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In Finland Kari is boy's name and in Norway it is girl's name. Suppose I meet a Norwegian Kari. Which one is correct?

First I heard his/her name I thought he/she is a boy but the I realized he/she is a girl.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Well, you do know that she's a girl now. You are talking about her and not some sexless blob. So the sentence should read,

When I first heard her name I thought she was a boy, but then I realized she is a girl.

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Unless you are going for comic effect: "I realized he was a girl." – JeffSahol May 31 '12 at 12:33
Or if you are trying to maintain the uncertainly in the mind of the reader until you finally reveal which it is. In such a case, if you thought the person was a boy, I'd use "he" until you explain that you realized your mistake. If you want to say that you were unsure at first, I'd avoid using personal pronouns, and say something more like, "When I first heard this name, I thought the person was a boy" etc. – Jay May 31 '12 at 21:44

The only important thing is, what the person's sex is. Thus:

First I heard her name I thought she is a boy but then I realized she is a girl.

Note: Some names are even in one and the same country used for both sex. What would you do in that case, if you depend he and she on the name?!

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In common English, one can use their/they to signify unknown gender.

Kari went to my friend's house for dinner; they brought a bottle of wine.

So, in your case:

When I first heard their name I thought they were a boy, but then I realized she is a girl.

This keeps the ambiguity until the end, where it's clear you're talking about a lady, rather than a man.

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OP asks whether "he" or "she" is more correct – not how to create ambiguity. – MετάEd Nov 28 '12 at 0:50
@fredden: I have been using the singular they my whole life (not my choice ... I got it from my parents), and for me the sentence "Kari went to my friend's house for dinner; they brought a bottle of wine" sets my teeth on edge. You can't use the singular they to refer to an antecedent you've called by name (because in that case their gender is presumably known to you). I would be happy with "Someone named Kari ...", though. – Peter Shor Nov 28 '12 at 13:57
Thanks Peter, your "Someone named Kari ..." version sounds much better to me too. I was struggling to find an example which sat well. – fredden Dec 5 '12 at 2:28

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