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.
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.
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!
I thought it was pronounced ad-LAY?
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.
That’s interesting – thank you! And I do think it is a great choice for a boy. Good luck!
Jacob Mandel says
Me and my fiance cant seem to meet in the middle about the names we like for our second child, a girl. I have loved the name Adlai but thought of spelling it Adley at first. SHe likes the name Holyn which started as Holand “Like the tractor” and she insists Adley sounds country ?
The thing is, Adlai is pronounced ad LYE, while Adley looks like it would be pronounced ad LEE. Would you consider Hadley or Hollis? They’re both surname choices that work well for a daughter. Hadley especially splits the difference between the two.
But between Adley and Holyn? I think you win! Adley is infinitely more sophisticated. Holland would be fabulous, but Holyn seems a bit awkward – but then, I think the best way to use noun names or place names is to leave them spelled as we’re used to seeing them – Brooklyn, not Brookelynne; Sailor, not Saylir; Carter, not Kartyr. Call me a purist, but I think it makes it easier if your unusual name at least has a familiar spelling.
Then again, I insisted on Clio instead of Cleo – and have sometimes regretted it!
Emmy Jo says
High on a hill with a lonely goatherd.
Add-uh-lie, Add-uh-lie, Add-uh-lie Hee Hoo! 🙂
Charlotte, that’s hilarious! I still think it’s an awesome name, though.
Bizzy, I always say -lie. I’ve never actually heard the -lee one before
Charlotte Vera says
Reading this, I was really beginning to like Adlai — until I tried saying it out loud and it sounded like it belonged to the song “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music. Now I can’t disassociate they two in my mind :o(
Emmy Jo says
Adlai is very cool. I remember a while back I saw someone considering Adlai and Rose for their boy/girl twins — both lovely names, but they seemed a bit oddly matched to me.
Can we clear up Adlai’s pronunciation? I’ve seen it listed as AD-lee and AD-lie. I really prefer the -lie pronunciation. I really like this one! The only drawback for me would be the uncertain meaning.
Lola, my mom is the family tree expert, and she never had the heart to tell Pap-pap, but there isn’t any connection unfortunately. He was also convinced we were related to Robert Louis Stevenson… Being full of Scottish pride, I’m pretty sure he thought we were related to any good ol’ Scots running around and the shared last name gave him some credibility 😉 I’m still tempted to use it to pay tribute to Pap-pap, though, since I know he loved it so…
Cat, John Adlai is super handsome. You’re right, though, in the middle name spot, I find him incredibly charming and a real winner.
I’ll second Cat. Adlai is a wicked cool name that would liven up any classic he’s paired with. I really like his history, as it were and while there’s none among my tree, I’d consider it just for his neat sound and cool look. Bek, how awesome to have that possible link! Are you digging into it at all?
Funny, I’ve been crushing on simple John the past week or so, and while I have him in the middle in a few spots (it’s one of Ken’s middles) I keep picking at him to let me think about John up front, what a switch that would be! So Cat’s thought of John Adlai is really, really appealing at the moment! Adlai gets a huge :thumbsup: from me. Uncommon yet familiar, handsome, Biblical, yeah Adlai’s a winner all right! 😀
I love Adlai, actually. I think it’s really nerdy chic and underused. My combo is Rufus Adlai John/Paul at the moment. I just think it’s awesome and on the point of obscure at this point, which makes it all the more appealing, especially in the middle. It’s like Ferdinand: can liven pretty much anything up. John Adlai, Thomas Adlai, Peter Adlai, etc.
Thanks, Verity! As it would happen, my mother’s mother is a Stevenson and my great-grandfather often insisted we were related to Adlai. I know that’s where I first heard the name, and it’s really grown on me ever since.
Interesting to see the connection to Adalia. I have friends who just named a daughter Adelia, and never thought of it as a masculine name, but it’s awfully close to the Biblical moniker. Really interesting…
I would be tickled pink to meet an Adlai, especially not a Stevenson 😉
Kirstin G. says
It’s been a while since you posted this, but I’m considering Adlai for a girl. With how uncommon Adlai is and how common the many forms of Ad- names are for girls, I wonder if people will take it without blinking an eye or if it will be confusing. I love the meaning and the short, sharpness of the name.
I’m a little late to add to the 11 year old pronunciation discution, but the latest Adlai Stevenson clarified that his family pronounced it Ad-lay (in response to a Mark Twain poem that joked about the pronunciation), though I’ve also read that Ad-lie is an alternative.
I think Adlai on a girl would attract attention because it’s different, not because others perceive it as masculine. That said, you mentioned that we’re in an age of SO many Addie names. And I agree – for that reason, I think it has potential for a daughter.
Kirstin G. says
Thanks for weighing in!