Where did the baby name Robley come from in 1908?

Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans (1846-1912)
Robley Evans

The name Robley first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1908. It was the top debut name of the year, in fact.

  • 1910: unlisted
  • 1909: 5 baby boys named Robley
  • 1908: 12 baby boys named Robley [debut]
  • 1907: unlisted
  • 1906: unlisted

These raw numbers from the SSA are deceptively low, though, because many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card. The following numbers, from the Social Security Death Index, should be more accurate:

  • 1910: 17 people named Robley born
  • 1909: 23 people named Robley born
  • 1908: 41 people named Robley born
  • 1907: 23 people named Robley born
  • 1906: 12 people named Robley born

So, why did the name Robley get a boost in 1908?

Because that was the year Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans commanded the “Great White Fleet” on the first leg of its voyage around the world.

From December of 1907 to May of 1908, Evans guided a fleet of 16 U.S. Navy battleships — their hulls painted white — from Virginia to California via the Strait of Magellan (as the Panama Canal would not be completed until 1914). Along the way, the Fleet stopped at ports in Trinidad, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico.

In San Francisco, Evans was relieved of command due to ill health. Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry took over, and the circumnavigation continued until the fleet was back in Virginia in February of 1909.

Robley Dunglison Evans was named after English physician Robley Dunglison (b. 1798), who had instructed his father in medical school at the University of Virginia. One of Evans’ namesakes was Nebraskan nuclear physicist Robley Dunglison Evans (b. 1907), a founder of nuclear medicine.

What are your thoughts on the name Robley?


Image: Robley Dunglison Evans

[Latest update: Nov. 2023]

9 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Robley come from in 1908?

  1. Interesting name story and of special interest to me because of the name’s similarity to Robert, the name of one of my sons. Robley (pronounced ROB-lee or ROBE-lee???) appears to be a surname — maybe from the original Robley’s family. And checking that out, I found that it is: “Robley Dunglison was born in Keswick in the English Lake District on 4th. of January 1798. His father was William Dunglison who worked in the wool trade in Keswick and his mother was Elizabeth Jackson, the granddaughter of the Rev. Isaac Robley, curate of St. John’s in the Vale in the parish of Crosthwaite.” BNW’s Namipedia says the name is pronounced ROH-blee and that the surname Robley means “farm by a swift stream”.

  2. Surname database gives more information about the meaning of the name Robley: “This is an English surname. Recorded as Rabley, Robley, Roblye, and Roble, it is locational either from the village of Robley in the county of Hampshire or Rabley in Hertfordshire. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, the meaning of both places is the same, and derives from the Middle English word “wrobbe” meaning literally to blab, but probably used in this case either as a nickname for a loud mouth or given the humour of the period, the complete opposite! Our suggestion would be that the name may have some transferred meaning perhaps for a swiftly flowing stream. To this has been added the original suffix of “leah”, the later “ley”, and meaning a fenced farm. So the meaning could be “Blabs farm” or “The farm by the swift stream”. Without actually being present perhaps fifteen hundred years ago, it is almost impossible with many such names, to be completely accurate on meanings. The surname being locational is a “from” name. That is to say a name given as easy identification to people who had left the village and moved elsewhere. In this case the name is well recorded in the diocese of Greater London, with Ann Roblye who married Richard Crannfield, at St James Clerkenwell, on January 7th 1645 and Jonathon Robley, whose son William was christened at St Mary-le-Bone, on May 20th 1772.”

  3. I like the ROH-blee pronunciation (and see that the name has no connection to the similarly beginning Robert) and think Robley, with it’s popular ‘…ley’ ending, might appeal to parents today who are looking for an unusual name that has an interesting history, including two prominent men who bore the name.

  4. This would be a great alternative to Robert which to me sounds really dated and has been SO overused. I think anyone wanting to honor a Robert, the choice of Robley would be great.

  5. My mother shared the following information in 1020. Her brother, Charles Robley Patterson, born 23 May 1908 in Berkeley, California, was named after Admiral Robley Evans. Admiral Evans arrived in the San Francisco Bay 6 May 1908.

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