name, it's pretty damn close and will frequently be thought of as one. Perhaps this is anecdotal, but how problematic has this been for those of you with names frequently associated with the opposite sex? Or for people you know with the same?
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Human Relations (104 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I hear "gayl" (or to my mind "gail").
posted by mercredi at 2:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [19 favorites]

I hear "ga-el" and immediately associated it with Yael.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 2:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear guy-el but that's because I'm most familiar with the name from the actor.
posted by wilky at 2:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

I saw it and thought "Ga-ell". It's also a Spanish name, which is probably why your wife has Mexican students with that name.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Intellectually, I know the pronunciation is Gah-eyl, but if I saw it on paper, I'd probably think Mom and Dad (or Dad and Dad or Mom and Mom) were creative spellers and the child's name was Gail, and also that she was a girl.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

I hear Gayl.

Most people will assume he's a woman until they meet him in person. When he's a kid, kids might give him shit about that but it won't be, like, awful. Kids make fun of each other for everything all the time.

The rule of thumb when giving a child an uncommon first name is to give them a relatively normal middle name so they can go by that if they really hate it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

Yeah I hear that as my aunts name. I'd think that's going to be confusing for people.
posted by Blake at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2012

It's a homophone of "Gail" to me. I have a similar situation (I'm a man, with a male name that sounds exactly like a more common woman's name) and it's never once been a serious issue, although people often spell it wrong in informal situations (e.g., writing it on a coffee cup). I always have to spell my name out if getting it right is important.
posted by theodolite at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear it like "Gail," but seeing the spelling am aware it's not a girl's name.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My brother-in-law has a similar "male or female?" name. It's never really held him back and he's not really touchy about it (the two may be related). He has no middle name to serve as an alternative.

The only issue I know about is that he constantly gets mail solicitations for traditional female things -- like, last year he got a free issue of Oprah magazine with the standard letter about "things we ladies need to know."
posted by hmo at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe (hopefully!) things are different now, but when I was growing up, kids threw the word "gay" around as an insult like no one's business and combining "mispronounced as a girl's name" and "excuse to call another kid 'gay'" and you put your kid in Constantly Made Fun Of City.

My weird (to America) name is easily mispronounced as a slang term for masturbation. I did not hear the end of it between grades 2 and 9.
posted by griphus at 2:10 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I hear Gay-ell and am reminded of Jor-El, so that's kind of badass.
posted by availablelight at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Enrique Iglesias played a character from Argentina on How I Met Your Mother named Gael, and it was the whole stereotypical hot guy thing.

As a teacher, I feel obligated to warn you that naming your child this name will bring many unfortunate playground taunts, with emphasis on the GAY-el. Kids can be pretty mean like that.

Then there's "gayelle".

Perhaps for a middle name?
posted by NoraCharles at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I personally think the actor guy will inform close to 25% of people's instincts on the name and who knows, maybe more if he makes another big movie or two.
posted by the foreground at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2012

I'm with availablelight, Superman's brother was the first thing I thought.

Mazel-Tov on your baby, may he enjoy good health, and stay away from Kryptonite.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My (female) cousin Toni was married for a while to a guy named Gael, which he pronounced the same as the female name "Gail." There was some hilarity about how they could always avoid gender-based telemarketing, and similar wacky hijinks, but as far as I know that was the extent of the issue.

I think it's a lovely name, but depending on the area, you may have more or less educating to do, and your son may have to put up with more or less ribbing.
posted by Superplin at 2:15 PM on December 6, 2012

I read it as "gail"
posted by modernnomad at 2:17 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear Gay-el, with sort of a diphthong in it. I think it's the same way I'd pronounce Gail. If I saw the name Gael, I would assume male. I'm not sure what gender I would think of when I saw the name - it would depend on the pronunciation, I guess.

I know some women with traditionally male names, and it generally hasn't been a problem at all, other than some minor confusion at various points. I know lots of people with androgynous names, no problems. I don't know any males with traditionally female names, and I think that actually says something - parents are worried about teasing, whether justly or not.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:19 PM on December 6, 2012

Then there's "gayelle".

That article is from '08, I've lived in metropolitan areas with significant GBLTQ populations, and I've never heard it. They should stop trying to make "gayelle" happen.

Also, obligatory.
posted by availablelight at 2:21 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

He will forever be answering to baristas calling out, "double latte for Gail!" Or he will, like friend of mine, just start including the spelling in the name when the barista asks "what's a name for that order?" "Dat, dee-ay-tee" (my friend is Vietnamese).

All-in-all, though, this is a pretty minor inconvenience. My wife is named "Jaime", which has the same pronunciation as "Jamie", not the male Hispanic name it shares a spelling with. Sometimes it's annoying, but it's not a huge deal.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:23 PM on December 6, 2012

Seeing it spelled, I would be inclined to say "Gayl".

