Thanks to Meri for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The baby name Hadley originally referred to a field of heather, which must have been abundant in the UK. It’s a common place name throughout the English-speaking world.
Spellings vary, even on the map. Hadleigh Castle sits in Essex, though it’s it ruins now. There’s a village in Shropshire and another in Worcestershire. Suffolk’s Hadleigh featured in both the Viking invasions and, later, the wool trade. Hadley Bay sits in Nunavut, Canada. A dozen places in the US use the name. There’s even a crater on Mars.
No surprise it became a common habitational name as surnames were adopted.
It’s also possible that some Hadleys took their name from Hadda, an Old English given name with Germanic roots, now extinct.
Famous people bearing the surname are plentiful. For one, there’s Tony Hadley, the lead singer of 1980s band Spandau Ballet. Cue the soulful sounds of True.
Eighteenth century mathematician John Hadley might make the more enduring reference. A massif on the moon is named Mons Hadley in his honor.
Like nearly any surname, it’s been used as a personal name occasionally.
Elizabeth Hadley Richardson married the young Ernest Hemingway in 1921. Her first name had disappeared by the time she met Ernest; it’s not mentioned in his memoir, A Moveable Feast. She’s just plain Hadley in the dedication to his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, too.
By 1927, the couple had divorced.
During Ernest’s lifetime, his first wife kept a low profile. She outlived him by nearly twenty years. In 1964, Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast was published three years after his death. It tells the story of their marriage and years in Paris from his perspective.
We’ve been curious about Hadley’s side of the story ever since.
A major biography dedicated to her appeared in 1992.
2011’s The Paris Wife built on details surrounding the couple’s courtship and marriage, as well as their early days as struggling ex-pat newlyweds in Paris. Author Paula McClain read the couples’ letters to get the details right.
The tale feels romantic and authentic, though much of it is fiction.
We do know that the couple handed down the name to their only child, son John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway.
FAMOUS PEOPLE NAMED HADLEY
Like John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway – called Jack – plenty of men have shared the name Hadley, both in the past and in more recent years.
And it’s never been uncommon for family surnames to be used as women’s middle names. Authors Nelle Harper Lee and Mary Flannery O’Connor are just two notable examples.
But famous people answering to the name are relatively few.
Instead, the children of famous people might help raise the name’s profile. There’s Nordic skier Johnny Spillane, father to Hadley Ann. Former NFL player Jason Witten is dad to CJ, Cooper, Landry, and Hadley Grace.
And there’s Remy “Thirteen” Hadley on long-running medical drama House. Played by Olivia Wilde, it was another early use of the name Hadley – though the character was more often referred to by her nickname.
A handful of other references might come to mind. True Blood gave the name to a faerie. Barbie original movies have used it, too, for princesses in Barbie: Princess Charm School as well as Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses.
It wasn’t surprising that parents – and television writers – would discover the name. Even before The Paris Wife, plenty of factors pushed the name into wider use.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Hadley appears in the US Social Security Administration data as a boy’s name as early as 1906.
It debuted in the girls’ data set in 1964 with seven births.
The 1960s were good years for Holly and Heidi. Child star Hayley Mills became a household name in the same decade. Hayley, Haley, and Hailey would all catch on over the next few decades.
H surnames, including Harlow and Harper, were trending in the 2010s. Names like Henley, Harley, and Hayden have all enjoyed some popularity for girls, too.
So the 2011 bestseller arrived at the perfect moment. All those similar names opened the door to another option beginning with the letter H.
The baby name Hadley peaked in 2014, with more than 3,000 newborn girls receiving the name. That made for a #100 showing on the US charts.
As of 2022, the name fell slightly, to #111 in the US – but that’s still over 2,500 newborns.
Hadlee and Hadleigh also rank in the US Top 1000 baby girl names, making this name just a little more popular.
But that’s the United States. In England, Hadley remains rare – but slightly more popular for a baby boy than a girl, even now.
TAILORED LITERARY FIND
Overall, the baby name Hadley sits at a sweet spot. It’s on-trend and reasonably popular. But it remains just beyond the most common names, even as style cousins like Harper and Hailey, Paisley and Everly occupy the Top 100.
It’s worth noting the Hadley surname keeps this name just on the right side of unisex, though only a few dozen boys receive the name each year.
The meaning of the name Hadley suggests that it might serve as an update to honor a Heather or a Heath.
Pronunciation is straightforward, and it’s mostly nickname-proof, though Haddie is an option.
Variations like the -lee and -leigh endings are options, though it’s Hadley that carries the literary cachet.
If you’re looking for a name that’s modern but offers a little bit of vintage appeal, a tailored sound and just a hint of literary backstory, the baby name Hadley belongs on your list.
What do you think of the baby name Hadley?
First published on September 13, 2017, this post was revised and re-posted on September 1, 2023.