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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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. My Name is Greenlee! My mom named me in 2006! She originally wanted to name me Morgyn but she said as soon as she saw me she instantly thought Greenlee, and she fell in love with it, when i was younger i always thought my Name was weird but as i grow older i fall in love with my Name

  2. I named my daughter in 2007, Greenlee. I love the name now and find it rare but easy to catch on it. The spelling is easy as well.

  3. We named our daughter Greenley (born in 2012) after seeing it in a name book. I think about it now and realize how lucky we were to stumble upon it. It fits her perfectly and I couldn’t imagine her being called anything else! Every once in a while, someone will say “Oh! That’s from All My Children!” but most people have never heard it. It’s unique but not too “out there.” Thanks for the info!

  4. this was actually my great-great grandfather’s name, Greenly, and it’s been a family name for generations before/after. Scotch-Irish Cumberland Gap-ers.

  5. On the one hand, I find it to be very unique and stylish, without being too ‘OUT THERE’ or completely unrealistic. And I’m attracted to those sorts of traditional names, especially for boys. I think it’s cool and edgy and masculine, sort of like Peregrine, and it’ll definitely make a positive impression if the right sort of boy represents it.

  6. We didn’t get ‘All My Children’ here in Australia, so I haven’t heard this one before. As a fan of nature names, I really like it. It’s a good “fitting-in-but-standing-out” name alongside names such as Hailey, Blakeley, Kalee etc. I’ll have to remember this one 🙂

  7. Indeed an informative article. You know what I even visit baby names website and suggest a baby name to my friend. I am also a regular visitor of babynology.com. By this site you can find a lucky and meaningful name which would be suited perfectly your baby’s personality.