Coat of arms of Rhys ap Gruffydd

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on May 6, 2008 and substantially revised on November 15, 2011.

He’s a short, storied name for boys that brings to mind peanut butter cups and Hollywood actresses. But he should conjure up images of Wales.

Our Baby Name of the Day is Rhys.

I’ve never been to Cardiff, but I harbor romantic notions about Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. That’s Welsh for “Land of My Fathers,” the unofficial national anthem.

Like many a traditional boys’ name, Rhys is a single-syllable, but he’s far more exotic than Tom or Jack. His sound is conventional, but his spelling marks him as an import.

The name’s meaning translates roughly to enthusiasm, or perhaps ardor or eagerness. In any case, it’s a nice enough backstory for a simple and uncomplicated name. Should your son ever venture to Wales, he can even explore Cardigan Castle, briefly held by the twelfth century Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Deheubarth. Most accounts list him as a capable ruler, one who kept a Welsh kingdom together despite pressure from outside forces. His coat of arms appears above. He’s not the first Rhys, though – the name appears in the historical record in the century prior, worn by Rhys’ grandfather.

There are tons of notable men who have worn the name, most from the United Kingdom, where Rhys has a longer history of use. There are plenty of athletes, actors (Rhys Ifans is probably the best known at the moment), and a slew of fictional figures, too. Actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers keeps the name in the public eye, and the current Countess of Wessex – wife of Prince Edward, and thus daughter-in-law to the Queen of England, was born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones.

But the best known Rhys probably isn’t a Rhys – or a he, even. Reese Witherspoon – born Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon – has had a long, successful career spanning two decades. She’s propelled the name into favor for girls.

But there’s a clear split based on spelling:

  • In 2006, Reese ranked #159 for girls and #443 for boys. By 2010, Reese had climbed slightly for girls, reaching #136, and fallen to #492 for boys.
  • Alternative spelling Reece was #434 for boys in 2010, down a few places from his 2006 ranking of #413. The spelling is still unranked for girls.
  • Then there’s Rhys. From #915 in 2006 for boys to #471 in 2010, Rhys is on fire.

Rhys feels almost unthinkable for a girl, while the other two spellings are less clearly tied to a gender.

As a surname, there are other possible origins for Rhys, and many accomplished individuals

His sound fits so well with the short, single-syllable boys’ names parents are embracing, like Cole and Jack. And just like many a trend, his popularity in the UK seems to presage a rise in the US. It’s impossible to say if Rhys will reach the heights enjoyed by those other names, but it seems possible.

If you’re looking for an unusual appellation that comes by a creative spelling naturally, Rhys is one to consider.

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. I prefer the Rhys spelling for girls, regardless of precedence. The “y” is much more visually appealing to me, for one thing, but mostly I wouldn’t want the “Oh, did you name her after Reese Witherspoon” comments, as much as I respect her as an actress. I’d probably use Rhys as a middle name, though, and pair it with a more traditionally feminine first name. I am, in fact, considering this for our soon-to-be-born daughter.

  2. I think of the author Rhys Bowen, books include: Masked Ball at Broxley Manor and Her Royal Spyness. Also, I think of Rys: Son of Rome game that came out for the two new consoles: XboxOne and Playstation4. It takes place in Rome during a war. I think it may heighten its popularity. This younger generation are wanting very masculine names that are substantial and yet easy to spell and pronounce. I think this name definitely falls into that category, and it has a subtle familiarity even though its spelling appears foreign.