Personal Story

What It Was Like Growing Up as a Girl with a ‘Boy’s’ Name

my experience as a girl with a boys name"
my experience as a girl with a boys name
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

In the summer of 1996, Wisconsinites were basking in the sunshine after a cold, dark winter, recovering from a devastating tornado, and gearing up for the fall football season of their dreams. For four years, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers had been making their way to the top. The ’96/’97 NFL season would be one that went down in Wisconsin history books. Brett Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl XXXI victory in the Crescent City and brought the Lombardi Trophy home.

Amongst the dedicated Packers fans were two expectant parents who were excited to welcome a baby in June of 1996. That baby was me, and although both of my parents admitted they were hoping for a boy, they were happy to settle with giving their daughter a “boy’s” name. My dad being the Packers fan that he is, and my mom having a major crush on Brett Favre, the two drew baby name inspiration from their home state NFL quarterback. That’s when they welcomed me into the world and decided to name me Brett after the NFL star.

These days, we see more and more boy names used for girls, but Brett was pretty out there for a girl back in the mid-’90s. It was a bold choice for my parents to give me a traditional boy’s name, and it certainly played into different aspects of my life in unique ways throughout the years. If you’re a parent considering giving your little one an unconventional name, or if you’re just curious, here’s my experience growing up as a girl with a boy’s name.

I Grew Thick Skin

I was a very sensitive child. Ask any of my family members about me growing up, and they’ll say some derivative of, “She cried a lot.” This sensitivity was about more than just my name—I was a kid with big feelings who came from a family of divorce. But, growing up with a boy’s name meant getting called out and sometimes even picked on. We know kids can be mean, and I just had a more obvious target on my back when I shared a name with a handful of boys in my class.

Being called out for my name hurt my feelings when I was young, but I got used to it after a while. Once I hit middle school and high school, the teasing didn’t really bother me anymore. That’s when I learned that teasing quickly stops when the person’s not getting a reaction out of you. Looking back now, I kind of appreciate getting picked on, as silly as it sounds. It put into perspective that other people’s opinions of me aren’t worth worrying about. It didn’t cure my sensitivity, but it sure helped me be more selective of what I got worked up over.

growing up as a girl with a boy's name
Source: Brett Nicole Hayden

I Grew Into Myself

I soon learned to love that the very thing I was getting picked on for actually made me unique and special. While it once made me feel like an outcast not to have a “normal” girl’s name, later I appreciated that I stood out.

In addition to being sensitive, I was really shy. Having a unique name helped me grow out of my shyness in the best way. I learned to be more social and outgoing, and that’s something I’m grateful for.

When I went to a small college in Wisconsin with about 10,000 students, I started getting recognized as the “Girl Brett” on campus. I enjoyed this pre-introduction and that my name preceded me when meeting someone new. Having this conversation piece of a name honestly made for good small talk and gave me an easy opportunity to be social. I soon grew into someone who loved socializing with others and thrived in group interactions. This ended up being another perk in my experience as a girl with a boy’s name—and something I’m forever grateful for.

I Gained Confidence

That shy, sensitive little girl went through a lot because of her name at a young age. Not the least of which—which has been a problem throughout every phase of my life—is people constantly getting my name wrong. A popular name for girls in the ’90s was Brittany. I remember constantly getting asked if my name was Britt or if it was short for Brittany.

One instance in particular will never leave me. My sister is six years older than me, and she had a boyfriend off and on throughout high school. During this span of about three years, I spent a lot of time with her, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s family. When I was introduced to her boyfriend’s mom, she mistakingly heard my name as Britt. For three years, I never once corrected her (and neither did my sister). I was caught off guard in the beginning, and then it always felt too late to correct her.

This is just one example of the many times I’ve had to correct someone on my name (or failed to). Lucky for me, though, those early instances were great learning experiences. Now, I have no problem stating my correct name loud and proud. My go-to line, especially in Packer country, is, “It’s Brett, like Brett Favre.”

growing up as a girl with a boys name
Source: Brett Nicole Hayden

I Experienced Some Unexpected Consequences

One unexpected consequence of my name has little to do with me and more to do with my relationships. Little did I—or my parents—know that nearly every boyfriend I’ve had throughout my life would also receive some jabs for my name. At every phase—high school, college, and even now in adulthood—the company I kept found themselves at the receiving end of a joke or two as well about dating a girl with a boy’s name. This teasing has always been in good fun, and they’ve always handled it well.

I Learned to Love It

When I think about it, the pros of having a unique name far outweigh the cons. Not the least of which is always having a go-to “fun fact” to share about myself. Not everyone can say their namesake is a pro-athlete of the opposite sex.

I’m still a fairly sensitive person. Sad movies get me, and I can be brought to tears at the first sign of conflict. I will say, though, I think having a unique name that brought a lot of attention to me at times helped me put into perspective what’s worth being sensitive about. It’s helped me worry a lot less about what other people think of me. It’s made me into who I am today. Sure, there were some hurdles in my experience as a girl with a boy’s name, but it’s is something I’ve grown to love, and I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

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