Monday, July 7, 2014


Image Courtesy of Dani Brubaker

I sometimes think that parents in the rural area I grew up in were some very adventurous namers. Fairlie is a prime example of that. I don't think I have ever met another - or even heard of another - Fairlie other than the one that went to one of the same primary schools as I did (that's elementary school for my American readers).
I've always been struck by what a pretty name it is. The Fairlie that bore this name was (I assume still is) cheeky, mischievious, fun loving and passionate. I'm sure that it's these qualities that have led me to always think of this name as a happy name, one that makes me think of springtime, sunshine and blue skies.

My first assumption was that the meaning of Fairlie would be pretty straight forward. Combining fair, meaning 'fair' or 'lovely' and lie (lee/leigh) which means 'meadow' or 'clearing', it should mean 'lovely meadow' or some variation upon that, right? 

Well....turns out it may not be quite that straight forward. 

Like so many other names, Fairlie started as a surname by way of place name. It seems Fairlie and Fairley are Scottish in origin, the names of two separate clans. Variants Fairleigh and Farley however are English. With so many variants, some of the meanings I've seen besides 'fair meadow' are:
  • 'the boar's field', from the word 'eofor' meaning boar or hog
  • from 'fearn leah' it could mean 'the fern wood' or 'the fern covered field'
  • or possibly 'fair wood'
  • from Farley, it could mean 'meadow of the sheep' or 'meadow of the bulls'
  • or maybe 'the far field'
  • or some sources say it means 'from the yellow meadow'

Whichever it is, one thing is for certain - it's been around a long time as a surname. 

All forms predate the 7th century, with many originating from the barony of Fairlie in Ayrshire, Scotland. There is still a little town called Fairlie there today, plus towns in New Zealand and South Africa and a National Park in the Australian state of Queensland. While there are plenty of notable people with the surname Fairlie, there only seems to be one who has the given name Fairlie. That would be Fairlie Harmar. She was also known as Viscountess Harberton, and was an English painter who lived from 1876-1945. Around the same time (1866-1948), the differently spelled Colonel Fairleigh S Dickinson was also making a name for himself as the co-founder of Becton Dickinson and a benefactor of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Which raises another intriguing aspect to this name - is this a male or female name? Most sources would say male, but it feels feminine to me as I've only known a female Fairlie. However, it's such a rare name that it really could be used however you like, as very few people would have preconceived opinions on what gender a Fairlie "should" be. 

Or maybe it comes down to the impression you get from the spelling. To me, Fairley leans male, Fairleigh feels like a little lady and Fairlie feels like a bundle of fun in either gender. Of these, Fairley is actually the only one to ever chart in the U.S. It was only for boys, and mainly clustered around the 1940's.

If you are happy to live with puns about it being a "fairly good" name, Fairlie is a great name to consider. It works especially well if you want to recognise your Scottish roots without using a name that is pigeonholed as typically Scottish. Or maybe you want to honour a Lee or Leigh and are looking for something out of the ordinary. Or maybe like me, Fairlie simply brings a smile to your face. And who doesn't like a name that makes you want to smile when you say it.


  1. I was sure you were going to mention the Australian singer Fairlie Arrow, who faked her own kidnapping:

    I wonder if your primary school chum's name was inspired by Ms Arrow, as the timing is right?

    1. I'm flattered you think I'm that young - I was born 12 years before that happened ;)

      Interesting piece of news though. I hadn't heard of Fairlie Arrow (or maybe just didn't remember it?) so thanks for sharing the link!

    2. Fairlie Arrow was popular in the late 1970s and early '80s - she only faked her own kidnapping in the 1990s when her popularity had well and truly waned. (I have a dim memory of it being in the news, and I would have been around 12-13 at the time).

      I imagine there are a few Fairlies around our age because of her, and after the "kidnapping", use would have plummeted to zero, I expect.

    3. Oh, that makes more sense :)

      Shows some of the problems/benefits of naming for a "celebrity" - around the time of the kidnapping news you might regret that choice, but now that people have pretty much forgotten who Fairlie Arrow is you have a likeable and unique name that you may not have known about otherwise.

  2. I love the name Fairlight for a girl but couldn't come up with a reasonable nickname for it. Fairlie is perfect! You do lovely features, Brooke. Keep it up!

  3. Love, love, love your name. If I ever had a a child, would name her/him FAIRLIE.