Kids will certainly give him shit at some point in his life. Probably a really unpleasant amount of it, somewhere in there.

I took a fair amount of abuse growing up for a name as nonstandard and subject to subtle confusions as "Brennen". That no longer happens, and I get a lot of "oh, that's a neat name", but I am able to recall in my entire life only a single instance of someone spelling it correctly on the first try. (My checks, issued by a bank where I graduated highschool with a number of the people work there, still spell it wrong after two attempts to correct them. The last time I filled out some kind of membership form, the person doing data entry on it was literally incapable of typing it with it spelled out in block letters in front of her, my drivers license in hand, and me carefully saying "B R E N N E N". I gave up after her 10th attempt. That sort of thing. Constantly.)

To be clear, I am really glad I was named something kind of unusual and would not trade it for anything. Spelling errors, as crosses-to-bear go, are pretty trivial. But these are likelihoods to be aware of.
posted by brennen at 2:23 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I read "Gael," I hear "gayl," not "gah-ell."

When I see "Gael" written down, I think of Pop Culture Junk Mail author and MeFi user GaelFC (who is a woman). Then I think of Gael Garcia Bernal (your aforementioned hunky actor guy). So I think your hunch about the source of its surge in popularity as a boy name is accurate.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:24 PM on December 6, 2012

I have a name that gets gender confused a lot and it's not a big deal. Having to constantly tell people how to spell or pronounce "Gael" would be a bigger annoyance, IMO.

My immediately thought was the same as lhude sing cuccu--I thought of Yael, like it might be some weird transliteration or something. But I work with a bunch of Israelis.
posted by phoenixy at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2012

Reading brennen's comment--yes, I think your son would forever be spelling his name for people, but I have had to do this all my life for both first and last name, and you just get used to it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2012

As someone who was called every variant of lesbian you can make out of Leslie as a middle schooler I'd urge you to use it as a middle name because your kid is going to spend a lot of time dealing with jerky kids being mean. I like my name fine now but there were quite a few years where it was a weapon used against me and I'm of an age where it never occurred to my parents that it would even be a possibility. I don't think kids will be vastly more enlightened in 10-12 years than they are now and that kind of abuse is still around today.

Congrats on your baby!
posted by leslies at 2:26 PM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Kids will certainly give him shit at some point in his life.

This is true no matter what your kid's name is. Kids are cleverer than you when it comes to this sort of thing.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:29 PM on December 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

I hear "gah-ell" and assume the name refers to a man. He may have to spell it for others, but it's only four letters long. As someone who has to spell her not-that-unusually spelled first name to others all the time: it's really not a big deal, and it's kind of cool not being one of the bazillion Rebeccas out there.
posted by rebekah at 2:30 PM on December 6, 2012

I think Gah-ell when I see it, and I would assume the boy was of Spanish/Hispanic descent. Probably because of the actor.

To add one more thing I don't think anyone's mentioned yet. I'm a girl with (you'd think) a very obvious girl name, but it's also obviously very similar to a common boy name. I got a LOT of "Did your parents want a boy?" I assume a boy with a name very similar to a common girl name will get a LOT of "Did your parents want a girl?"

That said, I think it's a nice name, and having to spell/pronounce my name constantly as a kid and adult didn't damage me or anything. So if you like it, I say go with it.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:33 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear "Gale," and I know of Gael Garcia Bernal but have only read his name, never heard it (this is very common for me) so wouldn't have realized it was pronounced otherwise.

Possibly the hunky male character named Gale in the Hunger Games books (and likely more than one movie) will further the acceptance of this name for a guy?
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have the opposite viewpoint to hurdy gurdy girl - only yesterday I had to spell my name for someone ("no, it's s t a c E y") and after 44 years of life, it still bugs me. I like my name because it is slightly unusual in our small country town, but I'd like a dollar for every time I've had to spell it, or correct someone's spelling of it, or endure red tape to correct it on official documents. (I'd also like a dollar for every time I've been called Tracy or Daisy, but that's another story.)

And my first thought was 'Gail', the girls name.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:36 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought it was an alternative spelling of gaol, the British spelling of jail, and would have pronounced it as such.
posted by dd42 at 2:40 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gay-el (as opposed to Gail being Gayl).

Go with it. Kids are dicks no matter what (my name is slightly old fashioned, shared with a very good, old comedienne, and features in a famous song, and I still got teased with a variant to comment on my sexual behaviour) (I have occasionally still gotten this from particularly clueless men as an adult as well).
posted by geek anachronism at 2:45 PM on December 6, 2012

I read it like the actor as well.

