English: Proposed plan for Raleigh, North Caro...
English: Proposed plan for Raleigh, North Carolina, by William Christmas, 1792. Image courtesy of Learn North Carolina, a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

London, Savannah, Camden, Brooklyn.  Place names are popular, and we’re discovering new ones all the time.

Thanks to Lydia for suggesting Raleigh as our Baby Name of the Day.

There’s a whole YouTube video about pronouncing Raleigh.  The first syllable rhymes with ball – rall EE, though depending on where you’re from, I’ve heard it said more like rawl EE or RA lee, too.

The North Carolina city was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, the English courtier and explorer.   He planned the colony at Roanoke Island, the one that disappeared without explanation.

Raleigh has fared far better than Roanoke.  Established in 1788 and formally incorporated a few years later, Raleigh is the seat of Wake County, and along with Durham and Chapel Hill, has become quite the successful metropolitan area.  Business innovation has been fueled by a trio of academic institutions: North Carolina State, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and Duke University.

They play some basketball, too.

It all makes for a set of lingering positive associations for Raleigh, and that’s helped boost the name as a possibility.  While Savannah is all Southern belle, Raleigh feels like he could be a little Southern gentleman.  This might be the only ends in -leigh name that feels comfortably masculine.

There’s also:

  • Rawley, another spelling of the same name.  They’re derived from the Old English word for red, coupled with the familiar leah – clearing.
  • Rowley, a slightly different name.  The first element comes from ruh – rough, though I can’t tell if that means overgrown or just undeveloped.  Rowley also puts you firmly in Diary of a Wimpy Kid territory, and conjures up design maven Cynthia Rowley.  He’s less brutal than Rawley and maybe a smidge more masculine than Raleigh.
  • Rally, which makes me think pep or political, but might appeal to some.

The burning question with Raleigh is whether anyone is using it.  The short answer is yes.  In 2011, the US welcomed 88 boys called Raleigh, 21 named Rawley, 7 called Rally, and 6 baby Rowleys.  More surprising?  Raleigh has been with us for a very long time.  He appeared in the US Top 1000 in 1880, and ranked every year through 1959, with a few cameos in the 1960s.  Perhaps it is more accurate to call Raleigh a Southern surname revival, and less a modern borrowing from the map.

Before you ink this one on junior’s birth certificate, you might fret that Raleigh could go girl – and there were 98 newborn girls named Raleigh in 2011.  But just like Kaleigh is sometimes a respelling of Kaylee, it is tough to say for certain if Raleigh is the same name.  There were 224 girls named Raylee in 2011, plus 132 girls called Rayleigh, and a sprinkling of babies answering to Raylynn and Rayla.

All of this makes Raleigh an attractive option – a softer name for a son, and yet one less common than Riley – at least for now.

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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. I absolutely love this name, and would definitely consider it for a boy (not on a girl, unless I wanted her to be a stripper…).

  2. Sir Walter Raliegh is most certainly my first thought, and then the brand of bikes (of which I’ve had several!). I say it RA lee.

  3. Meh, I don’t care for Raleigh. Too many pronunciation issues and I have zero ties to the city. Now, Roland, that’s a name I love and I find it climbing up our list. We’d call him Roy 🙂

  4. I stumbled across a little boy Rally a few years ago – but it turned out it was a nickname for Ralph.

  5. I met a mid twenties Raleigh this summer, he was a cave tour guide in Colorado. I thought it was an interesting name, and surprising on a person his age.

  6. I too love Roland, but prefer the nickname Rowe (Rollo is interesting though; just last night I watched a cartoon with a knight named Rollo). Yet Raleigh doesn’t bother me as much as Ashleigh, Rileigh, and crew do. Perhaps, because it seems more standard than the others.

    And I don’t think -leigh/-eigh endings really bother me at all, but the sense that modern parents thoughtlessly gravitate toward it because it seems cool or trendy perhaps does. But then I tend to overthink my name choices.

  7. Roland is a fabulous name, but I actually don’t mind Raleigh either. Interestingly, I’ve always been taught to pronounce the name something akin to “raw-lay”. Maybe it’s the Canadian pronunciation? “Raw-lee” or any ends-in-ee variants sound odd to my ears.

  8. I love Raleigh for a name. My boyfriend is from Raleigh, NL. I think I would prefer it as a little girls name though. I find it kind of wimpy for a boy.

  9. Like Julia – Roland is on our list for another boy. Although we’d call ours Rollo (Rah-lo). Raleigh bugs me as a name, maybe because I hear “Raleigh, I am” fairly frequently. Bugs Bunny reigns supreme in our house (With Scooby right behind!). I also am not a fan of -leigh & -eigh endings, especially on girls. Raleigh might work on a big dog though. Can’t anyone picture a big St. Bernard named Raleigh? I can! 😀

  10. Roland/Rowland is on my short list, with the thought that his nickname could be Rowley or Roe. I’m not as sold on Raleigh though, probably because of the Kaleigh, Ashleigh issue, but I find -leigh really ugly.