Rory: Boy name or girl name?

The name Rory came up a few days ago in the quintuplet post, so I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at Rory–especially at how pop culture has been tugging the traditionally male name over to the girls’ camp for quite some time.

First, the history. Rory is the Anglicized form of a Gaelic name that has been spelled various ways (e.g. Ruaidhri, Ruaidri, Ruari). Probably the most notable bearer was the last High King of Ireland, Ruaidri Ua Conchobair.

Rory was being used as a boy name in the U.S. long before it first popped up on the SSA’s baby name list in 1933. But this started to change in the late 1940s:

  • 1945: 20 boys
  • 1946: 37 boys
  • 1947: 73 boys, 41 girls [debut]
  • 1948: 123 boys, 43 girls
  • 1949: 149 boys, 45 girls

Those 41 baby girls in 1947 made Rory the top debut name for baby girls that year.

So what happened in 1947? The movie Stallion Road, starring actress Alexis Smith as rancher Rory Teller. (Also starring future president Ronald Reagan, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday just a few days ago.) You can check out the original Stallion Road trailer at Turner Classic Movies.

(Interestingly, in the book Stallion Road, on which the movie was based, the lady rancher was named Fleace Teller. The screenplay was written by William Faulkner — he might have been the one to change it.)

Usage for boys stayed strong during the ’50s and ’60s with the help of actor Rory Calhoun (real name: Francis McCown). But, after Stallion Road faded from memory, usage for baby girls decreased so much that Rory fell off the girls’ list entirely for a few years in the 1960s.

And then, in December of 1968, Rory Kennedy came along.

  • 1966: 254 boys
  • 1967: 202 boys
  • 1968: 171 boys, 18 girls
  • 1969: 352 boys, 105 girls
  • 1970: 281 boys, 51 girls

Rory is the daughter of Ethel Kennedy and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. She was born six months after her father, a presidential candidate, was assassinated. According to news articles announcing the birth, Ethel liked the name Rory because it was similar to Robert’s name without being “too obvious” (as the name Roberta would have been, she felt).

This time, the female version of Rory was able to hang on until the next pop culture boost: TV series Gilmore Girls (2000-2007).

  • 1998: 302 boys, 53 girls
  • 1999: 286 boys, 59 girls
  • 2000: 290 boys, 85 girls
  • 2001: 236 boys, 142 girls
  • 2002: 257 boys, 187 girls

Character Rory Gilmore was played by Alexis Bledel–yup, another actress name Alexis. (In both cases, though, Alexis was just a stage name. Alexis Bledel’s first name is actually Kimberly, and Alexis Smith was born Gladys Smith.)

And that leads us to today. How has Rory been used lately? It’s a close race:

  • 2007: 258 boys, 244 girls
  • 2008: 279 boys, 274 girls
  • 2009: 298 boys, 283 girls

It’ll be interesting to watch what happens in the next few years. Will usage for girls go back into decline? Will it overtake usage for boys? What do you think?

(Also, feel free to weigh in on Avery, Charlie, Elliot and Peyton.)

Source: “New Kennedy Girl May Be Named.” Schenectady Gazette 14 Dec. 1968: 2.

43 thoughts on “Rory: Boy name or girl name?

  1. As a given name, always male. It’s okay as a nickname on a girl — for Amidror, Aurora, D(e)rora, D(e)rori, D(e)rorit, D(e)roriya, Lidror, Tsrora, Tzrora, etc.

  2. Curious to see what everyone says– my husband’s eyes lit up recently when the name ‘Rory’ came up as a girl name. We have the two boys, are hoping for a baby girl someday… I don’t have strong feelings either way on the boy/girl issue, I kinda like it for both…

  3. Boy, obviously. It’s bad enough I had to read this article with women named Alexis and Kimberly. There should’ve been strict rules regarding names and their genders in the US, surely all these names would still be used for boys and not get stolen every single time by girls.

  4. @Jamie – I prefer it on boys, personally. I can see how it appeals to people as a girl name, but, for me, tradition trumps sound/style.

  5. Maybe I’m less of a stickler on this, having a ‘traditional’ boy name myself. And a sister named Avery, which we’ve seen here is infuriating to some. :)

    I also tend to feel the long ‘e’ sound at the end of the name sounds more feminine than masculine… as does my mother.

    Good thing we DO live in a free country, that allows us to make those choices for ourselves, regardless of our reasons! :)

  6. Also in 1947: Errol Flynn gave the name to his daughter, Rory.

    I think it wears well on either gender. I know a grown-up guy called Rory, but I can imagine it on a girl, too.