Amusingly, I just last night caught a rerun of a How I met Your Mother episode with a long riff on a male named Gael that the other characters kept intentionally misunderstanding as Gail, Girl, etc. Odd timing!
posted by Stacey at 2:47 PM on December 6, 2012

I'd pronounce it "guy-ell," if that helps suggest the amount of time the poor kid will spend correcting how people say it.

I wouldn't overplay the taunting problem -- almost any name can get turned into a taunt with a bit of creativity. Don't let that dissuade you from a name you like. For what it's worth, my name is totally "normal" and not only did kids still used it to tease me, but people misspell and even mispronounce it more often than not.

Pick a name you like and put your energy into raising a kid with a good sense of self esteem and humor.
posted by Forktine at 2:48 PM on December 6, 2012

I pronounce it "Gail" because I know a guy named Gael and that's how he pronounces it. That said, I would have pronounced it that way before I met him and I also would have guessed it was a male name.

My data point! :) (Montreal, Canada)
posted by juliebug at 2:49 PM on December 6, 2012

I think of the guy from Breaking Bad and therefore homophone with "gale".

Spoiler alert: and then getting shot.

Also my high school girlfriend Gale ("like the wind"), but that's neither here nor there.
posted by supercres at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to Queen's University, home of the Golden Gaels, so I pronounce it "Gail" and think of it as a Scottish thing and also reminds me of hangovers.
posted by marylynn at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear "Gail" but with the "a" sound stretched out a little bit and the teensiest bit of a drawl: Gaaai-ul. I know that's wrong, but it's my first reaction.

The kids at school will call him Gay or Jail or Guile.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know a man named Gaelen. Gay-Len. That would resolve the issue, I think.
posted by chavenet at 2:58 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gael in US English is a gender-neutral name. Food writer and novelist Gael Greene, who's in her late 70s, is one of a few prominent female Gaels; Ian Anderson's daughter, who does tech work in the film business, is also named Gael. Both of them pronounce their name "Gail".
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear a dipthonged "gail" which isn't how I pronounce Gail ("gale"). I always associate men named "gail" with husky, genial dudes due to Max Gail (Sgt. Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller). I know that's a family name there but that's the association I have.

I like it!
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read it as Jail.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2012

I've been pondering my previous comment--while having to constantly spell my name does not annoy me (though I totally understand malibustacey9999's reaction to it), having people mispronounce my last name drives me BONKERS. It's a rare, very old English name, but it's pretty easy to "sound it out", as the little kids say, using English phonetics. Occasionally the mispronunciations seem perverse--it's like if someone saw the name "Carson" and decided it must be pronounced "Cowshit." I'm like WTF would lead you to think it's pronounced that way? And no, it isn't just people taking the piss; I've been introduced this way in professional settings where I am positive no one was joking.

Keep that in mind if you want your son's name to be pronounced "gah-ell," because many people will say "gayl." He WILL be correcting people's pronunciation forever.

Oh and no matter what name you end up going with...congrats on your impending arrival!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:20 PM on December 6, 2012

I'd pronounce it Gay-el.

I've known quite a few men with stereotypically women's names--two (male) Kristens, one male Jess, and one Leslie. I didn't meet any of them until they were late teens or older, but none of them seemed bothered by it, and no one over the age of about twelve will make an issue of it. The Kristens both went by Kris most of the time, and the Leslie went by Les, but other than the occasional "Nope, I'm a dude. Yup, I'm sure that's my name," none of them seemed anything other than amused by the occasional targeted mailing (free tampons, anyone?) or confused telemarketer.
posted by MeghanC at 3:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear it as 'GAIL' (one syllable). I think the name 'Gael' is charming, but when I put on my teenager hat all I can hear is 'GAY' or 'GAY-EL'. Kids'll find a reason to make fun of ANYONE though, so not naming your kid something you like just to avoid the derision of other kids is kind of a losing game. Something else, people may associate your kid with that character from Breaking Bad. *shrug*

If you DO name your kid 'Gael', I think FAMOUS MONSTER's advice to give your kid a more 'normal' middle name is spot-on. My name's Kele (pronounced like Kelly), but when I was a kid I went by the name Kep (both are abbreviated forms of my birth name). Once I hit middle school my peer group got really mean, and I started going by my second, more 'normal' name (John) to avoid some of the grief. However, walk into a crowded room anywhere in America and call out, "JOHN!" and you'll get about 20% of the room looking at you. That's both confusing and dull, so I switched back to my more 'unusual' name when I was 19. Feels much more natural to me. Of course, there is the occasional misunderstanding or confusion, but it's not a huge deal. I have had a couple of (ostensibly adult) friends tell me I have a 'girl's name' as well, but that's just dumb guys being dumb.

