One of you readers emailed me asking about the name Kelly! I haven’t heard anyone consider the name Kelly in a long time, it’s definitely in hibernation until its spring comes again (which it will, as it does for most names).
You know I love doing name research! So off to the dusty shelves I went and did indeed find a saint whose name is sometimes anglicized to Kelly: St. Cellach of Armagh. How cool! Behind the Name concurs that Kelly is a form of, as it spells it, Ceallach, whose meaning is uncertain but could include “bright-headed,” or from Old Irish ceallach “war, strife” or ceall “church.” I love the “church” meaning!
And in fact, that ties into another very cool thing about the name Cellach: there was a Cellach, the Abbott of the monastery at Iona (not the St. Cellach mentioned above), who fled raiding Vikings with his brethren and went to the Abbey of Kells (though “kells” here not having any connection to Cellach), which had been founded by St. Columba a couple hundred years earlier. Kells strikes me as a really easy way to update the name Kelly while retaining its Irishness and adding a shot of faith, no? Kells gave its name to the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript by those monks from Iona of the four gospels that has been described as one of Europe’s greatest treasures, and my favorite tidbit about it is that it “presents the earliest Madonna and Child image in any western manuscript” (source).
So I could see a Kelly taking St. Cellach of Armagh as patron, and loving the gospel/Marian/St. Columba connection of the similar-sounding and similarly spelled Kells. This could work for both a boy and girl, and in fact Kelly started as a male name, from the Irish surname. These days Kelly is nearly 100% girl (no. 514 for girls in 2016 as opposed to not at all in the top 1000 for boys), but thinking about St. Cellach and the Abbott Cellach definitely shows Kelly’s initial masculinity. I can also see parents loving Kells as a given name, and that might work better for boys these days.
For girls, names like Callie, Kayley/Keeley/Kiley, Ellie, and Zelie seem to have filled the Kelly spot for current parents, do you agree? But Kelly’s still familiar and fits in easily with those names I think.
What do you all think of Kelly? Do you know any little Kellys? Would you name your daughter Kelly, or have you? What about for a boy? Can you see Kelly working, or do you think Kells is a better option? Or neither?