Why We Chose a Unisex Name for Skylar

The decision to go with a unisex name is one that I hope inspires fearlessness, and challenges racism and sexism when it matters most.

A recent Parent Magazine article about unisex names made me think of the months long journey to decide on Skylar’s name. It started out as a spreadsheet with a list of names that I loved on the left, names that Marcel loved on the right, and names that we both loved in the middle. Marcel chose names from which he could easily create nicknames, like Sky from Skylar. My side included last names I loved, people I was inspired by and names that no one close to me had named their children or were themselves named, like Tiegen, Harper and Collins. 

Meanwhile, my friends gave their kids beautiful vintage names, like Genevieve, Charlotte, Aubrey and Rory. But I was preparing my unborn kid for a life that sees race and gender before they see talent, skill, potential … and worth. Looking back, I spent my schooling days frustrated by standardized test sheets with too few spaces for my 9-character government name. I’ve spent my adult life wondering if I didn’t get job interviews because my name was “too ethnic.” I knew that I didn’t want Skylar to deal with similar trauma, that not good enough feeling.

In the days leading up to her gender reveal, we still hadn’t decided on a name should she be a girl. But we’d gotten our list of more than a hundred first names down to two – Skylar and Harper. 

What made us finally chose a name? Making a baby registry at Babies R Us. They asked for a name and Marcel blurted out Skylar. I looked at him and said “okay so that’s what we’re going with?” And we both nodded like  “… I guess so.”


The battle for the middle name was a much harder one. I could go super New Orleans and give my Atlanta-born baby the middle name “Marie,” in home to her roots. Every New Orleanian knows at least one woman with the middle name Marie.

Or we could go with one of her grandparent’s first or middle names. Both of my grandparents middle names were Mae. So in my mind that was a contender for a long time. And then at some point, I began to fight hard for Elliot. It was the name of one of my favorite entertainers and one of my closest mom friends had named her daughter Elliot. I thought it was so bold given the future I wanted for Skylar – one not affected by other’s perception of her based on her gender and race. Even my very traditional mom loved it. But we were alone on this boat. 

Then one day Marcel’s cousin asked “What about Emerson?” I didn’t hate it. And so she became Skylar Emerson.

With this totally unisex name, I felt a sense of power for her that I know won’t be realized for at least a decade. I imagine her getting callbacks and interviews with people being impressed by her resume, their getting to know the amazing and fearless human being we’re trying to raise. I’m hopeful that one day she can know the amount of conversation that went into her name and the things we tried to protect her from. I hope she rises to the challenge of being her best self, as much as she can.

But Harper and Elliot will not go to waste … hopefully. If we’re blessed with another daughter in a post-COVID future, as far as I’m concerned, her name will be Harper Elliot. I’ve already proclaimed it! And remember the nickname thing Marcel was so pressed about? Her nickname isn’t Sky or anything close to it. Go figure.

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The Story of Our Daughter's Unisex Name