And congratulations! Whatever you name your child, here's to hoping he/she is a happy, healthy kid.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:41 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear Gail like the female name.

Speaking as someone with an uncommon first name (Pravit) he will likely often hear his name mispronounced or have to explain how to pronounce it correctly. My personal least favorite thing is coffee places or restaurants where instead of giving you a number they make you give them your first name. I always give them a fake name because I hate hearing someone loudly butcher my first name.
posted by pravit at 3:47 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear "Gayle" and think of Gael Greene the nutty (female) food critic and writer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:49 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I support the middle name advice, but the other thing to note is you never know what's going to sound totally normal by the time your kid is a little older. My mom was worried that "Stacey" was going to be too weird a name so she gave me the world's most bland middle name (which also lends itself to lots of different shortenings) so I'd have other options. She did the same thing with my sister, whose first name is Kristen.

Stacey and Kristen, for god's sake, she thought were going to be weird names we'd get made fun of on the playground or something. We each ended up knowing a million other kids with our names, with minor spelling variants.

There's a certain amount of this you have no control over at all.
posted by Stacey at 3:50 PM on December 6, 2012

I love my parents dearly, but I will never forgive them for giving me an unusual first name.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear Guy-el. I like the name!
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2012

In French there is a woman's name "Gaëlle" which is pronounced Gah-elle. I think that Gael is a good name for a boy.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:03 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, another data point - my little brother's name is a girl's name. Not the male variant, not a gender neutral variant, but the girl's name. I have never met another man with his name, but had a girlfriend with the same name and his ex's little sister had the same name as well. It never seemed to bother him, but he's always a bit skewed from the norm. Kids stopped teasing him around fourth grade, which was when he hit puberty (full beard by high school) - he was not only bigger, but a gentle giant with lots and lots of female friends and girlfriends.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:05 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear Gale and would expect a man. It does sound just like Gail, but we as a culture don't seem to have any problems with Erin / Aaron.

In terms of spelling, I have been spending my entire life saying "My name is Kathryn, K A T H R Y N, there is no E in my first name." It hasn't been that annoying to me, really. My husband's name is also a common and accepted variant spelling (Erik), and we have to do the same thing there. Apart from occasionally receiving a mailing to Catherine and Eric Hislastname (we each kept our names when we married) and giggling about how this envelope is addressed to exactly zero of the people in this house, it's not really affected us any.
posted by KathrynT at 4:26 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear "Guy-el." I am a native southern Californian, grew up in a very multicultural environment, had lots of exposure to foreign films, including those with the famous actor.

I think it is a beautiful name.
posted by invisible ink at 4:28 PM on December 6, 2012

I think it depends where you are/the people you're around are from. As you can see, people with latin roots (French, Spanish, ...) like myself read it as Guh-el, and for me it doesn't strike as an uncommon name, I've actually encountered a few Gaels :). But maybe it's different in the US?
posted by kitsuloukos at 4:35 PM on December 6, 2012

One of my brothers has a gaelic-inflected name that used to be very rare in the US but is now reasonably common. Among people who weren't familiar with it back when it was more rare and we were kids, they would often mispronounce it as "Ann" for reasons I've never understood. Also he got a lot of confusion about whether his name was a girl's name or a boy's name -- even though this was coming from people who had never heard that name before, and he was obviously a boy, so...

Said sibling grew up to be generally awesome and have no gender identity issues at all. People are morons, and there's really not much you can do about it. Are we supposed to name everyone John and Mary because otherwise someone might think their name is wrongly gendered?
posted by Sara C. at 4:41 PM on December 6, 2012

Native Scottish person and Gaelic speaker here. Calling someone "Gael" based on Scottish cultural influences sounds to me like calling them "Scanian" or "Bavarian". It's evocative of a part of a country that has a distinct culture and language differences, but it's not a good given name.

It's certainly not a given name I've ever seen used in Scotland.

If I came across it, I'd pronounce it 'Gail' as in 'Abigail' and would assume without a doubt that the person was female. If you want to establish the 'Yael'-style way of saying it, how about using a diaeresis on the e to make that clear: Gaël.

In any case, Gayle may be a better choice.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 4:43 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

People are stupid about name spelling. Possibly guys named Bob or Rick don't have lots of trouble, but anything else will always have to spell their name. My husband is a Matt, with two "t's", like every other Matt I've ever met save one, but people constantly want to make him Mat.

Do what you like. I think "Gael" like "gaelic" and would probably not assume a gender because I've seen it for men and women.

