Greenlee: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 22, 2014

English: Footpath up to Greenlee The footpath ...It’s a surname and place name boosted by an American soap opera.

Thanks to Rachel for suggesting Greenlee as our Baby Name of the Day.

The year: 1999.  The (fictional) place: Pine Valley.  Greenlee Smythe arrived and immediately started wreaking havoc on long-running soap opera All My Children.  Her resume included homewrecking, scheming, all manner of devious, standard soap opera bad-girl antics.

Rebecca Budig played the new girl in town until 2005, when Sabine Singh replaced her.  Budig would return to the role she originated in 2008.  It was a big deal – not just in the world of daytime television, but big enough to be picked up in the mainstream media, too.

Greenlee grew up.  While she was never completely reformed, she became a full member of the Pine Valley community, a business owner, frequent subject of kidnappings and murder plots, much-married.  She was once thought dead, but after several months in a coma, returned home and stayed with the series until its 2011 end.

We learn the origin of her unusual given name early in her tenure on All My Children.  It’s her mother’s maiden name.  If everything else about the character’s biography is fantastic, this part is relatively straightforward.  We’ve been borrowing attractive surnames for ages.

Greenlee comes from the Old English grene - green, as in a grassy field – and the familiar leah - clearing.  From Ashley to Marley, we’re familiar with the -ley ending on names, but Greenlee is a reminder that the -lee spellings have history, too.  Picture above is just one of the places called Greenlee in England.

There’s no doubt that All My Children deserves credit for the popularity of the name.  She’s virtually unknown until 2007, when seven girls received the name.  37 girls were called Greenlee in 2004, 55 in 2008, and 50 in 2012.

Other spellings are also in sparing use:

  • Greenley, given to 22 girls born in 2012.
  • Greenleigh, given to 10 girls born in 2012.
  • Greenly, given to 7 girls born in 2012.

Before it was borrowed for a fictional character, Greenlee was the name of a tool company.  Hardcore baseball fans might think of Pittsburgh’s Greenlee Field, built by Gus Greenlee, owner of the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords.  Greenlee Field was the first black-built and black-owned major league baseball field in the US.  If kids can be named Shea and Wrigley, why not Greenlee?

I also think of Greensleeves, the traditional English folk song.  There’s no relation, but Greensleeves’ lyrics imply that it is a nickname for the singer’s beloved:

Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my Lady Greensleeves.

A persistent rumor tells us that Henry VIII was the author of the song, a poem set to music to woo a reluctant Anne Boelyn.  Only trouble is that music historians tell us that the song’s style doesn’t quite fit with 1530s England.  The first written mention occurs in 1580, and in 1584, there’s a mention of A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves.

While Greenlee and Greensleeves are connected only by shared sound, I still think it adds something to the name.

Message board mentions of Greenlee are favorable, though her spelling is debated.  Still, she fits with so many trends – from our affection for ends-with-ley names for girls to the many color names now in use, from Scarlett to Violet.  There’s every reason to think that Greenlee has left behind her soap opera origins and is now a valid surname-name choice for a child in 2014.

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