Why Is the Name “Ned Kelly” Illegal in NSW?

ned kelly

Ned Kelly

A recent post over at Waltzing More Than Matilda mentioned Ned Kelly — someone I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while now.

I discovered Ned’s name several years ago in an article about baby name laws in New South Wales, where names can be rejected for being offensive, obscene, too long, and “contrary to the public interest,” among other things.

Ned Kelly was one of the off-limits names listed in the article. This confused me, as “Ned Kelly” seemed like such an innocuous combination. What was I missing?

Well, turns out the name isn’t so innocuous after all if you’re in Australia.

Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854-1880) was a notorious Irish-Australian bushranger. Here’s how Anna of Waltzing More Than Matilda describes him:

Ned Kelly was the son of an Irish convict, and gained notoriety as a horse thief and cattle rustler before being convicted of bank robbing and murder. He was hanged on November 11 1880. He looms large in the Australian imagination, and is widely seen as a folk hero, and a symbol of Irish-Australian resistance against the ruling classes and police corruption. There is in the Ned Kelly legend a particular type of Australian masculinity which is admired: physically powerful, ballsy, defiant, daring, anti-authority, and an under-dog. The phrase, As game as Ned Kelly, is the ultimate praise for bravery, and his legend has spawned countless folk stories and ballads – not to mention a few films.

The closest U.S. equivalent I can think of is Jesse James, but no U.S. state I know of has banned the name Jesse James, either as an all-in-one first (e.g., Jessejames) or as a first-middle combo.

For all the Australians out there: Would you be shocked/offended if you met a young child named Ned Kelly?

Sources: Metallica’s fine, but not Ned Kelly, Famous Names: Ned Kelly

7 Responses to Why Is the Name “Ned Kelly” Illegal in NSW?

  1. I couldn’t tell from the original article if it was illegal to call your child Ned Kelly [Surname], of if you weren’t allowed to call your child Ned if your surname was Kelly.

    I do think it’s a silly law, and not really enforceable, as you could easily call your child Edward Kelly and nickname him Ned.

    It wouldn’t offend me to meet a child called Ned Kelly, although it would give people a lot of information about your background and politics, because there’s definitely a type of Australian who is very “into” Ned Kelly.

  2. Thanks for your perspective! Yeah, that makes sense. Just like all the babies in the U.S. now named Palin — not shocking, really, but very revealing about the family’s politics.

  3. I wouldn’t be shocked to meet a Ned Kelly so much as simply surprised. My first reaction would definitely be to wonder if they were joking….

  4. Brooke, couldn’t agree more. Not shocking, but surprising, and it sounds like a joke. I hope I wouldn’t laugh to their faces, but I would definitely laugh about it to myself.

    In that way, I don’t think it’s exactly like Jesse James, because Jesse and James are common boy’s names anyway. You couldn’t assume that someone named Jesse James was after the outlaw – but there’s no mistaking why someone is named Ned Kelly.

  5. While Jesse and James aren’t uncommon, together they very much make me think of the outlaw. If a child was called Jesse James, both names together, I do think that most people would assume he was named after the outlaw.

  6. Same here, Heidi. And I also think most people (in the U.S., anyway) would think “Jesse James” is a reference to the outlaw.

  7. Jesse James also makes me think of the outlaw – very strongly!

    However, being logical about it, because Jesse and James are both classic, common names, you can’t automatically assume that a Jesse James has been deliberately named by his parents in honour of the outlaw. Maybe they just liked the name Jesse, and James is a family name.

    (Just recently there was a mother on Name Candy who was set on the name George RR Martin for her son, and didn’t even know the writer existed until she Googled).

    I sometimes see babies called George Lucas or Michael Jackson, and although they also remind me very strongly of the celebrities, I can’t be certain that they are named in honour of those celebrities, since George, Lucas, Michael and Jackson are all in the Top 100. Jesse James seems to fit in with names like that.

    Whereas Ned Kelly is like a baby named Clint Eastwood or Kanye West – there is no way I could accept that those name combinations were chosen by coincidence.

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