Spotlight on: Kelly

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?

 

Baby name consultation: Boy no. 5 needs a name that fits with the very cool style of his siblings

Mary and her husband are hopeful adoptive parents, set to welcome a baby boy into their family this fall — their fifth son! Big sibs are:

Curtice Andrew (nicknamed Curt)
Leavitt Thomas
Hayden Matthew
Johnston James (nicked Johns)
Elizabeth Anne Larkin (called Larkin)

I love love love this family’s style, as all the boys have family surnames as first names and their daughter goes by a family surname as well! So well done!

Mary writes,

Our daughter joined our family through an open domestic adoption. We chose Elizabeth Anne with her birth mom as her first name as a nod to Larkin’s mom’s step mother who passed away and my beloved grandmother.

This little guy will also join our family through an open adoption, God willing. [A surname in his mom’s family] is Bennett so are tentatively planning to use that as his first name but are open to Duncan, Collins, and to a lesser extent Thomas as a first name only because we have used Thomas already and it doesn’t really fit with the others. Basically the only remaining suitable boy surnames.”

I love their whole mindset, and such great names to choose from!

One issue that Mary specifically noted is that all of their boys have apostles’ names as middle names, but there are issues with the remaining apostles’ names. As she writes,

We need help with a middle name.

We are considering Peter (my dad) or Michael (Chris’ dad) but don’t know if we want to use two middle names and my dad doesn’t really like his name, but it does follow the conventions we have followed thus far ie apostle middle name. Our thinking there is the first names are a little modern so we wanted strong middle names they can use,

We thought about Phillip but it doesn’t feel right.

I like the idea of a Marian boys name or perhaps even Joseph as a nod to my husband [it’s her husband’s middle name].

Or maybe Gabriel, my confirmation name? or Mark, Chris’ confirmation name. Maybe expand and consider Luke or Paul?

So my first thought regarding middle names for boys is to change from “apostles’ names” to “New Testament names” or even more broadly “biblical names.” My guess is that if they were to give this little guy the middle name Luke, for example, no one will look at the boys’ middle names and say, “Wait a minute. The first four all have names of the apostles while the fifth one doesn’t!” Rather, people will think, “New Testament names” if they even have a thought about their style at all. Andrew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Peter, Michael, Joseph, Philip, Luke, and Paul are all such common names (and I don’t mean “common” in any negative way) that I think they’re less thought of as “biblical names” and more thought of as “traditional, masculine boy names.” Certainly parents who are choosing names are tuned in to the nuances, and those who love names might notice, but I don’t think it would register to even me that the first four are specifically apostles’ names. So I hope that gives Mary and her hubs some peace about branching out! It wouldn’t be breaking from their tradition, it would be renaming it.

That said, I do have some ideas of how to retain their apostle theme while still working with the parameters and name ideas Mary provided.

Before I get into that though, I wanted to comment on the names they’re considering. I mentioned already that I love Bennett — how crazy awesome is it that a family surname in his mom’s family tree is so well suited to being a first name! I think it’s a slam dunk, truly.

If they wanted to be talked out of Bennett though, I can think of two little niggling points: (1) it ends in “tt” like Leavitt. This can be either a pro or a con — a pro in that it links his name in really closely to one of the older boys, which can be really sweet; a con in that they would have two with the same ending. But thinking about it more, Hayden, Johnston, and Larkin all end in the same sound, and I didn’t even realize until I checked to see, so I’m sure Bennett and Leavitt are fine. (2) While I really do love the connection to his mom in the name, I wonder if there’s something a little off about having this baby’s first name NOT be from Mary/Mary’s husband’s family tree, which all the other kids’ names do — might this new baby feel a little left out? I know this is a sensitive topic, and I don’t have answers — I just want to raise the questions so they’re sure they’ve thought it all through.

If they were to ask my opinion, I would definitely say to take Thomas off the table. It’s a great name! But there are lots of great names, and I’d love to see them choose a new one.

I like both Duncan and Collins, and I thought Collins a particularly promising choice because of another idea I had: considering surnames that are derived from biblical first names. Collins can be derived from Nicholas, which is a New Testament name, which — if Mary and her hubs could get on board with that idea — could free up the middle name spot to do something different than a biblical/New Testament/apostle name.

I love Gabriel, Joseph, and Luke — I would consider them all Marian (Gabriel and Joseph because of the significant roles they played in her life and motherhood, and Luke because his gospel is the most Marian and contains her Magnificat), and they’re all New Testament names, which fits in so nicely with the others. Luke especially has the same feel as the others, due to his being an evangelist like Matthew and John. I like that Joseph is Mary’s husband’s middle too, that’s a really nice thing for their new baby. Mark and Paul are fine names too, and also keep with the feel of the others — I bet a lot of people think Paul was one of the original twelve, and Mark being an evangelist gives him the feel of an apostle for many people.

