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Sean Cate
Sean Cate
April 19, 2024 ·  3 min read

This Irish Name is Considered One of the Most ‘Scientifically Beautiful’

Selecting a name for a newborn is a decision laden with cultural significance, familial traditions, and an inherent desire for beauty. Recent research, conducted in collaboration between British baby brand My 1st Years and Dr. Bodo Winter, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, delves into the science of sound symbolism to identify Irish names that not only sound aesthetically pleasing but also carry positive emotional resonance when spoken aloud.1 Linguistic principles, including iconicity or ‘sound symbolism,’ suggest that certain words – and by extension, names – ‘sound more beautiful’ than others.2 The research, inspired by studies such as Adelman et al.’s 2018 work on sound symbolism, assigns scores to popular baby names, analyzing their phonetic components to determine which names evoke the most positive emotions when spoken.

The Power of the “E” Sound: Riley

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An intriguing discovery in this exploration of linguistic aesthetics is the prevalence of names featuring a strong “E” sound. Building upon Adelman et al.’s research, the study examined hundreds of baby names, highlighting that those with a distinct “E” sound tended to rank exceptionally high in beauty.

Read More: Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Changed Their Children’s Names

Standing out amidst this scientific exploration of beauty is the name “Riley”

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With Irish and Gaelic origins, Riley is traced back to the word “raghalach,” meaning “valiant“. An alternate interpretation connects it to the Old English words rye and Leah, signifying wood, clearing, or meadow. Originally an Irish surname, O’Reilly, it evolved into a common first name for boys, with the spelling eventually modified to Riley. Notably, Riley has maintained its popularity, consistently appearing on the list of top baby boy names since 1900 according to data from the Social Security Administration. Riley’s journey goes beyond being a favored name for boys. Over time, it transcended gender boundaries, making its debut on the list of top 1000 names for baby girls in 19901. The name reached its zenith in popularity for girls in 2016, a surge attributed to the 2015 Disney/Pixar animated film “Inside Out,” where the main female character bore the name Riley.

According to the study, the top five most beautiful names for girls in the United States are:

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  • Sophia
  • Zoe
  • Everly
  • Sophie
  • Riley

For boys, the list includes:

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  • Matthew
  • Julian
  • William
  • Isaiah
  • Leo

Read More: Teacher Lists the Kids’ Names They See As ‘Instant Red Flags’

The Naming Process

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Dr. Bodo Winter underscores that various factors influence the choice of names for children, with linguistic considerations playing a significant role. Research suggests that parents may unconsciously avoid names that clash phonetically with their family names, emphasizing the intricate dance between sound and meaning in the naming process. Surprisingly, even external factors like the sounds associated with major hurricanes can subtly shape naming trends in the next generation. While the study provides intriguing insights into the aesthetics of baby names, it acknowledges the multifaceted nature of the naming process. Cultural influences, family history, and personal preferences all contribute to the final decision. Gareth Chadwick, Head of Marketing at My 1st Years, acknowledges the overwhelming nature of naming newborns and expresses the hope that the study results can assist soon-to-be parents in their decision-making process.

Riley’s significance in this study goes beyond its popularity ranking

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The name embodies the linguistic tapestry woven into the fabric of baby names. Its Irish roots, intertwined with meanings of courage and nature, create a rich narrative that resonates across genders and generations. In its evolution from a surname to a gender-neutral given name, Riley reflects the dynamic nature of language and the societal shifts that influence naming trends.

Irish names: Linguistic Beauty

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In unraveling the science of sound symbolism, the study reveals the enchanting interplay between linguistic principles and the beauty we perceive in names. Riley, with its Irish origins and diverse meanings, takes center stage as one of the most ‘scientifically beautiful’ names, showcasing the rich tapestry of linguistic beauty woven into the fabric of baby names.

Read More: Three dads, a baby and the legal battle to get their names added to a birth certificate


  1. Irish American first name voted scientifically “most beautiful”.” Irish Central. September 16, 2023.
  2. The World’s Most Beautiful Sounding Names, According To Science.” My 1st Years. October 10, 2023.