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Name Sage: If Not Riley, What?

July 28, 2015 Abby Sandel

Nicole writes:

I love the name Riley James for my baby boy, but my husband is liking it less and less as we learn how popular it is becoming for girls.

We’d love some other suggestions – preferably not unisex.

Other names we considered:

Quinn – Also unisex

Henry – Too popular

Tucker – I don’t love it

Miles– Husband is unsure

The middle name will be James.

The Name Sage replies:

My first impulse is to try to talk you into using Riley for your son. After all, Riley ranked Number 173 in the US last year. That translates to 2,429 boys given the name. And Riley is a great name for a boy!

Except that you’re absolutely right that Riley is significantly more popular for girls. There were 4,761 girls given the name in 2014 – nearly double the number of boys. That was before the Golden State Warrior’s Steph Curry brought his adorable, scene-stealing daughter Riley to all those press conferences, and before Disney Pixar’s Inside Out gave the name to the 11-year old girl at the center of the hit movie.

You’re not asking if Riley could still work for a son. You’ve decided that it feels much too unisex to be a name for your son. That’s perfectly fair.

So let’s look for a name that’s clearly masculine, but also one that isn’t too popular. Since Henry ranked Number 33 in 2014 and seems too popular, we’ll rule out the Top 50.

Miles and Tucker are on your maybe list. Miles was Number 108 and Tucker Number 176. That means we’re not looking for anything too out-there in terms of popularity.

I think that’s true of your style, too – nothing too outlandish. You’re looking a name that is mainstream without being overly common, and clearly masculine though not necessarily traditional.

Instead of Riley James, how about:

Brooks Brooks shares the ‘s’ ending of Miles, and at Number 245 hits the familiar-but-not-common sweet spot. The only drawback? I’m not so sure about Brooks James as a combination.

Beckett – Like Tucker, Beckett is a surname name with a strong ‘k’ sound. At Number 244 in 2014, it’s not too common but still very stylish.

Everett – Another –ett ending name, and one I can’t stop recommending. At Number 167, Everett is another name trending upwards. And yet, it’s got history galore and a great sound that make it very wearable for a son.

Finn Quinn is more common for girls, but Number 234 Finn trends boy, as does Number 241 Griffin. Another similar possibility is Flynn, which has a swashbuckling image thanks to vintage Hollywood’s Errol Flynn and Tangled’s Flynn Ryder.

Clayton – If avoiding popularity is important to you, and you want something that is solidly masculine, how about Clayton? With names like Grayson, Jace, and Easton in the Top 100, it’s easy to imagine Clayton fitting in. But under-the-radar Clayton ranks just 271. A similar name? Number 203, Corbin.

Crosby – Since Riley and Henry are on your list, I’m tempted to look for an ends-in-y name for your son. How about Crosby? With associations from crooner Bing to ice hockey star Sidney, Crosby is widely recognized. But at Number 613, Crosby remains relatively rare.

Brady – Another name with sports associations and that bright ‘ay’ sound. Brady ranked Number 195 in 2014. If you’re a football fan this name is either perfect – or unthinkable! Unlike Riley and Bailey, Brady is almost never used for girls.

Rory Rory is a great name for a boy. It’s an Irish as Riley, and goes well with James. The only downside? Rory is climbing for boys and girls. Rory currently ranks Number 416 for boys and Number 839 for girls. Plenty of names – Ryan, Logan – do chart for boys and girls, without ever really becoming unisex. But if avoiding this possibility is important, Rory might not work for your family.

Zachary Zachary isn’t classic in the way that William or John is classic, but it’s certainly a staple name, one that feels solid and reliable. You’ve probably met lots of boys called Zach – and Zack and Zac – but the name is slowly fading. Zachary stands at Number 82, a clearly masculine name that feels modern and traditional at once.

Readers, can you suggest some substitutes for Riley?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

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