On the heels of Rhett comes another Gone with the Wind name for a Southern gentleman.
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Ashley – for a boy! – as our Name of the Day.
Once upon a time, Ashley was a boys’ name. And that time wasn’t so very long ago – while Rhett turned out to be Scarlett’s true love, the heroine of Gone with the Wind spent most of the novel pining after her childhood crush, Ashley Wilkes. The book was set in the Civil War, but penned in 1936.
At that time – and up until 1964 – Ashley was solidly reserved for the boys. That was the year Ashley debuted on the girls’ side, entering the rankings at #771.
It’s difficult to say what sparked Ashley’s popularity for girls, but one possible inspiration is actress Elizabeth Ashley. She was a Broadway mainstay in the 60s, guest-starred on favorite TV shows like Ben Casey and Route 66 and played some memorable supporting roles, including her work opposite Vivien Leigh in the Oscar-winning Ship of Fools.
Ashley also fit in with other favorites of the era:
- Borrowed from the boys picks including Leslie, Terri, Tracy and Kelly;
- Peppy nickname-names like Amy, Julie, Lori, Tammy and Wendy.
She climbed throughout the 70s and by the 80s had become a stylish choice for girls. That’s at least partially due to the debut of character Ashley Abbott on soap opera The Young and the Restless in 1982. Today the name is still popular, holding on to the 18th spot in 2008.
Conventional wisdom tells us that as a name is used for girls, it quickly fades for boys. Not so! Ashley climbed in use for boys during the 1970s, peaking at #282 in 1980. He simply never reached the dizzying heights enjoyed by girls called Ashley, and today the name reads undeniably feminine.
Instead, parents have favored Ashton (#121 in 2008) for their sons – thanks, Mr. Kutcher – as well as Asher (#206 in 2008). By 1994, Ashley had left the US Top 1000 for boys entirely.
Could Ashley work for a son born in 2009? It’s tough to say. In the UK, Coronation Street introduced a male character called Ashley Peacock in 1996. But overwhelming majority of Ashleys are female – from Ashley Judd, Ashlee Simpson and Ashley Olsen to the Ashleigh, Ashli and Ashley in the local elementary school.
The meaning is straightforward – it is another geographic choice, referring to someone who lived near a cluster of ash trees. Ashley appears on the map in at least six states, as well as throughout the UK and Australia. And it remains a fairly common surname. (In the 2000 US Census, Ashley ranked #852 – that’s about 37,000 Ashleys.)
And while Ashley is heavily used for girls, plenty of similar names – Kelly, Riley, Bailey, Avery – still read as gender neutral.
Perhaps the bottom line is this: just like parents avoid hyper-popular picks like Isabella and Jacob, fashionable parents may want to avoid Ashley regardless of gender issues. By 2019, however, with Ashley falling in use for girls, it might start to sound fresh again for a son.