She’s a surname choice boosted by a TV show – but she’d probably have caught on anyway.

Thanks to Urban Angel for suggesting Kelsey as Baby Name of the Day.

If you were watching LA Law in the 80s – and everyone was watching LA Law in the 80s – you’ll probably recall Jill Eikenberry’s character, Ann Kelsey. Actor Michael Tucker played fellow attorney Stuart Markowitz. (The television couple was married in real life, too.) In the third season, Stuart and Ann adopt a baby girl, only to have to return her to her birth mother.

The baby’s given name? Ann’s surname, Kelsey.

The popularity of the show and the buzz around the story line alone would be enough to launch a name into the rankings. But Kelsey had debuted in the US Top 1000 way back in 1977, charting at #961 for girls. Plenty of factors were in her favor:

  • Her resemblance to Kelly was a plus. 1977 marked Kelly’s best year – she peaked at #10. Kelsey was a logical successor choice;
  • She also fit with Tracy and Stacy, both Top 50 picks in 1977 before considering variant spellings;
  • It was early days for the current wave of surname names on girls. While Madison and Taylor had yet to appear, Mackenzie was already catching on.

Little wonder, then, that Kelsey climbed long after LA Law left the air, peaking at #23 in 1992. In 2009, Kelsey still came in at a respectable #210. She’s falling, but she’s not gone yet.

Some parents probably appreciate Kelsey’s gender-bending vibe. Like many a surname name, this one has also been worn by men, including the highly visible actor Kelsey Grammer. For boys, Kelsey appeared in the US Top 1000 from 1970 through 1996, peaking at #633 in 1989. Grammer’s character, psychologist turned radio personality Frasier Crane, is among the longest running characters ever created on the small screen. Kelsey’s rise coincides with Grammer’s star turn on Cheers and spin-off Frasier, from 1984 through 2004.

Kelsey’s roots as a surname are clear, and virtually everyone agrees she’s English. But her exact origins are debated:

  • Some cite the elements cēol – ship, as in our word keel – and sige, victory;
  • Others link the name to a place name. In that case, the ending comes from -eg – island, and there’s still some conversation about the first half;
  • It could also be an Americanized form of unrelated surnames.

But I suspect that most parents who chose Kelsey just liked her sound, and maybe her K. Other two-syllable, starts-with-K, ends in -ee names in use in the past four decades include:

  • Keri, Kerri, Kerry, Kerrie;
  • Keely;
  • Kylie, Kylee, Kiley;
  • Kirby;
  • Kali;
  • Kaylee, Kaley, Kailey, Kaleigh, Kailee, Kayli, Kayley;
  • Kacie, Kacey, Kaci, Kasie, Kacy, Kaycee;
  • Kassie;
  • Kathy;
  • Katie, Kati, Katy;
  • Kami;
  • Karly, Karli, Karlie, Karlee, Karley;
  • Kari, Karrie;
  • Kinsey;
  • Kinley;
  • Kenzie;
  • Kenley.

File Kelsey with Kinley and Kirby rather than Kari and Kailee. While respellings like Kelcie, Kelsea and Kelsi are fleeting, Kelsey remains a valid surname choice. She can’t be called unexpected, and she feels a smidge dated circa 2010. But she’ll wear as well as Riley or Bailey. And especially if she’s a family name, she could still present an appealing option for a daughter.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. Kelsey must have been reasonably popular in my area and generation, because I know several. The most unexpected, though, is a teenage boy! He’s a daycare worker at the school where I teach.

  2. I’m not a fan, but I do prefer her to Kelly on a girl. I have a younger cousin names Chelsea Katrina, her best friend was given the honour of naming a younger sibling. The name she chose? Kelsey Katrina. I believe little Kelsey is still the only Kelsey I know. She’s a sweet thing, but I can’t cotton on to the name.

  3. Thanks for doing this as NOTD!

    Kelsey is nice, but I’m not crazy about her. It’s a pleasant sound and I think that it would age pretty well (or at least where I live), but it’s not really something I’d consider. That said, if I were to ever consider a ‘k’ name, it’d probably would be this of Keira (I wouldn’t use the traditional spelling Ciara for this specific name).I do think that Kels sounds really cute.

    Overall, it’s a nice name , but it doesn’t inspire cheerleader jumps out of me

    Anyhoo, thanks !

    1. While I know many name aficionados have strong feelings about last names in the first spot, there’s a long tradition of promotion. And I think many surnames wear better than other choices – I can see Kelsey as a little girl or an adult. Ditto Kenley, Kinsey and company. But Kaylie, Karrie and Kaycee seem more challenging, even though they’re really not any different. Then again, it might just be the spelling – Kelci seems to be about as lightweight as Kayleigh.