He’s an obscure Biblical figure, but he sounds surprisingly fashionable.

Thanks to Bek for suggesting Adlai as Name of the Day.

I was hoping to stumble on a trove of Adlais at some point in the past. But not so much. Adlai was once slightly more familiar – early twentieth century census records show Adlais from New York to California and Illinois to Louisiana – but he was never common. Between 1891 and 1893, he did rank in the US Top 1000, for a total of 32 baby Adlais.

It’s not exactly George.

Adlai is an Old Testament name, mentioned in the Books of Kings and again in the Books of Chronicles. But there’s not much said about Adlai.

The original works call him Adalia or Adaliah, and were written in Hebrew. Some have suggested that it means justice, witness or possibly even ornament. A few sites contend that the surnames Atlee and Adley are related, but that seems questionable.

The bottom line is that Adlai’s origins are unclear and his meaning is obscure. NETBible said it best: “from an unused root of uncertain meaning.”

And yet obscure Biblical figures have inspired parents aplenty. Adlai caught on with a few, including a Scots-Irish couple living in Kentucky in the 1830s. Their son, Adlai Ewing Stevenson, became Vice President of the United States under President Grover Cleveland from 1893 to 1897.

It is tempting to imagine the happy couple flipping through their family Bible until they stumbled on this unusual choice.

Adlai liked his name well enough to pass it down to his son, Adlai Stevenson II. Junior served as governor of Illinois and twice ran for president. During his 1952 campaign, he made the memorable statement, “It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”

Adlai II was defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower both times, perhaps in part because he was considered just too smart for the job. He was called an “egghead” – long on book learning, short on common sense.

His son, Adlai Stevenson III, went into politics anyhow and spent more than a decade in the Senate.

Adlai Stevenson IV skipped politics for journalism and business, but could not escape the family name. When his son was born in the 1990s, he named him Adlai Stevenson V.

Even if your last name isn’t Stevenson, Adlai is an interesting option. Over at Nameberry, they popped Adolph into their “Coolator” and came up with Adlai. All those vowels are terribly attractive.

If Adlai faces a challenge, it is the rise of Addison/Addalyn and all of those just-drop-the-M names for girls that seem to be leaping up the popularity charts. Adlai sounds more feminine than many of them.

But with Noah, Elijah, Joshua and Isaiah all in the Top 50 (and yes, all among Nadya Suleman’s 14 kids!) why not Adlai? He sounds like an obvious choice for an undiscovered Biblical boys’ name that will fit right in while still standing out.

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. We named our daughter Adlai, and are both from Illinois. We know it was a boy’s name, but it’s not really anyone’s name anymore, which we liked. We pronounce it adLAY, so I’m not sure where all of the adLYE or adLEE stuff is coming from. I actually met Adlai Stevenson’s great grand son (or nephew or something) he’s lives south of the town I grew up in, and I recall it being pronounced like we do. You can also reference the Adlai Stevenson song by Sufjan Stevens.

    We do have a lot of problems with people pronouncing it like the city in Australia, Adelaide, and or like there is a randomly placed third syllable, but a lot of people mispronounce my last name wrong as well, so I think some folks just can’t read 🙂

    I think we’ve only ever had one person have a real fit about it being a man’s name, so we asked him what he thought about women being named Kelly, Courtney, or any of the other names like that.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story, Anthony – and you’re so right that “it’s not really anyone’s name anymore.” Just 20 boys in 2013 … which is really, really underused!

  2. As far as I can tell (from having dug through as many youtube clips as I could), Adlai Stevenson II used the pronunciation AD-lee. One of the popular posters displayed by his political supporters claimed, “I’m madly for Adlai.”

    I love this name and am trying hard to convince my hubby to consider it for our boy #2.

    1. That’s interesting – thank you! And I do think it is a great choice for a boy. Good luck!