  7. @Abby – Thanks! I hadn’t known about Errol Flynn’s daughter. According to TCM, she was born in March, and the film was released in April. Makes me wonder if any of those ’47 female Rorys were influenced by the factual Rory Flynn and not the fictional Rory Teller.

  8. Feminine, definitely. As much as McKenzie or Lauren to me. The Gilmore Girls association is VERY strong. Anyone b****ing about the feminization of weak masculine names either doesn’t understand English naming conventions (surnames have gone to boys’ and then girls’ names for centuries: look at Robin), has such a name, or is just stodgy, in my opinion. If you want a name for a dude that won’t be “stolen,” use Max or Jésus or Richard.

  9. @Charly – Robin was pet form of the forename Robert, so there was no surname involved in that particular transition. Better examples of what you’re talking about might be surnames like Ashley and Meredith.

  10. The new data is out. Usage for Rory for girls went down in 2010:

    2009: 298 boys, 283 girls
    2010: 299 boys, 242 girls

    Interesting! Thoughts?

  11. Rory is adorable on a boy until he’s 10. After that, it’s ridiculous. However, it lacks the feminine dynamic neccesary to be a girl’s name.
    So, for me, the only way it works is as a girl’s nickname. For Victoria, Arurora, Laura, Flora, Maura, Cora, Mallory…It’s a sweet, spunky nickname for a little girl! Love it.

  12. I named my daughter Rory Nicole way back in 1983. LOVE the name! And more importantly, my daughter loves her name too. :) I also love Rory Grace and Rory Elizabeth too.

  13. I have a Rory Grace that was born in 2002! I named my 3rd daughter Rory to go with her sisters’ names of Eilis (gaelic spelling of Ilish) and Brogan. Our last name is Jones and we have significant Irish ancestry on both sides of the family. We did give our daughters middle names that are family names…Marguerite after a favorite aunt, Olivia and Grace are grandmothers’ names. We chose Rory after Rory Kennedy, although we were considering Aidan, but I really preferred Aidan as a masculine name, although I have met a female Aidan and run into quite a few Aidan’s born in 2002, so I’m glad we went with Rory for our girl and I have found that our girls fit their names quite well and enjoy having names that are different.

  14. Another new batch of data. (And the #s for the past few years have adjusted slightly as well.)

    2011 – 411 boys, 287 girls
    2010 – 303 boys, 244 girls
    2009 – 301 boys, 285 girls
    2008 – 281 boys, 275 girls

    So, up for both genders in 2011, but the increase for boys is notable.

  15. Coming from a HEAVY Irish background, I named my daughter Rauri in 2010. I chose to Americanize the Gaelic version of Ruari. I didn’t think any of her teachers would be able to pronounce that with the u before a, but with the au it’s spelled and pronounced almost exactlylike Laurie. I think Rauri (Rory) is perfectly suitable as a girls name and it’s unique enough that I don’t have to worry about her being “Rauri M” in class. Tomorrow is her 2nd birthday and I love my little Rauri Kate.

  16. I myself have always liked the name Rory for a girl. I have a little boy called Will and when my little girl was born my husband and I both agreed that Rory was sweet. We named her Rory April and although we sometimes get strange looks from people when we tell them her name or the odd comment about it being a boys name we still love it and hope that she will too!

  17. And as for Rauri. . . . . words truly(almost)fail me. A boy’s name and an incorrectly spelt one at that.

    Ye Gods!

  18. I love my name but I hate being confused as a girl because of it. Hopefully the golfer will over influence the Gilmore girls.

  19. My 9 year old son is named Rory, it is not a weak boy’s name & anyone who calls their poor daughter Rory is a nitwit !

  20. I named my daughter Rori Michelle in 2004 and she loves her name!!! My husband suggested using an “I” to make it more feminine. I personally think it’s a beautiful name on boys and girls but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

  21. There are many names out there that are lovely for both genders, it’s just a shame that some people seem to take personal offence when they hear other peoples name choices!!

  22. Rory as girl’s name? That is ridiculous. It’s an ancient Irish boy’s name people!

    Calling a girl Rory is bad enough but then going one step further and deciding to go for a more kre8tive spelling such as Rori or Rauri . . . . all I can say is that I’m embarrassed for that poor child. They have an incorrectly spelled man’s name. Not good.

    For your children’s sake please do some research before naming your child.

  23. Oh dear Fiona (and others), in defense of my Rauri and the Rori’s, and female Rory’s of the world… I certainly don’t remember you being in my birthing room the day I delivered and asking your opinion on how I should name my daughter. Maybe I would have if I had known you were the name police. But you know who I did consult? My grandfather Paddy born in Dublin. His best friend was a Rory and he encouraged me to think outside the box. He’s very progressive for 82. He was the one to suggest the Rauri spelling (instead of Ruari) so Americans could pronounce it.