Okay! Now on to new ideas. I know the reason Mary emailed is because she wants new middle name ideas, but honestly, I could only think of one: Simon! They’ve already considered Peter and Philip, and I don’t think Nathanael/Bartholomew or Jude/Thaddeus are quite right for them (in those forms anyway; see below). There were two Simons in the twelve — Simon Peter of course and Simon the Zealot — and it’s a great name, it’s got a bookish feel that I think goes well with surname first names. Bennett Simon would be quite nice. It doesn’t have a great flow with Duncan or Collins though. I wonder if Simon could also be used as a nod to Mary’s dad? I think most people think of Simon Peter when they think of Simon, so it could be a way of honoring him that doesn’t use his name.

But I did have a lot of ideas for first names that help grapple with their issues and maybe help them look at things in a new way and come up with some new ideas. For example:

(1) Pierce (or Piers)
I really really like Pierce for them. It certainly has use as a first name, but it’s also an English surname that really fits the vibe of their other kids I think. Best yet, it’s a variant of Peter, so it would be using Mary’s dad’s name in a new way (thus hopefully working around the fact that he doesn’t like his name), which is also an apostle’s name (so they’d be able to stick with what they’ve already done in the sense of giving each of their boys an apostle’s name; let’s leave for the moment the fact that the others all have the apostle’s name in the middle and this would be putting it up front), AND I’ve seen it used in honor of Simeon’s prophecy that Mary’s heart would be pierced by a sword, which gives it a Marian character. They could also consider the variant Piers, which takes away the Marian element but is another cool way to honor a Peter. This is a slight departure from what they’ve done already in terms of the strict definition of using a family surname; but at the same time they can argue it’s the same as they’ve already done — used a surname as a first name that has heavy family ties.

If they used Pierce, they could put Michael in the middle and get both grandpas there in one name. Pierce Bennett feels perhaps too surname heavy, but Bennett is actually a medieval diminutive of Benedict, and I really like Pierce Benedict. Or would that take it too far from the connection to the mom? Benedict/Bennett means “blessed,” which can also point to Our Lady, which I love. I also love the idea of two middle names for this baby — different from his brothers but something he can share with Larkin, who came to their family in the same way, and would open up another slot for fitting in a name from his mom while still allowing Mary and her hubs to honor their family members.

(2) Miles or Mitchell
Anyone who’s been reading for a while knows that I push Miles a lot! I love it because it has traditional usage in Ireland as the anglicization of the old Irish name Maolmhuire, which means “servant of the Virgin Mary.” I love that! But, I’ve also seen it connected to Michael — I’ve seen it as a nickname for Michael, which I think is so cool, and I’ve seen it suggested as possibly originating as a variant of Michael (read more about it here). So Miles can be another surname-type name that could work as a first name with their theme while also honoring Grandpa Michael.

Mitchell is another idea along these lines. You all know that I almost always start a consultation by looking up the names the parents have used and like/are considering in The Baby Name Wizard as it lists, for each entry, boy and girl names that are similar in terms of style/feel/popularity. Mitchell was listed as a style match for Curtis, which I thought was a reasonable stand-in for Curtice. Mitchell’s use as a first name comes from the surname Mitchell, which came from the first name Michael. So another way to use a name with a similar feel in the first name spot that nods to an important family member!

(Fun fact: Miles is also a style match for Bennett!)

(3) Elliott
When I saw Elliott listed as a style match for Bennett, I immediately thought it deserved a mention. Like Bennett, it’s a medieval diminutive of a different name — in this case, Elias, which is the Greek form of Elijah. Elliott became a surname, and then a first name, so it’s got that surname history and biblical origin. Of course Elias/Elijah is Old Testament rather than New, but if they broaden their theme to “biblical” it works.

(4) Bates, or Bartlett
Two surnames that derive from Bartholomew are Bates (how cool!) and Bartlett. Bartlett might be too similar to Bennett? Like, if they’re going to consider Bartlett, let’s just go all the way and do Bennett? But Bates is awesome. It takes care of the apostle theme, and then they could do any of their family names in the middle. I love Bates Michael, Bates Joseph, and even Bates Benedict (how scholarly sounding!). I don’t even mind Bates Bennett, the pleasantness to me of the alliteration balances out the possible negativity of two surnames in a row. Or Bates Michael Bennett, for example, which is also really handsome.

(5) Judd
Judd isn’t as clean an idea as some of the others — my sources mostly say it’s a variant of (and surname derived from) the name Jordan, but the Surname Database, which usually matches up quite well with my reliable sources, says Judd has three possible origins, one of which is as a variant of Jude. So that can work for Jude Thaddeus. I like Judd Michael, Judd Simon, Judd Benedict/Bennett, etc.

And those are all my ideas! What do you all think? What name(s) would you suggest that fit with the names and theme they’ve already used?