There's Something About Zelie/Zaylee


Zélie Martin by unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My Instagram feed is full of families who’ve chosen Catholicky Catholic names for their babies, and nearly all of the families I do name consultations for have a great love for St. Therese’s newly canonized parents, so I see the name Zelie a lot, both on already named children and on lists of names in consideration for wee ladies-on-the-way.

Though spotting and analyzing trends in naming is not really a strength of mine, when the Social Security Administration released its 2015 data on May 6 and I took a quick look through the list of names that increased in popularity from 2014 to 2015, I noted with my Zelie-perspective that Zaylee entered the top 1000 for the first time, rising an impressive number of spots from #1304 to #990, and I wondered if our St. Zelie had something to do with it. Upon further thought, though I’ve heard various pronunciations of Zelie from Catholic families, it seems most end up rhyming it with Kelly (and thus some spell it Zellie), and there were only fifty little girls born in the U.S. in 2015 that were named Zelie (compared to Zaylee’s 270), so I concluded Zaylee must just be the latest Baylee/Kaylee name combined with the edgy and appealing letter Z, rather than a Zelie variant, though I marveled at the weird convergence of super saintly and super trendy in the sounds of these names. But wait — there’s more!

I posted about it on my blog, and did a little more research, and discovered from the data and my readers the many different influences that are swirling around the name Zaylee and its variations and soundalikes, including (with number of babies so named in 2015 in parentheses):

Azalea (519): St. Zelie’s birth name was Marie-Azélie, and I’ve often seen it said that Azélie is French for the flower name azalea. Though I’ve not been able to confirm so (I’ve only seen azalée as the French form of the flower), I have seen Azalea bestowed as a nod to St. Zelie, and conversely I’ve seen parents explain their daughter Zelie’s name as a French form of azalea. Flower names are popular, and it doesn’t take much to go from Rose to Violet to Marigold to Azalea. Another influence that I’m sure has been substantial is Australian rapper Iggy Azalea (née Amethyst Amelia Kelly!).

Azaylee (9): Azaylee is what first made me think that Zaylee might have more to it than Baylee and Kaylee—it’s similar to Marie-Azélie and the French word for azalea (azalée) and I think a good argument can be made for both of these as influences.

Azelia (25): Though the origin of this name is debated, I suspect the twenty-five babies so named in 2015 were more because of its similarity to the other names listed here than academic disagreements about its meaning and origin.

Social Security Card by Social Security Administration (Social Security Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Azelie (17): I know of a few families who prefer the full Azelie to Mother Martin’s lifelong nickname Zelie—both are authentically her, and Zelie can serve as Azelie’s nickname if desired.

Zaylee (270): Though I’d never seen this name until its steep increase in popularity surprised me in the 2015 data, two of my readers said they know of little Zaylees named for St. Zelie.

Zelie (50): With all the exposure I have to the name Zelie, I was sort of shocked to see that only fifty baby girls in the whole country were named Zelie in 2015. I bet between us we all know most of them!

Zellie (12): While it does indeed seem that some parents are choosing Zaylee to make obvious the pronunciation of Zelie they prefer, others are choosing the pronunciation and spelling Zellie.

What a fascinating bunch of names! And such a strange coincidence that our St. Zelie would enter our collective consciousness at the same time that the letter Z, flower names, and Iggy Azalea are hot and parents are primed for the next iteration of the Baylee/Kaylee trend. It’s like a perfect naming storm, and another example of how we Catholics can “baptize the world” — the next time you hear a name that sounds like Zaylee, be sure to tell them all about St. Zelie!

Do you know any little Zelies or Zaylees or any of the other names on this list? Do you agree with my assessment that a lot of different naming trends seem to be converging on Zaylee? What is your favorite form of the name, and would you/have you bestowed it on your daughter?

Copyright 2016 Katherine Morna Towne

Photos: Louis and Marie-Azélie Martin by Fraychero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons; Zélie Martin by unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Social Security Card by Social Security Administration (Social Security Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


About Author

Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 2 to 11. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.


  1. My Zélie was named for St. Zélie. I read St. Zélie’s letters after losing a baby in 2015. I found so much comfort in them that I told my husband that if I were to carry another baby to term that our girl name would be Zélie.

  2. Got ya beat – my Zelie Rose was born in 2008! And yes, she was named after (at that point) Blessed Zelie Martin.

  3. We didn’t even know of the name Zaylee (or any other variation) until we were blessed with our youngest in 2009. So how did we come up with it? Well, we have a very large family with 2 ads, 2 Ks, and 2 Ps, so we thought that the letter Z would be fun and break up the pairs listed above. I wanted her name to simply be “Zee” but my wife won the argument and Zaylee Marie simply seems to roll off the tongue.

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