As for teasing, it happens to everyone regardless.
posted by emjaybee at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Bear in mind also that Gaelic as in Gàidhlig is pronounced ɡalɪk not ɡeɪlɪk. The latter is the name used in English to refer to Manx and Irish Gaelic.)
posted by Talkie Toaster at 4:48 PM on December 6, 2012

When he's a kid, kids might give him shit about that but it won't be, like, awful.

Keep in mind that names are all over the map these days. Your son might very well be one of three Gaels in his class. Surely if your wife is a K-12 teacher and has had plenty of Gaels in her classes, I would not worry about your son being scarred by the name.

If kids his age know any female Gayles, they will probably be grandparent-aged.

And keep in mind these hypothetical kids who are making fun of little Gael are going to be named Jayden, Addison, and Micah, so it's not like any of them can afford to cast doubt on little Gael's gender.

If anyone has issues with the name, it's going to be older people. And when you're a kid it's pretty easy to fit that into the framework of grownups being idiots who can't even, like, pronounce my name right. He's going to learn to roll his eyes like a pro by the time he hits elementary school.
posted by Sara C. at 4:53 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would assume your kid is a Hispanic boy and pronounce it as such. I would compare it to naming your daughter Angel (the English pronunciation), while most Angels now are Hispanic boys ("ahn-hel"). I strongly considered naming my daughter Ximena, which ranked #215 for U.S. girls in 2011 (Gael was #407 for boys), but within my circle, it was perceived as freakishly exotic. It's actually more common than many other "common" names like Cecilia, Erin, and Maggie.

My dad grew up with what is widely perceived as a female name (Kim), and he still finds it a major annoyance today.

I definitely don't think your average person is going to see Gael and think Scottish/English. It also has a long history of use in Spain and Latin America.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 5:16 PM on December 6, 2012

For what it's worth, I think everyone has to spell their name nowadays. My name is pretty common and has 4 letters and I have had to spell it so often that I now just do automatically.

I've also met people with all kinds of names that nobody bats an eye at. After middle school, I don't think anyone really cares. I used to work with a woman named Virgin and people just said her name with no compuction like it was Jane. I think Gael is a lovely name and you should go with it.
posted by bleep at 5:18 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear it as Gaël, two syllables. It's true that kids will tease based on that name, but it's also true that they'll tease based on anything, and it doesn't matter what you name your child - they'll get teased sometimes and if you/they are extremely unlucky they'll get teased a lot. Regardless of their name.

And maybe a teasable name builds character, Boy Named Sue style. But remember, Sue, wouldnt name his son Sue. But for sure a lot of who Sue is is because of his name.

At any rate, an interestingly spelled/pronounced name, that mimics a girls name, that (sorta) has the word 'gay' in it, gives me a bit of pause.

But, fuck the mean kids. Gael is a cool name.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:31 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear it the same as Gail, the female name, with one syllable. If I knew it was a boy type person, I'd assume you guys were huge fans of The Hunger Games and named him after that. With the crazy popularity of those books, that could be more irritating than the different pronunciations.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about the taunting issue. I mean, it'll happen for sure, but that's with almost any name. Martha got Bertha and then Big Bertha a lot in elementary school. And then of course, there was all the fodder in the Name Game (Martha, Martha, bo-bartha, banana, fana, fo-fartha...).

Everyone I've ever known who had to regularly correct people's pronunciations of their first name hates it, but I really have an inkling the Hunger Games thing could be most vexatious.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2012

"Gayle" would definitely be read as female in the US. "Gael" and "Gale" are much more gender-neutral.

The Spanish-language name "Gael" is a variant of the Arabic name "Wael"--it doesn't mean "a person from Ireland or Scotland," but "protector".
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:45 PM on December 6, 2012

Good lord. Call the kid Jim and avoid all this mess.
posted by zadcat at 5:55 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really, better to go with "Pat" than GAY-ELL.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:58 PM on December 6, 2012

In French there is a woman's name "Gaëlle" which is pronounced Gah-elle. I think that Gael is a good name for a boy.

The masculine version of this name is Gaël. I normally only hear it with British people saying Gaël Clichy, so I can't tell you much about the pronunciation, as I hear it as one syllable, when the ë means there should be too.
posted by hoyland at 5:59 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read it as "gayl", as in "gaelic" (but I have a friend who speaks it so I'm predisposed).

As for the teasing - y'know, sometimes kids DON'T tease. My grade school BFF was named "Krishna" and had a brother named "Theoden", and I don't remember a single instance of anyone teasing them about their names. They both got a lot of furrowed brows and "wait, WHAT was your name again?", but other than that everyone sort of rolled with it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear it with a diphthong when I read it, as others have suggested.

