Is Riley a boy name or a girl name these days? Or is it officially something in between? (And does the country you live in affect your perspective?)
Let’s start with some background. The name baby name Riley has at least two known origins:
In some cases a transferred use of the English surname, a local name from a place named with Old English ryge ‘rye’ + leah ‘wood, clearing’. There is one such place in Devon and another in Lancashire. In other cases it probably represents a respelling of the Irish surname Reilly, which is from an old Irish personal name, Raghallach, of unknown origin.
In the U.S. it was given to baby boys regularly and almost exclusively from the late 1800s until the 1970s. After that, usage began picking up for girls.
The name became very trendy for both genders starting in the 1990s — so trendy that thousands of baby boys and thousands of baby girls were being named Riley annually by the turn of the century.
The “gender switch” happened not long after, right around 2003:
- 2005: 5,121 girls and 4,110 boys named Riley
- 2004: 4,981 girls and 4,109 boys named Riley
- 2003: 4,242 girls and 4,075 boys named Riley
- 2002: 3,904 girls and 3,958 boys named Riley
- 2001: 3,044 girls and 3,650 boys named Riley
Usage peaked for both genders a few years later and the name has been in decline since. In 2012, Riley was given to 4,786 baby girls (ranked 47th) and 2861 baby boys (ranked 133rd).
What are your thoughts on Riley? And, for the record, where are you from?
Source: Hanks, Patrick, Kate Hardcastle and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of First Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.