    Maybe you still home churn butter and wash clothes in a river? Because it sounds like you are seriously reluctant to join us all in the 21st century. In a world where Charly or Willi or Sam can be embraced, I’m sure my Rauri and the sweet Rori’s and Rory’s out there will be just fine. But thanks for your concern. I’ve got this one covered.

  24. I have a liitle Rory Elizabeth and I love it. I had only heard it as a girl’s name when i named her but I don’t regret it at all. It fits her to a T. There are plenty of either gender names: Lyn, Ashley, Peyton, Riley just for starters. I even have a nephew and a niece on different sides called Jayden!! I don’t understand the problem with naming a girl it if you like it.

  25. Oh dear.


    Reilly (not Riley, good grief)is a surname, not a girl’s name, not a boy’s name. A surname.

  26. I have a beautiful 14 yr old Rori Alyce’. I had never known a female Rori. Which was another thing that drew me to the name. I mean come on people, we have Taylor’s male and female, Payton’s of both genders and the list goes on…….. We choose to us an I to make it look more feminine. I have gotten SO many compliments on her name. I even got a few, “can I steal it’s”… Lol. P.S. Rori fits her to a T ;)

  27. Rory is a boy’s name. The meaning is Red King and it originated as a name to give honor to a male ruler in Ireland. One day my son will ask me what his name means and I’m happy I won’t have a daughter asking me for the meaning. It’s fine as a nickname such as Lorelei, but not as a first name, alone.

  28. Rory is a varient of Aurora meaning ‘dawn’. many varients are used as first names on their own. I will be happy to tell my daughter the meaning of her name!

  29. Ill be having a little girl in about two weeks and she is going to be named Rory Ann. And everyone loves it. I know it’s typically a boys name but to me it’s way too girly for a boy.

  30. Living in a small town in Scotland I know a lot of Rorys – all of them male. It’s a very popular name in this part of the world and can be traced back about a thousand years. My son is named Rory Griffen – both ancient Celtic names. He’s half American and that side of the family had never heard the name before but they really like it. I don’t mind it as a girl’s name though although I’ve not met a female Rory in Scotland yet. It’s nice to see such an ancient name being used.

  31. Opinions probably differ in the US and Europe. I’m considering naming my daughter this. Everyone I’ve asked says they think it sounds feminine in the US. Apparently, no one remembers the past over here. LoL. It’s interesting to know where it originated, but for a male in the US, naming him Rory would be like naming him Ashley or Lindsay — the poor guy will never hear the end of it. I expect the female numbers to surge and the male numbers to fade. Move over, tradition.

  32. @Matt – Based on the most recent trends you appear to be wrong; Rory went up quite a bit for boys according to the 2012 stats.

  33. In 2012 there were 557 boys named Rory, and it’s not in the top 1000 for the girls [#998-1000 had 251 girls].

    One influence would be the character Rory Williams on Doctor Who. He was introduced in 2010 and gained in popularity as the series went on.

  34. Personally, I was given the name Rory, and I’m a girl. I love the name and I think it’s unique. I’m usually the only Rory people know and if you’re considering it for your daughter, DO IT!

  35. I am a female Rory in middle school. I love my name because teachers ALWAYS remember my name (although it helps that I am a good student:). I love the name as a girl name and I think that it’s a good name for a boy, although I like it as a girl better. Rory is a good name and it shows a lot of a bright, happy personality. Rory DOES NOT have to be a nickname. I hate it when people say that (and anyways, if it HAS to be a nickname, then why isn’t it for me? So there.) I think that more people should start naming their girls Rory. I’m Irish, and my parents wanted an Irish name for me (my middle name’s Shannon, like the river) so this is perfect. I also love how it means dawn for girls and red king for boys. And Nathan, my parents are so definitely NOT nitwits, so that is very offensive.

  36. Here are the latest numbers (and the updated older numbers):

    2013: 607 boys, 281 girls
    2012: 563 boys, 248 girls
    2011: 413 boys, 288 girls
    2010: 303 boys, 245 girls
    2009: 302 boys, 287 girls

    The number of males being named Rory has increased quite a bit over the last few years. The number of females being named Rory, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in the 200-range.

  37. Here’s something interesting thing I noticed over the weekend. In 2012, Rory & Ruairi ranked 42nd and 81st, respectively, in Ireland. In 2013, they were down to 65th and 93rd.

  38. Personally. This is a boys name. Only Americanized into a girls name. I do not mean this in a bad way at all. But its true. Each to their own. But as a fact its a boys name both of Scottish and Irish origin. Gaelic. Im a proud Scot and my youngest son is called Rory and I think this is the most awesome name ever!

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