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.
Latest comment ever? 😉 I was just thinking last night about how much I love the idea of Ashley going back to the boys. It sounds SO handsome for a guy to me! The shared sounds with Ashton and Asher, along with the absolutely dashing nickname Ash, seem like promising traits for a boy revival. I wish I could be among those to take the bull by the horns, but I answer to an Ashley sound-alike myself. Boo.
Shirley is a similar situation, but that one might be hopelessly lost in Grandma Name territory. Come on, y’all! Don’t let Ashley go that route!
Don’t forget the male singer Ashley Parker Angel.
Sorry to write so late but grew up with a guy named Ashley. He was one tough guy so no one teased him. Ashley on a male is also a French Canadian thing.
I love Ashley on a boy. He is handsome and sophisticated. Different story on a girl though. I hope this becomes more popular on boys again.
…Whereas in the UK Ashley is resolutely a boys name. I’ve never met a female Ashley but there a certainly a few male Ashley’s around; there must have been a spate of them in the early 80’s as the ones I know are all in their mid 20’s. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan of the name – a simple case of ‘ familiarity breeds contempt’ I guess…
I really, really like Ashley for a boy (although not quite as much as Beverly). Sadly, in North America at least, it’s hard to pull off.
Emmy Jo says
I LOVE Ashley for a boy. It’s one of my guilty pleasure names. At the elementary school where I teach, Ashley is still one of the most popular girls’ names, so it’s not on that would work for a boy in my area, but it’s still on my favorites list. I would happily use it as a boys’ middle name, though. Isn’t something like Frederick Ashley quite dashing? Unfortunately, as my last name starts with a G, that combo is out for us — just look at those initials!
Sarah — if Ashley does work in your area, I hope you get a chance to use it. I’d love to see this one reclaimed.
Ashley is cute. Though its comonly used for a girl I find I am liking it more for a boy. The girl spelling with a gh is absolutely hideous. Being from Gone with the wind just adds character to it! Good suggestion
As a girl who answers to the gh spelling, ouch!
I think Ashley is just darling on a boy! I don’t think he sounds feminine at all. To me hes suave and gentle just like Ashley Wilkes. Unlike Ashton, who to me bares great correlation to the Aiden, Jayden, Jaylon variants and Asher, who bares correlation to the Tyler, Hunter, Parker, (why would you want to name your son after a tradesperson, a killer, or a valet!) trend.
I’m also terribly dissapointed that he hasn’t been well recieved. It’s about time someone started claiming back the stolen ‘girls’ names for the boys! And upon suggestion, I expected that I would have a number of enthusiasts of that here.
Who knows, I’m due in 9 short days and if it is a boy, Ashley just might be the name we are about to choose.
I’m afraid I hate the name Ashley for a boy. To me it sounds like the stuck up rich boy in some 80’s movie (like Blaine in Pretty In Pink).
I lump it with Clayton, Wesley, Barnaby as names that have a pretentious sound to them,
Of course I’m not a huge fan of it for a girl either, but only because I knew so many Ashleys growing up.
I, too, would stick with Ash or Asher, but in truth “A” names are not my style at all!
Ashley’s on my “For the Grandkids” list, under boys. I absolutely find Ashley dashing on a boy (ala Kelly) but find the overwhelming girlishness right now off-putting. I dislike Asher, and Ashton is downright yucky looking (and Aston Kutchner does nothing for it or me).
But Ashley remains an usuable favorite of mine, hence it’s inclusion on that particular list. Cool, but not ready for primetime on the boys list just yet. 🙂
I am afraid I’d be far more likely to go with Asher or just Ash for a boy, rather than Ashley. It’s not so much because of the “girly” thing, as just not liking boys names that end in -ley/-ly, right across the board. I might love Henry, but Henley wouldn’t get any more traction with me than Ashley does. Alas.
Otherwise, it seems like a perfectly good name to me for either gender, even if it isn’t my style.
Oooooh, Henley! That’s a good one. MY future daughter, everyone: Henley.
I like the sound of Ashley (I like the Ash sound in general, but it’s awfully popular overall at this point for my tastes). Growing up with a number of female Ashley’s, it always was a girly-girl name in my mind. And then I moved to England… as noted, Ashley is still largely reserved as a boy’s name there and I worked with a male Ashley for a time. The “gender confusion” of the name (and a few others you’ve mentioned) would be too much for me to bother with, since my kids have family on both sides of the ocean. In the States, I think I agree that the recent popularity of the name for females means it will be a decade or two until it sounds less decidedly girly. Ash, Asher, Ashton – they’re all nice Ash- names that sound male – I’d stick with those, personally.