The interesting name Adlai first appeared in the U.S. baby named data in the early 1890s:
- 1893: 9 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 706th)
- 1892: 17 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 480th)
- 1891: 6 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 841st) [debut]
- 1890: unlisted
- 1889: unlisted
That 1892 spike in usage remained Adlai’s high-point until the 1950s.
But, because many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, the earliest decades of the SSA data tend to under-count actual usage. The following numbers, from the Social Security Death Index, should be more accurate:
- 1893: 34 people named Adlai
- 1892: 91 people named Adlai
- 1891: 8 people named Adlai
- 1890: 3 people named Adlai
- 1889: 1 person named Adlai
So, what inspired this sudden interest in the name Adlai?
Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served as the 23rd Vice President from 1893 to 1897 under President Grover Cleveland. (They were called “Cleve and Steve” during the campaign, adorably.)
He’d served as assistant postmaster general during Cleveland’s first term, and, before that, he’d served twice as a U.S. Representative from Illinois (1875-77; 1879-81).
The slightly elevated usage of “Adlai” in 1891 — a year before the campaign/election — could be due to the fact that many babies were not named at birth during that era. So, some 1891 babies likely weren’t given names until well into 1892.
Going through the records, I found dozens of people with the first-middle name combo “Adlai Stevenson.” Here are a few examples from 1892 specifically:
- Adlai Stevenson Magee (whose name was passed down to a son)
- Adlai Stevenson Oliver, M.D. (whose name was passed down to both a son and a grandson)
- Adlai Stevenson Brillhart
- Adlai Stevenson West
- Adlai Stevenson Croom
- Adlai Stevenson Perry
(The handful of older “Adlai Stevensons” I found were all born in Illinois in the 1870s and 1880s.)
Even better, I found a bunch of people named after the “Cleve and Steve” Democratic ticket, such as Adlai Cleveland, Adlai Grover, Cleveland Adlai, Cleveland Stevenson, Grover Adlai, and Grover Stevenson.
The name Adlai comes from the Bible, but no one knows for sure what it means. Guesses include “my witness; my ornament” (Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary, 1869) and “lax, weary” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1939).
What are your thoughts on the name Adlai? Would you use it?