I also think "General, Automobile, and Employment Liability" when I read it, but that's my work-related problem, not yours…

And for pity's sake, please don't let any "it sounds like 'gay', heh heh heh" worries keep you from giving your child a name that you like. Sheesh.
posted by Lexica at 6:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear 'gah-ell.' It's a nice name. But—as someone who also has an unusual, hard-to-pronounce name (without the gender confusion issue)—I'll just say there have been many, many times when I wished my parents had chosen something a little easier for people to spell and understand. I hear what everyone's saying about unusual names & spellings being pretty common now. But I still advocate for simplicity.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:37 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read it as "Gayl".

Look: don't do this. I have a strange given name, and on top of that my parent made my given my middle name, so I have had plenty of time to think about this sorts of things.

I also have a friend with a Danish first name that sounds like a girl's name, and it has caused him plenty of low-key embarrassment over the years. It may be low-level humiliation, but it all adds up over time.

Don't do this.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:38 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I knew it was a boy type person, I'd assume you guys were huge fans of The Hunger Games and named him after that. With the crazy popularity of those books, that could be more irritating than the different pronunciations.

Except that in The Hunger Games, it's spelled Gale. As long as OP's family spells it Gael and pronounces it Ga-el rather than Gayle, there shouldn't be any association with the novels at all.
posted by Sara C. at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2012

I think this is a good idea if you want to make sure he learns how to fight, like in that Johnny Cash song.

Otherwise, not a good idea.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2012

As someone with an uncommonly spelled first name and very difficult last name, I agree with those who have pointed out that spelling and correcting over and over and over again can get... tiring. It's worth considering whether you want to saddle your kid with a name that has both gender ambivalence and spelling/pronunciation difficulty.

If your last name is difficult, I'd consider a less complicated first name.
posted by juliplease at 7:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have an extremely common first name and an extremely common last name. Both have unusual spellings. I have to spell my name every single day.

I'm pretty much over it. There are moments I wish my ancestors had anticipated the existence of email, but well, there's really nothing to be done.

Even if you name your kid John Smith, he's going to constantly be clarifying to people that it's John, not Jon or Jonathan, and that it's Smith-with-an-i. And getting teased in school the day they cover Pochahontas.

You really can't win on this stuff, so you might as well name your kid what you want to name him.
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that the OP wants to pronounce it like the first syllable of "Gaelic", yes? That was what I took away from the OP.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:10 PM on December 6, 2012

My first response was to read it as Gayle, while trying to add a subtle Gaelic spin on it. Upon seeing it spelled "gah-ell" I immediately heard it as Jor-El. I'd never heard of actor Gael García Bernal but did think of the restaurant critic Gael Greene, who is female.

As far as kids picking up on the 'gay' part, consider this: The most memorable name-teasing I recall from my childhood was directed towards a kid named Ben, a.k.a "Ben-Gay is gay!" so you never know. My first thought about potential teasing was the "girl's name" angle. In Jr. High I knew brothers named Stacy and Dana; I don't recall any teasing, but there was giggling.

As someone with an uncommon (but far from rare) name I can tell you that, as a kid, it gets really depressing not being able to find souvenir license plates and tchotchkes with your name on it. Sad face.

seanmpuckett: "I always associate men named "gail" with husky, genial dudes due to Max Gail (Sgt. Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller). I know that's a family name there but that's the association I have."

As unlikely as it seems, I have exactly the same association!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:25 PM on December 6, 2012

Sidhedevil: If that's the case, I fail to see what the question really is. They can name their kid whatever and pronounce it however, and everything will likely be fine regardless of whether there is some Mexican-American kid at school named after a movie star.
posted by Sara C. at 7:26 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey! I'm naming my future son Gael!!! To your question I read it as Gah-el, in Spanish of course.
posted by xicana63 at 7:28 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

invisible ink: "I hear "Guy-el." I am a native southern Californian, grew up in a very multicultural environment"

Me too, but I've clearly never seen the name in print because it took reading a few similar comments before I made the connection. (And I agree it is a beautiful name!)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:37 PM on December 6, 2012

I speak Spanish so it is Gael. If I had a son I'd want to name him Gael. Fab name!
posted by i_wear_boots at 7:44 PM on December 6, 2012

I vote for compromise with making it a middle name (one bonus is he'll rarely have to verbally spell it out for anyone).

Yeah, once he's grown up it won't matter, but childhood lasts a really... long... time. Even though kids will find a way to make fun of a lot of names (though I wouldn't say most), if you have a choice in making it a little less easy for them, your kid will probably be grateful.

Few parents anymore would have their son go by "Dick" and just say "Who cares what the mean kids say?"

A lot of us here are being rational adults... Bratty kids aren't rational. And the OP's son likely won't be able to shrug it off and say "Whatever, there's a lot of guys named Gael."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 7:46 PM on December 6, 2012

I hear guy-elle, but I have a Gael friend (guy) so yeah. I think it is one of those names that is getting hip to name your baby? Seems like it.

