Name of the Day: Kelly

Conventional wisdom holds that once a masculine moniker is widely used for girls, it cannot be bestowed on a son.

Thanks to Laney McDonald for suggesting one choice that could prove that rule wrong. Our Name of the Day is Kelly.

For girls, Kelly peaked at #10 in 1977, and spent 1968 through 1980 in the Top Twenty. A lot of Kellys are having children of their own these days. (During the 1970s, Kelli, Kellie, Keli and Kellee all charted in the Girls’ Top 1000, too.)

But the impeccably Irish name was once worn by far more men than women. A sixth century saint wore the name, keeping it in use through the years. In fact, Kelly for a boy was a Top 200 pick from the 50s through the 70s – just as it was gaining for girls. He didn’t leave the US Top 1000 until 2002. Variant version Kelley hasn’t ranked for boys since 1982.

Regardless of spelling or gender, all the Kellys trace their roots back to the Old Irish Ceallach. Like many a given name, Ceallach inspired a surname, usually seen as Ó Ceallaigh. The exact origins are debated:

  • It could come from ceall – church;
  • Others connect it to ceallach – war;
  • Bright-headed is another traditional meaning, though that’s harder to trace;
  • A few other sources link Kelly to the Welsh celli or Gaelic coille – grove.

Today, it’s a common surname. During the twentieth century, kelly also became a shade of green.

Those who have worn it include:

  • Actor and dancer (think Singin’ in the Rain) Gene Kelly;
  • Hollywood royalty turned just-plain-royalty Grace Kelly;
  • Not-quite-a-princess Autumn Kelly, married Peter Phillips – and became the granddaughter-in-law of England’s Queen Elizabeth II;
  • The late Heath Ledger played Australian outlaw/folk hero Ned Kelly in a 2003 big screen adaptation;
  • The original American Idol, Kelly Clarkson;
  • Perky morning show co-host Kelly Ripa;
  • We met Kelly Osbourne, daughter of aging rocker Ozzy, on reality TV;
  • Pro surfer Kelly Slater works to reclaim the name for the boys, as do a handful of NFL, NHL and MLB notables;
  • There’s also ER alum Kellie Martin;
  • Along with Skipper, one of Barbie’s little sister dolls is called Kelly;

But most famous Kellys can be found on the small screen. Aspiring actresses take note – if you’re offered a role as Kelly? Take it. There’s:

  • Charlie’s Angels‘ Kelly Garrett;
  • Married with Children’s Kelly Bundy;
  • The Office’s Kelly Kapoor;
  • Saved by the Bell’s Kelly Kapowski;
  • 90210’s Kelly Taylor.

Today, Kelly comes in at #248 for girls and is unranked for boys. While Kelly is still in use, she’s been eclipsed by Kaylie, Kinley and company – none of which sound especially fresh.

But somehow on a boy, Kelly seems interesting again. Charmed alum Holly Marie Combs (she played Piper) chose it for her third son, Kelley James. (He’s little brother to Finley Arthur and Riley Edward.)

It’s too soon to say if Kelly will cross back to the boys’ side – but on the long list of names that have been borrowed, he seems among the most likely contenders.

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29 Comments

I always disliked girly names on guys but my son was in school with a boy named Kellie (yes, with the ie, not a y) and I’ve come to like it. What I found interesting is that he has three younger brothers and they all have names that sound like girls.

There’s Kellie, Kacie, Krissie, and Katie. That’s the order they were born and you notice that, in my opinion, they got girlyr with each boy. (Katie, goes by the initials KT.)

I think maybe the family really wanted daughters. Krissie, by the way, is now in high and quite a football player. I think someone would be ill-advised to tease him about his name. He’s a BIG kid.

I have to agree that even with me being one who likes unisex or softer names for boys that some of those names are a stretch for a boy. Kellie and Kacie would easily be usable in my opinion if they were spelled Kelly and Casey (or some other “standard” spelling), but the spellings used in that sibset make them girlier in my opinion. Krissie is barely passable, maybe a little more so if it were a nickname for Christopher or some other Chris/Kris name. Katie on a boy (unless it is strictly an initial nickname) is a downright “Boy Named Sue” type name to me (unlike Krissie I can’t think of any masculine names right off hand that would easily lend to Katie as a nickname).

For the nickname Katie, Kato is the only one I can think of.

I really wish there were more options for this one, since my mom is Kathy and I’d love to honor her in a son’s name.

I have 2 male Kelly’s in my family. My brother-in-law gave himself the nickname “Kelly” because he is a big fan of R. Kelly. I refuse to call him that because his real name is the dashing Jude, which I love!

My husband’s cousin’s son (yes, that is a mouthful), goes by the nickname Kelly as well. I’m not sure how that came about.

Both of my Kelly’s are Nigerians living in Spain and Ireland, respectively.

I don’t love it for either, because their real names are more interesting to me. I don’t really like Kelly for male or female. It could be because my full name is Shelly, so it’s so close to Kelly. And the sheer abundance of Kelly’s in their assorted spellings in my generation makes the name still tired for me.

