Name Help: Riley

Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Most Saturdays – or the occasional Monday! – one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

Melissa writes:

I’m a 41 year old newlywed, due with our first baby next month. (And, oh, hi, we just moved across the country, too.) We have the car seat and the crib, but I feel like choosing a name is getting forgotten.

There is one name we agree on. It’s my mom’s maiden name, and it just so happens to be a name found (a few more generations back) on my husband’s side, too. Perfect, right?

Nope! My mom’s name is spelled Reily. Pronounced like Riley. But not Riley. The name on my husband’s side is O’Reilly.

I’m 99.99% certain that this is going to be our one and only child. (But hey, sort of thought I’d missed out on the whole motherhood thing, so who knows?) We’re not finding out the sex in advance, and I’d rather choose one name that works no matter what.

So do we spell it Reily? Reilly? Riley? O’Reilly is out, right? I saw Rylie on Pinterest, and I want to hate it, but I don’t.

We’re giving the baby both of our last names, which is probably why I like Rylie – it sort of makes it obvious which name actually is the kid’s name, right?


Please read on for my response, and share your helpful suggestions in the comments!

Hi Melissa –

Okay, deep breath!

Here are all of the positives: first, you agree! The number of parents who still disagree on the child’s name after the baby is born … well, it’s a big number.

Second, the name you agree on works well for a son or a daughter, so you’re set either way.

Now, let’s unpack the spelling question.

If you use Reily, one of two things will happen:

  • It might emphasize that it is a family name, allowing you (or your child) to explain that the name comes from grandma Reily. That’s kind of lovely.
  • Or, it might strike others as a needlessly complicated spelling, and might cause your child headaches. Imagine introducing yourself as “Hi, my name is Reily, let-me-spell-it-for-you.”

The experience with O’Reilly would probably be similar. Except databases can be merciless. How do you feel about seeing your child’s name written Oreilly on official forms? (For the record, I don’t think the limitations of databases justify ditching our favorite names. But it sounds like O’Reilly isn’t your favorite to begin with.)

The possible spellings currently or recently ranked in the US Top 1000 are as follows:

  • Reilly appeared in the Girls and Boys Top 1000 in recent years, but both spellings have fallen out of favor.
  • Rylee and Ryleigh are in the Girls’ Top 200, but not ranked for boys. Rylie hovers in the high 300s – again, just for girls.
  • Riley is the most popular, by far, ranking in the Top 200 for boys since 1994, and the Top 100 for girls since 2002.

Riley has some serious momentum for girls recently – with exactly that spelling. Credit Disney Pixar’s smash hit Inside Out, as well as Girl Meets World. (Spoiler alert: Cory and Topanga tied the knot, and now daughter Riley is the center of the show.)

That doesn’t make it unwearable for a boy – on the contrary, it’s been in such steady use for so many years, that it’s just plain ordinary to meet a boy called Riley, too.

It sounds like you’re craving clarity and simplicity at this super-hectic time in your life. The simplest, most obvious option is Riley. Why?

  • It’s the most common spelling. If you don’t have a strong preference for another spelling, using the most common can sidestep some potential headaches.
  • It’s the most unisex. It’s not surprising to meet a boy Riley, but often respellings, like Rileigh and Rylie, are an attempt to make a name seem more feminine.
  • Now here’s the biggie: it splits the difference between your family name and your husband’s family name. Finding the same name on both sides seems like a wonderful coincidence. It’s also an invitation to choose the spelling that works best. After all, Reily and O’Reilly and Riley are all – almost certainly – variations of the same name.

Let’s look at the three surname names question. I do sometimes see birth announcements for Hudson Bailey Hayes and think “Hmmm … law firm or baby name?” But it is very, very common nowadays, and no one in your child’s generation will bat an eyelash at such a name.

That said, there’s no reason you couldn’t add a second middle name – provided the thought of choosing one doesn’t send this whole process back to square one! Riley Smith Jones is absolutely fine, but if you wanted to add an extra middle name – Riley Elizabeth Smith Jones, Riley William Smith Jones – I think that works nicely, too. Still, I’m not sure that’s your style at all – but it’s worth a thought if you’re really bothered by the string-of-last-names.

So I’m leaning strongly towards Riley MiddleName LastName, given your circumstances, but I’m wondering if others agree, so let’s have a poll.


Update: Congratulations to Melissa on the birth of Riley Matthew! She writes “We were pretty set on Rylie Elizabeth for a girl, but thought a boy would be just Riley. But then, when we met our son, we thought he needed a middle name, too. Matthew just came to us. Thanks for all the help!”

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. I voted for Reilly, but I’ll be honest, it’s just because I think that spelling is the most visually appealing. I think any spelling you choose will work and become second nature very soon. Riley/Reily/Reilly/Rylie is a great name and congratulations on your coming baby! 🙂

    (And as a sidenote, re: Abby’s hypothetical Oreilly on official government forms, I actually really like it. It reminds me of Orion and Oriel and also Romilly.)

    1. I vote for Reilly, too, as it is most closely tied to both the family names. Otherwise, I like Riley for the simplicity. Ryleigh is the least “surname-y” of the bunch, but also reads more feminine than the others.

      1. Another vote for Reilly. I voted for it mostly because it truly seems to split the difference between the two family names (an additional “L” to one spelling and the subtraction of the “O'” from the other). And also, I think this spelling will more likely prompt questions of the names origins rather than the assumption that it’s simply a name the parents liked. I don’t think there’s another wrong with going with the Riley spelling just that it seems to lose the family connection and becomes just another Riley in a sea of Riley’s.

  2. Congratulations! I think Abby’s reasoning with the spelling is spot on. It really does split the spelling and gender difference. I say give a middle name and use the double last names.