Try this cool resource from the SSA!!
posted by manicure12 at 7:52 PM on December 6, 2012

If this is what you want to name your kid, you should. I don't think middle name is at all the same. It's a very nice name, and it makes me think of the actor. Not naming him Gael because of "bratty kids" is not a good idea. Kids can make fun of just about any name. My brother has a not hard to pronounce but still "strange" Indian name that when shortened a certain way sounds like an English/Hebrew name more familiar to most Americans, and teachers kept trying to get him to shorten it when we were kids, but he didn't want to. He didn't get teased about it that much because he just didn't care enough if people said things. I'm proud of him for that - his name is "American" too because we are American.

I actually resisted answering this question for a bit because it is really frustrating that people are trying to corral you into "normal" names or saving this for a middle name. Your question isn't even asking about bratty kids or if the name sounds like "gay."

I recently saw a FB contact name her daughter Swaantje which is extremely difficult but also extremely beautiful.
posted by sweetkid at 8:08 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I pronounced it gay-el (i.e. the exact same way I would pronounce Gail) and thought of (female) food critic Gael Greene. For what it's worth, I have an archive of 1.4 million names and genders from US voting registries, and both Gaels in there (with specified genders) were women. (1752 out of 1779 Gails were women.)

Certainly kids can make fun of any name, but burglars can break into almost any house -- that's no reason to leave a pile of cash next to an open window. Personally, I would deem the teasing potential too high and find another name, but it's not my kid.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:20 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear "Gayl". I think it's a lovely name, but for me my first impression is girl's name. I'd really hesitate to choose this, particularly if you have an uncommon or complicated last name. I have two hard to spell names and god, it gets tiring spelling things out, to the point where I mentally wince when saying my own name on the phone. It would add an extra layer of irritation if people confused my gender too.

On preview, I'm not trying to corral you into "normal" names, I just wanted to provide some perspective from one person who has an unusual name and finds it problematic. It's great to be proud of a unique name and it's great if you have the strength of character to brush off teasing, but not every kid is that proud or strong.
posted by asynchronous at 8:30 PM on December 6, 2012

names and genders from US voting registries

Keep in mind that this data is from people who are 18+ now. In other words, not OP's child's peer group at all.

For what it's worth the Baby Name Voyager shows Gael only as a boys' name. In 2011 it was somewhere in the 400's for popularity in the US. Which is pretty rare, but not insanely rare. (For comparison, that's about as popular as the names Gary and Gideon are for babies born in 2011.)

Gael doesn't really hit the radar at all until 2004: around the time that Gael Garcia Bernal became known in the US, around the time the trend for European-sounding names started, and also probably part of the demographic shift towards more babies of Hispanic ancestry in the US. So it would be unlikely that there are more than a few male Gaels of voting age in the US right now.

Gale for a boy seems to have peaked around the time of male Leslies and Kims, prior to WW2.

Gail and Gayle for women are practically nonexistent since the 80's. In your son's peer group, this is going to be a total nonissue. There might be a kid here or there whose grandmother has that name, but seriously, if the kids are reaching that hard for a way to mock your son, he must be severely bad ass.
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sara C., I bet all those young boys named "Gael" are "gah-ELL" Gaels, not "gale" Gaels.

Again, not the same name, not the same meaning, not the same origin, just a coincidence of orthography. Not a big deal if young Gael 2or3whiskeysodas doesn't mind correcting pronunciation--spelling is probably going to be less of a problem because there'll be so many gah-ELLs in his age group with the same spelling.

When I was a kid, back in the late Jurassic, my kindergarten class had a Michelle C. and a Michelle R., a Mary J. and a Mary N. and a Mary R., and three Roberts.

My namesake and descendant was one of three Julias in her kindergarten class. You can't outguess the cycles of onomastics---there were only five Julias in my entire college, and it was always considered a "weird name" when I was growing up.

I also know three boys under 10 named Huck, so.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:42 PM on December 6, 2012

True. Do you think anyone in 1953 thought that Hillary would someday be a popular feminine name and practically unheard of for boys?

Yet another reason I think OP should just name their kid whatever they want and spell it however they want and not worry too much.
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't do it, bu not because of the name itself. From reading the phrasing of your question, it seems as if you are opposed to it. If that is true, it would suck to not even like your own kid's name. He will know.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:10 PM on December 6, 2012

I'd automatically pronouce Gael as "guy-ELL". If you'd prefer to pronounce your son's name like "gayle", then Gale seems like the most masculine spelling to me, both because of the Hunger Games character and because of its visual similarity to "Dale".
posted by arianell at 9:19 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I hear gah-ell and I think it's awesome. But who cares what we think. In my experience, some people (including IRL) are inevitably going to shit on whatever name you choose.
posted by murfed13 at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2012

I think that name's beautiful.

