Riley Name Meaning

Baby boy in purple onesie looking at the camera and smiling lying against cloud sheets

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Riley is a gender-neutral name with two meanings. One is derived from the original Gaelic word raghalach, which means “valiant.” This eventually became the surname O’Reilly.

The other meaning is derived from the Old English words rye and leah, meaning wood, clearing or meadow. The surname O’Reilly was once also used to indicate someone who lives near a rye field or meadow.

The surname eventually became a common Irish first name for boys, and its spelling was altered to Riley as it was adopted around the world. In more recent times the name has morphed into a unisex option in the United States, sometimes with variations in spelling for its feminine forms.

Origin: The name Riley is of Irish and Gaelic origin meaning “valiant” and “rye meadow”

Gender: Riley used to be most common as a boy name but in recent times is considered a unisex name. 

Pronunciation: rye-lee

Although baby names are separated by gender, Verywell Family believes that sex does not need to play a role in your name selection process. It's important to select a name that you feel suits your new baby the best.

How Popular is the Name Riley?

Riley has been on the top 1,000 list of popular baby boy names ever since 1900, the first year data was available from the Social Security Administration. It appeared as No. 286 that year but dropped 200 spots by 1914.

The name Riley hovered around the same ranking for the next several decades until it started to decline once again. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, it dropped 400 spots. Riley almost slipped off the charts in 1970 when it was ranked as No. 908, its lowest ranking ever.

Between then and 2002, it jumped almost 900 spots to reach its peak at No. 99. After a decade in that range, Riley started to decline in popularity. By 2020, it was ranked as No. 258.

Riley as a girl name debuted on the top 1,000 list of names for baby girls in 1990 as No. 827. It jumped 700 spots in a decade, then broke top 100 in 1992. The name Riley for a girl reached its peak at No. 22 in 2016. The latest recorded rankings show it as No. 33.

Riley followed the trend of surnames that became popular as given names. It also started being used as a girl name at around the same time that several well-known female characters named Riley appeared in popular culture. This includes Riley Andersen, the main female character in the Disney/Pixar animated film “Inside Out.” The movie came out in 2015 and went on to win a Golden Globe award.

Name Variations

The following are spelling variations of the name Riley:

  • Reilley
  • Reilly
  • Ryeleigh
  • Rylee
  • Ryleigh
  • Ryley
  • Rylie

Similar Names

Similar sounding names to Riley:

  • Hayley
  • Kyle
  • Kylie
  • Lily
  • Miley
  • Ryan
  • Ryanne
  • Ryland
  • Wylie

Other Irish names:

  • Aiden
  • Ava
  • Brenna
  • Briana
  • Callie
  • Dylan
  • Liam
  • Moira
  • Molly
  • Niall
  • Nora
  • Sean
  • Teagan

Other gender-neutral names:

  • Adrian
  • Corey
  • Finley
  • Logan
  • Morgan
  • Reagan
  • Shannon
  • Tyler

Suggested Sibling Names

Looking for a sibling name for Riley? Here are some popular options:

  • Kyle
  • Blair
  • Kendall
  • Owen 
  • Parker
  • Easton
  • Sloan

Famous People Named Riley

Famous Rileys have included both men and women. In recent years however, the name Riley appears mostly as a female name.

Famous Rileys:

  • Riley B. King, also known as BB King, the American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter 
  • Riley Clemmons, female American musician
  • Riley Day, Australian female sprinter
  • Riley Emilia Voelkel, American-born Canadian actress
  • Riley Griffiths, American football player and former actor
  • Riley Hill, American actor who starred mostly in Westerns
  • Riley Keough, American actress and granddaughter of actress Priscilla Presley and singer Elvis Presley
  • Riley Smith, American television series actor

Fictional Rileys:

  • Riley Abel, female character in the video game “The Last of Us: Left Behind”
  • Riley Andersen, main female character in animated Disney/Pixar film “Inside Out”
  • Riley Blue, female character in the Netflix series “Sense8” 
  • Riley Daring, female character in “The Replacements,” an American animated television series
  • Riley Dawson, female character in the television series “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”
  • Riley Matthews, female character in the Disney Channel spinoff series “Girl Meets World”
  • Riley Finn, male character in the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” 
  • Riley Freeman, male character in the animated television series “The Boondocks”
  • Riley Adams, female character in the TV show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”
  • Riley Biers, male vampire character in “The Twilight Saga”

More Baby Names

Still searching for the perfect baby name? Check out these related baby name lists for even more options:

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hanks P, Hardcastle K, Hodges F. A Dictionary of First Names. Oxford University Press; 2016.

  2. Social Security Administration. Popularity of name. Updated 2021.

By Vicky Yip
Vicky is a freelance writer specializing on topics relating to prenatal care, motherhood, parenting, family, and home life. She is also a Senior Contributor for HoustonMoms (City Mom Collective).