Thanks to Lo for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
ELAINE and HELENA
Some will see Lainey as a short form of established, classic girl names.
The most obvious choice? Elaine.
A Top 100 pick from the 1920s through the 1950s, Elaine stepped right out of Camelot. This Old French form of Helen belonged to the mother of Sir Galahad, and a sometimes love interest for Lancelot, depending on the tale.
But in English, the first widespread use of the name came after Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s take on the Arthurian legends, Idylls of the King, was published in 1859.
To find the meaning of the name Lainey, then, we have to go all the way back to Helen.
Helen in Greek is more like Helene; it probably came from a word meaning torch. But it might be related to the word for moon.
In Greek mythology, it was the impossibly beautiful Helen whose kidnapping started the Trojan War. In early Christianity, Helena was the mother of Roman emperor Constantine. She converted to Christianity and brought her son along with her, changing the course of history.
No surprise that the name Helen – in various forms – has been given to baby girls across the millennia.
In American English, it’s a stretch to get from Helen to Lainey. But say Helena with a long A sound in the middle syllable, and it emerges as a possibility.
Of course, the origins of the name Lainey don’t stop with Elaine and Helena.
There’s also the last name Lane, used for boys over many generations. And while it’s never been as popular for girls, it’s appeared among baby girl names for years, too.
In terms of meanings, Lane might:
- Simply be given to a family who lived on or near a lane – which would’ve been any path into town.
- It might be short for lots of longer Irish names with similar sounds. (In that case, it could mean anything from javelin to warrior to gray – to list just a few. A handful of Scottish names might also reduce to Lane.
- For some families, it be a Scandi place name, in which case it probably comes from a word meaning slope.
- In French, it could indicate an older son; one who works with wool – lana in Latin; or other origins, especially with the spelling Laine.
SHE’S ALL THAT
If you know your 1990s teen rom coms, there’s one logical reason parents took note of this name.
That would be 1999’s She’s All That. A modern update to 1964’s My Fair Lady, it starred Freddie Prinze Jr as popular kid Zack. He’s been dumped by his equally popular girlfriend, Taylor. Now Zack, to prove he’s not heartbroken, boasts that he can turn any girl in school into a prom queen in just six weeks.
Of course, the bet conveniently settles on Laney Boggs, played by Rachael Leigh Cook. Yes, Boggs is an artist, disinterested in all things to do with high school social life. But it surprises no one when she looks great in a prom dress.
Layer in lots of teenage drama and angst, some character growth, an amazing sound track, and you’ll have a hit movie.
The numbers suggest that Laney and Lainey owe their climb to She’s All That. In 1998, 99 girls were named Laney. By the year 2000? It more than tripled to 332. As for Lainey, the numbers went from 67 births in 1998 to 163 in 2000.
The movie recently inspired a Netflix remake – this time gender-swapped, so the popular girl makes over a loner guy. While Rachael Leigh Cook, along with other original cast members, cameo in the 2021 movie, the character name Laney isn’t used.
One other factor? Surname name Delaney has risen in use dramatically in the United States, peaking around 2004 – and closely tracking with Laney’s use.
Occurrences of both are falling, even as Lainey is rising.
That points to another pop culture figure.
Way back in 2014, a young Lainey Wilson launched her country music career. But she wouldn’t score her first hit until 2020’s “Things A Man Oughta Know.”
More hits have followed, along with multiple Country Music Association Awards nominations.
Most significantly for naming trends circa 2023? Not only are several of Lainey Wilson’s songs featured on hit television series Yellowstone, she joined the cast as a recurring character in 2022.
No surprise then, that along with Dutton and Kayce, the first name Lainey rose dramatically in use during that year.
If we love rugged, capable rancher names for our sons, Lainey is their feminine equivalent.
BY the NUMBERS
In 2000, just 163 girls were named Lainey. As of 2022, that number reached 1,689. That puts the baby name Lainey at an all-time popularity high of #174 in the US.
It eclipses the name Elaine, given to just 678 girls.
While Lane remains a common name for boys, it was only given to 1,331 boys in 2022.
ELENA, ELAINA, ALAINA
While it seems unlikely that girls named Helen will adopt the nickname, it’s easier to imagine Lainey as a modern diminutive of Elaine.
Related names like Elena, as well as the Greek name Eleni, include the right sound.
Elaina and Alaina also look more connected to Lainey.
On a similar note, Helen and Helena nickname Leni sometimes sounds more like Lainey, depending on the language.
And spellings like Layne, Layney, and Lainie are all seen, though outside of the US rankings – for now.
One other note: girl names ending with the Hawaiian element -lani are having a moment. The element means sky or heaven.
Some of the rising favorites are authentic Hawaiian picks. Others just borrow the stylish sound, like Kehlani, inspired by the singer.
Lani doesn’t sound like Lainey – not exactly. But they’re close enough to both rise in popularity rank together.
SPARK and SUBSTANCE
The baby name Lainey borrows all of the substance of established classics like Helen and Elaine, from ancient Greek origins and Arthurian legend.
But it sounds sparky and new, too. It’s an adventurous name, a successor to Sadie, less obviously vintage than Hattie.
And it owes a little something to our love of surnames, too, from Lacey to Delaney.
The result? A fast-rising name that combines two things parents very much want for our children’s names: a sense that the name is grounded in tradition, combined with plenty of twenty-first century spirit.