Also, I think more gender neutral names for children are great, particularly given the genderqueer/transgender folks I know who often wrestle (and frequently change) their birth names.
posted by kylej at 10:50 PM on December 6, 2012

If I saw Gael I would pronounce it "gail" but I would think they were a boy because for some reason it looks like it's spelled masculine if that makes any sense. I also think the "Gale" spelling is suitably masculine as well, although Gael definitely seems more "interesting".

I have an unusual name and it's gone through everything from being made fun of to mispronounced and I didn't even have a middle name to fall back on. When I became a US Citizen I had the option to change my name but decided against it because, well, it's my name and my life turned out pretty good with it.
posted by like_neon at 1:35 AM on December 7, 2012

Thanks for all the input so far, y'all! I'll offer a little more background info at this point.

We live in a state with lots and lots of Mexican folks, and so we had only ever encountered "Gah-ell's". I don't remember when it hit me that lots of people might read it as "Gayl". Either way, there's the occasional male "Gayl" running around, so it's not as though we'd be the first. I can't believe I didn't even make the Hunger Games connection!

It was my wife's suggestion at first, but there is also a woman named Gaelyn in my life who is of monumental importance to me. It would be lovely, and completely appropriate, to pay respect to her in my son's name. Everyone would be pleased about that.

However, in a conversation with my wife last night, she said she doesn't like "Gayl" as a boy's name and would be pretty insistent that it's "Gah-ell". This is beginning to seem like more trouble than it's worth, but there are still plenty of arguments for it.

To be clear, we are far from decided on this name. But we both dig it. Potentially. Thanks again!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 6:41 AM on December 7, 2012

Although the name is clearly Scottish/English in origin,

I'm an English person with a Scots boyfriend and the only Gael I know is the actor, so it's not too common here (though I have met a Yael). It's a lovely name.

I have a reasonably common name and Starbucks can never spell it right, so he should be prepared for that if he moves to a place where there are more non-native speakers in the service industry. But then, if you're called Katherine, or Cathryn, or Catharine, you have to spell out your name anyway.
posted by mippy at 7:31 AM on December 7, 2012

she said she doesn't like "Gayl" as a boy's name

I don't suppose Gale Gordon will change her mind about that.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:52 AM on December 7, 2012

I definitely hear it as Gail and think first of Metafilter's own GaelFC. I grew up in a very Hispanic part of the country, but it wasn't a popular name when I was a kid, I guess, because I've never met a boy with that name.
posted by MsMolly at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2012

My advice is use that name as a middle name. Really creatively named boys can suffer. Think of the old Johny Cash song 'A Boy Named Sue'
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:58 PM on December 7, 2012

Oh and Čestitke!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:59 PM on December 7, 2012

Out of curiosity, has anyone here asked their kids yet what they think the opinions of their less civil peers would be if they had a new kid in town named Gael? It'd certainly provide a different perspective.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 3:28 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ha, how did I miss this thread? Thanks for alerting me, MsMolly!

I am female, born in 1967, named Gael, pronounced Gail.

My mom was torn between spelling it GAIL and GAEL, her Irish heritage won out, went with GAEL. Usually women comment on it, say it's pretty, I say it's Irish, like the language, Gaelic, they like that. I once found it in a baby name book in Galway, Ireland as a boy's name. GAEL obviously means a Celt, an Irish or Scottish person.

No one has ever mispronounced it in 44 years of life. Everyone in the US seems to know it's pronounced just like Gail/Gale/Gayle. Maybe that would be different if I were a male or in an area of the country w Spanish influence.

It's never once been spelled right except by people who know me. Never could buy anything personalized off the rack.

Was familiar with Gael Greene for a LONG time before Gael Garcia Bernal came on the scene. Have yet to meet a male Gael (ha!) but then I don't live in areas with a Latino influence. And I think I've only met one female Gael. It's getting more common thanks to the actor.

Took me a LONG time to come to grips with it due to wishing I had a name people could spell on first reference. Gave my own daughter a fairly common and easy to spell name (Kelly), partially because of this.

Warning: However you choose to pronounce it, the more common US pronunciation right now, thanks to Gaelic, is my way, and it rhymes with FAIL and WHALE. No one never teased me that way but am just saying.

I do like my name now. It makes me laugh that my name has its own thread.
posted by GaelFC at 9:50 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh also, I feel kind of defensive of my name here, so have to share this from G.K. Chesterton.

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad
posted by GaelFC at 11:45 AM on December 11, 2012

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