ParaleeSome of my favorite names are the rarities that were once in use, but are now fading towards obscurity. Alifair and Ladusky are two.

With thanks to Virginia, our Baby Name of the Day is yet another: Paralee.

Paralee: Former Favorite

Paralee was given to at least five girls born in the US every year from 1880 through 1958. Between 1880 and 1908, the name frequently appeared in the US Top 1000. In 1920, 39 newborn girls were named Paralee. It’s faded since then.

Paralee: Mysterious Origins

While Paralee seems to be most common in the South and the West, it’s too widespread to come from one family tree or local trend.

The earliest uses of the name seem to occur in the 1810s, and I think that’s the key.

Here are the possibilities:

  • Paralee might a spin on names like Clara and Sarah, with the -lee ending. Except that ends-in-lee wasn’t common for girls’ names until more recent decades.
  • Was it an obscure form of one of the Par- names popular at the time? Parthenia was familiar in the same era.
  • Maybe the -lee is that familiar leah – meadow, and the first syllable refers to pears. But that feels cobbled together.
  • Another name that came to mind was Onnolee, from a legendary Indian princess in New York. She died rather than become a captive of a rival tribe. Onnolee was immortalized in a nineteenth century poem. But it seems like a stretch to connect the two.
  • It’s tempting to link Paralee to Pearl and Pearlie, based on sound, and because genealogical records report several women named Paralee were called Pearlie.
  • Could it be a surname? Parlee and Parilee are both seen as variant spellings. Parlier is recorded as a surname, from the Old French parlier – to speak. If you remember your Pirates of the Caribbean, Elizabeth Swann requests a “parlay” – a talk. This Missouri family tree includes women named both Paralee and Parilee.
  • It’s also sometimes spelled Parolee – could it be a reference to the older sense of the word parole – word of honor, from the French, parole d’honneur?

Paralee: Faro’s Daughter

Here’s my theory, and it’s a wild one, sparked by Parolee.

During the reign of France’s King Louis XIV, a card came called pharaoh developed. By the 1700s, “pharo” was popular in England. It was a sensation in the US by the early 1800s – the national card game.

As early as 1701, the term parloi was used in the French version of the game, to mean “promises.” It came from the Italian word parole, with the same meaning. In English, players would “parlee” a bet.

Could it be that Paralee came from the faro term? If it was understood as a word with a positive meaning, it seems possible. And the timing matches perfectly. I even found siblings named Paralee and Faro.

Paralee: So Very Southern

1st edition cover Houghton Mifflin

A virtue name from a gambling game or not, what Paralee is today is Southern. William Faulkner used the name for Aleck Sander’s mother in his 1948 story Intruder in the Dust.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was a collaboration between photographer Waker Evans and writer James Agee. They chronicled the plight of Southern families during the 1930s Dust Bowl era. They used pseudonyms for their subjects, including Paralee Ricketts – real name Dora Mae Tengle.

Today, Paralee would fit right in with all of the ends-in-lee names for girls. If you’re after a Southern name that your daughter will probably never share, Paralee is a possibility.

What do you think of Paralee? Would it wear well in 2015?

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.

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What do you think?


  1. My great aunt, born in 1882 in southern Illinois was named Rosa Paralee. Her dad was from Kentucky and mom from southern Illinois. In my family that is from southern Illinois, you are called by your middle name. My grandma was named after her (Julia Paralee) and they called her Pert for short. My daughter’s middle name is Paralee. We call her by her first name, but at school she decided to go by her middle name. It’s a beautiful and unique name and I was excited to pass it along.

  2. My name is Paralee Ann. I was born in 1952 and my mother is not sure where she heard the name. My grandfather was from the south so he may have known someone named Paralee. I have only run across that name twice although I never met them.

    1. My name is also Paralee Ann. I was born in 1953. My parents named me after my grandmother, Blanche Paralee. She was named after her mother’s midwife. I have contacted several individuals over the years who have the first name Paralee. It was interesting to chat with them about the name! However, mispronouncing the name for others have had its challenges. My whole life I have had to pronounce and spell the name correctly!

  3. I was born in 1951 and my name is Para Lee, from my grandmother, Para, in the Appalachian mtns. My aunt had a friend named Para Lee, so my mom chose the Lee as a middle name.
    A Tennessee history professor told me it originated as a name from the 1810s-20s in Tennessee.
    I’ve encountered several, including children’s book author, Para Lee Brock, born in Rome, GA. She said her dad encountered it in Florida.

  4. My mother’s name was Paralee. She got her name from the 87yr old Cherokee woman who helped my granny birth her and ultimately saved her life. We were told it means ” wild moon flower of the meadow”. That was is 1951 in the south up a holler LOL. Now my mom passed in 2012 and my daughter named my first grandchild Paralee. We get lots of questions about her name

  5. My mother born in a southern farming area in the 30’s was named Parilee. She was nicknamed Peggy, which is a name passed down thru the generations from the civil war to my daughter. Never heard the name before except for my mom. Interesting to know the history and the others that share the name.