I like Kelly for a boy, hate it for a girl. My nephew is named Kelly. He is a junior. My sister then named her next son Aubrey….I can’t wait to see what her next child is named!

I also like Kelly on a boy but find the female version too much linked with vapid teens. Boys with girls’ names have a certain charm. Bewildertrix, I like Ashley too! Although I would still be hesitant to use it myself as a first name, I love the combo Alexander Ashely. Lauren is another that should come back to the male side.

“Although I would still be hesitant to use it myself as a first name”

It’s something I still ponder despite living in NZ where Ashley is still used on boys albeit not as frequently as girls. I spotted another little Ashley in the paper the other day.

Alexander Ashley is lovely.

There are lots of male names I’d love to see come back, one being Meredith.

My husband’s middle name is Kelly, after my father-in-law, who’s first name is Kelly. I never liked it on a boy OR a girl until I met their family, now I love it (but only the male version)! I think anyone would appreciate the name on a boy as soon as they got used to it.

I like Kelly on both genders. Believe it or not, I have an uncle Kelly and a sister Kelly. My sister wasn’t named after the uncle; my parents just liked the name for her. And the uncle is my dad’s brother so they both have the same last name as well. However, my uncle generally goes by Kels and has for most of his life. I guess that shows the progression of the name from male to female (my sis was born in the mid/late 80s).

I adore Kelly on a boy, but find it blah on a girl. Another name I love on boys but find barely so-so on ladies is Dana (has that ever been NOTD? I’d love to see that one), and also Robin.

Here’s hoping to see a revival of those on the male side of our population 🙂

As a “Kelley”, I feel obliged to comment on this post. I’ve never been a huge fan of my name, but I did like the alternate spelling my parents chose (I often tell people that it makes the name more symmetrical.) 🙂

In high school, I was one of 6 “Kell(e)ys” in a class of only 69 people. One of the six of us was male, the others all went by our last names for the full four years. That male Kelly didn’t inspire any love for the name on a guy, but I could see its appeal.

Sporting such a popular name all these years has in part fueled my own name obsession — I guess I was just interested in what might have been. A name with nickname options, perhaps? A name that wasn’t shared by nearly 10% of my classmates? A name that doesn’t evoke images of teens from the 80s? … But alas, Kelley it is and Kelley it shall stay.

The only thing I love about my name is its nod to my Irish heritage: my grandmother’s maiden name was Kelly, and her mother’s maiden name was Kelley. So when my great-grandmother got married, her last name changed only in spelling. When she died, however, her surname was actually misspelled on her gravestone — the ultimate proof of the curse of unique spellings!

Kelleita, having grown up an Amy, I hear you! In my late teens, I remember belonging to a group where the Kellys far outnumbered the Amys for once – I was so relieved. 😉 But I did spent lots of childhood hours daydreaming up other names for myself. And, of course, I finally did settle on one of those. Now I’m Abby.

And so are countless toddlers.

You really, really, really can’t win!

I hope to include it as a middle name for any future son in an attempt to ‘rectify’ the mistake made on me by my father. Kelly/Kellie/Kelley on a girl bites and feels like the Reilly/Kennedy of the 70’s/80’s – at least to me having lived with it. It would be too awkward and selfish to have a “Junior” so middle name it is. I’d likely spell it Celly too given I hate Ks.

If not that, Ceallach or Cillian are names I’d consider.

With Ashley still found on boys here, I have no doubt Kelly will return at some stage.

I only like Kelly on a boy. On a boy, it feels cool, brisk, and sporty. I really dislike it on a girl and would be really excited to see a comeback for this on males.

Ditto this 100%.

Kelly would definitely be on our list for a boy, but I dated a guy named Kelly before I met my husband — he was actually named after Gene Kelly [whom his mother loved] — Kelly Gene LastName. I thought that was cute.

I like Kelly on a boy. One of my cousins (he is almost 15) is named Kelly. I used to dismiss it, saying it was too girly, but once I met my cousin for the first time maybe 5 years ago, I changed my mind.

Kelly is one of my most favorite boys names! I love it so much, it’s just really sexy. My neighbor used to be in the NFL and his name is Kelly, he’s big and burly. And he pays my little brother to shovel dirt, I don’t like him much. Anyway, I love the name. I think it’s one of the best surnames out there, too, makes all first names that don’t end in ee sound better (wouldn’t work for me, Lyndsay Kelly?).

If I could convince my husband, I’d use it in a heartbeat. I think it’d make an amazing nickname for Cillian/Killian, too.

Kelly is definitely one of those names that I’d love to see on a boy, and that I actually think could make a comeback. (Madison and Whitney probably won’t come back to us, but Addison, Leslie, and maybe Mackenzie? It could happen.) Kelly is such, such a lovely name. Love it to death. *Goes off to pet Kelly on her boy’s list*

I also suggested Kelly as a Name of the Day, but I guess the aforementioned Laney McDonald suggested it before I did. The reason I suggested it is because my name is Kelly…and I am male. I like my name and would be excited to see it make a comeback for the boys!