Thanks to Chantal for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The meaning of the name Oakley is straightforward.
Once upon a time, it was given to someone who lived near – wait for it – a bunch of oak trees.
The -ley ending comes from the Old English leah, meaning meadow or clearing.
Oak trees are native to England, and much of Europe. They’re symbols of endurance, embraced since ancient days. More than a dozen countries have named the oak their national tree, including England and the US.
As for the origins of the word oak, they’re a little murky. The word was ac in Old English, and ook in Middle English.
That puts the baby name Oakley smack in the middle of two trends. It’s a surname pick, like Mason and Harper and so many favorites. But it’s also a tree name, in the same category as Rowan and Willow.
But is this name better for a daughter or a son?
One argument for considering Oakley a girl’s name?
Superstar sharpshooter Annie Oakley, of course.
Born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860, the future celebrity learned to shoot so that her family could eat. But her skill far exceeded what was required to put dinner on the table.
While still a teenager, she won a local contest. That led to two things: her marriage to fellow marksman Frank T. Butler and the couple’s appearances in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
She chose the stage name Annie Oakley, maybe for an Ohio neighborhood where she and her new husband lived; or maybe for a kind person who once paid her train fare.
In any case, the name worked. And Oakley’s fame adds even more luster to the name.
Over nearly two decades, she toured America and Europe. “Little Sure Shot” met Queen Victoria, among other dignitaries. She’d become the highest-paid female performer of her time.
But it’s easy to see the baby name Oakley as masculine, too.
After all, many surnames of English origin were routinely bestowed as first names.
And notables named Oakley have included:
- Gilded Age real estate magnate TJ Oakley Rhinelander was the heir to several prominent New York City families, and married into another, ensuring his place in society’s Four Hundred.
- Oakley Kelley was a record-setting aviator for the United States Army Air Service, forerunner of the Air Force, during the 1920s.
- In the 1940s, Oakley Haldeman wrote “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Haldeman penned many a famous song over the years, but it’s this one that lives on today.
- In 1967, a glacier in Antarctica was named Oakley Glacier in honor of a chaplain stationed at McMurdo Station.
- Writer Oakley Hall was best known for his westerns, several of which were adopted by Hollywood in the 1950s. His son, also named Oakley Hall, became a playwright.
- There’s also founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, legendary bassist Berry Oakley.
None of those are household names a la Annie, of course. But it’s a place name, too, with cities, villages, historic homes and more bearing the name.
Besides those numerous places, Oakley is a class of lifeboat and an aristocratic title, though it’s now held by the current Earl of Cadogan.
Perhaps some parents heard the name in Cold Mountain, the 2003 epic Civil War film based on a 1997 novel by the same name. There’s a minor character called Oakley; the movie was a box office success and garnered several Academy Award nominations. In this case, Oakley was, once again, masculine.
BY the NUMBERS
Looking at the numbers, the baby name Oakley seems even more clearly unisex – though it’s a cloudy picture.
In 2021, Oakley was given to 1,524 girls and 768 boys.
That translates to a ranking of #193 among popular baby girl names, and a not-too-shabby standing of #403 for boys.
It’s worth noting that Oakley is gaining in use for both genders.
But how about related baby names, pronounced oak-lee, but spelleId just a little bit differently?
- Oaklee was given to an additional 641 girls, for a rank of #486. 96 boys also received this spelling. (That’s too few to crack the US Top 1000.)
- Another 487 girls were named Oakleigh, which is a rank of #609. Six boys were named Oakleigh, too.
- Beyond the US Top 1000, parents welcomed 65 girls named Oaklie, 12 called Oaklei, nine named Oaklea, eight called Oakli, and five called Oakliegh – which may or may not be a typo. There was nine boys named Oakly.
With alternate spellings factored in, Oakley starts to lean feminine – but only a little.
OTHER OAK NAMES
Also worth noting: other Oak- names exist. Parents created some thanks to the popularity of the name Oakley. Others look like attempts to make an Oak- name clearly masculine or feminine.
In the US Top 1000, this includes:
- Oaklynn, ranked #204 for girls as of 2021.
- At #573, Oaklyn.
Beyond the Top 1000, you’ll find:
- Additional spellings of Oaklynn, as well as Oaklin, and Oaklen, which seem maybe a little more masculine (though it’s used for girls and boys).
- The pure tree name Oak.
- S-enders like Oaks and Oakes.
- Oakland, another place name turned given name. In the case of the California city, it was named for a large oak tree meadow that stood where the city sprawls today.
- Oaken, a name familiar to fans of Disney’s Frozen.
JIM JANNARD’S OAKLEY
Of course, for many people, Oakley isn’t a given name at all. It’s a brand.
Entrepreneur and company founder Jim Jannard had a few hundred bucks and a beloved dog named – you guessed it! – Oakley.
It’s now a major international brand, best known for sunglasses. The company also makes all sorts of sports-specific gear, as well as clothing and accessories of all kinds.
It makes the baby name Oakley vibrant and active, a little bit like Hurley or Dash. There’s something a little X-Games about this name.
VIBRANT, MODERN FAVORITE
The baby name Oakley sits at the intersection of so many trends. It’s a nature name, and a last name, too. The -ley ending makes it feel a little like a successor to Ashley and Bradley and Riley. It’s vowel forward, another O name in our age of Olivia, Oliver, and Owen.
No surprise it’s become a fast-rising favorite in recent years, a high-energy choice that appeals for a daughter or a son.
What do you think of the baby name Oakley?
First published on September 27, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-published on April 12, 2023.