KaylaTake an obscure Hebrew name, add a blockbuster soap opera character … and ta da, one of the most popular names of the 1990s.

90s Week continues with Kayla as our Baby Name of the Day.

I first heard Kayla on NBC’s soap opera Days of Our Lives.  It’s probably the first place you heard Kayla, too.

Good girl Kayla Brady debuted on daytime television on January 1982.  Like many of her family members, she was a doctor, the daughter of Shawn and Caroline Brady – though she’s a nurse in those early seasons.

That was the year that we really started naming our daughters Kayla.  In 1981, there were 318 newborn girls given the name.  In 1982?  That number skyrocketed to 2,275.

Miss Brady left the show briefly, then came back and fell into love with bad boy Steve Johnson – known as Patch thanks to his, well, eye patch.  Because he lost an eye in a fight with another Brady.

Very Romeo and Juliet.

The pair became a supercouple, dealt with the trials and tribulations any soap opera romance demands, and generally pushed the show’s ratings into the stratosphere.

Patch and Kayla first fell in love in 1986.  More than 4,600 girls were given the name that year.

There are three possible histories for Kayla pre-soap opera:

  • The name is often listed as a variant of Katherine – or at least given Katherine’s meaning “pure.”  That’s because Kay started out as a short form of the classic name.  I’ve always had a hard time seeing Kayla as a variant of Katherine – it seems like Kayla emerged independently, and the two were grafted together for convenience’s sake later.  Nonetheless, and some girls called Kayla were probably named after a grandmother Katherine.
  • Then there’s Kelilah, a Hebrew name meaning crown.  Kaila is a form of Kelilah. I’m not sure it follows that Caylah is also a form of Kelilah, but it isn’t out of the question.
  • Lastly, Kayla’s rise coincides with the popularity of Makayla, and lots of other ways to respell Michaela, a traditional – but little-used – feminine form of Michael.  Since Chaela doesn’t quite represent the sound – even Caela isn’t super-intuitive – you’d be forgiven for respelling it to the phonetic Kayla.

And yet it is tough to argue that parents embraced Kayla in order to honor loved ones named Katherine or Michael.  It’s unlikely that over 4,000 families were looking for a stylish, but traditional, Hebrew name.

This is a name that was made on pure sound.  Kayla’s peak year was 1991, when she ranked #12, and was joined in the rankings by:

  • Kaila was also climbing.
  • Kaitlyn was still a Top 100 name.
  • Kaylee ranked #199 and was climbing fast, as were Kayleigh and Kaylie.
  • Don’t forget Makayla and Mikayla, both on the rise, even as the more traditional Michaela fell.
  • Other Kay- names were having their moment, too, like Kaylin.  (Or Kaylyn, or Kaylynn …)

Like many a name with a meteoric rise, Kayla’s fall could be equally quick.  While she’s been in the US Top 100 since the 1980s, and still charted at #95 in 2013, Kayla feels like a waning name.

Kayla won’t age any worse than Linda or Barbara, Jennifer or Melissa – or many a name that was once heard everywhere for little girls.  Even as I write, those 80s Kaylas are starting families of their own, bringing this one into mom-name territory.

And who knows?  Maybe in another hundred years or so, Kayla will top the list of vintage gems ready for revival.

Do you think Kayla is one of the defining names of the 1990s?  Do you prefer Kayla, Kaylee, or Makayla?

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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What do you think?


  1. Whenever I hear the name Kayla I always think if Kayla Brady. Thought I was the only one! For a time it was my favourite name.

  2. I know a Kayla. Her parents were very forward-thinking with all their girls’ names: Rhonda, Kayla, Kendra, Sharina. The youngest is mid-forties, and Kayla isn’t it! Only Rhonda fits the Beach Boys era she was born into; the rest were ahead of their time.

  3. I’ve always liked it but it as an old Yiddish name. Yiddish had a number of contracted forms of Hebrew names: Tzippa and Kayla happen a LOT in my family tree.

    Is Keila/Kaila a better spelling to emphasize the Yiddish-ness of it? Or does it only look misspelled? Maybe I’ll stick to Baila/Beila or Reina.

    I do like Kay as a name itself, and it actually is starting to feel fresher than all the Kaylee/Katelyn forms? Or am I crazy?

    My mom doesn’t believe that “anyone still alive” would have this name as it’s “so Old Country” and that makes me laugh. She doesn’t look at the Social Security data ever, nor watch much TV, as you can probably tell.

  4. I have a third cousin with this name, except her parents spell her name Kaeila, pronounced the same way. She was born in late spring 2006. Her little sister is named Aleena (born summer 2009).