He’s a little bit prep, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
Thanks to Esther for suggesting Henley as our Baby Name of the Day.
Henley brings to mind a bunch of different things – he’s a place name and a surname, as in Southern rock legend Don Henley, and a shirt made famous by Ralph Lauren and the L.L. Bean catalog. He’s a storied regatta, too, a staple of the London social season.
Let’s start with the place name, which is where it all begins. More than one locale in England took its name from the Old English heah – high – combined with that faithful standby leah – wood or clearing. In Henley’s case, heah became hean, and combined the two elements made hean-leage, and then Henley – a high place.
Lots of high places borrowed the name, and there were other possible sources for Henley, too:
- He could be an alternate spelling of other surnames, like the German Henle – ultimately linked back to John, via Handel.
- The Irish surname Hennelly was derived from the given name Fingal – really! – which ties Henley to the fashionable Finn.
- There’s also Hanley, possibly from a personal name, or maybe from han – stone, plus leah.
- The Old English henn meant wild bird. A clearing known for harboring wild birds could, possibly, have become Henley.
- Lastly, it is tempting to tie Henley to Henry and company, but that’s a stretch.
Back to the map. One of the more famous Henleys is Henley-on-Thames, home of the Henley Royal Regatta. While Americans are celebrating Independence Day, English society gathers for the Grand Challenge Cup and other events. The regatta dates to 1839, and has long enjoyed royal patronage.
Few things are as preppy as rowing. But let’s layer on one more rep stripe’s worth of prepster cred: the henley shirt. A collarless men’s pullover, it was traditionally worn by rowers at Henley-on-Thames – hence, the shirt’s traditional name. Ralph Lauren and LL Bean both sell them.
Bearers of the surname have added shades of meaning to Henley:
- Brothers John and Robert Henley served a young US Navy in the late 1700s, and several ships have been named the USS Henley in their honor
- William Earnest Henley penned the 1875 poem Invictus
- Indiana entrepreneur Micajah Henley churned out bikes and roller skates at the turn of the twentieth century
- Playwright Beth Henley won a Pulitzer for her 1978 Crimes of the Heart
There are plenty more, but he also belongs with musical surnames like Hendrix and Lennon. As frontman for 1970s Southern rock band The Eagles, Don Henley earned six Grammys, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and went on to a successful solo career.
While he has never made the US Top 1000, 42 boys received the name in 2011, plus 135 girls. Given the popularity of Ashley and Hailey for girls, the -ley ending seems like fair game. Henley seems likely to be more of a Riley or a Bailey – wearable for both, and really quite dashing on a boy.
Overall, he’s an interesting option for a son – preppy yet masculine, seldom heard but perfectly on trend.