During the first half of the 20th century, the name Kelly was more of a boy name than a girl name. That is, it was given far more often to baby boys than to baby girls.
But things changed in the 1950s, when the overall usage of Kelly began to rise quickly — and rise faster for girls than for boys. The first year that more girls than boys were named Kelly was 1957:
# Girls Named Kelly
# Boys Named Kelly
6,379 (rank: 74th)
2,436 (rank: 142nd)
4,471 (rank: 108th)
2,299 (rank: 148th)
1,907 (rank: 187th)
1,868 (rank: 167th)
831 (rank: 310th)
1,472 (rank: 189th)
540 (rank: 380th)
1,251 (rank: 204th)
455 (rank: 406th)
960 (rank: 225th)
226 (rank: 590th)
845 (rank: 232nd)
Even though the gender switch happened in 1957, usage for boys continued to rise for several more years. Only in 1962 then did the two trajectories finally start to diverge.
So what’s behind both the popularization and feminization of the name Kelly in the 1950s? There seem to be at least three different influences (and possibly others that I haven’t discovered yet). Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Grace Kelly: actress, most popular around 1955/1956
Kelly and Me: movie, released in 1957
Bachelor Father: television show, aired from 1957 to 1962
I have a big post about Grace Kelly-inspired baby names scheduled for tomorrow, so for now I’ll just say that, if she was an influence here, she wouldn’t be the first famous actress to inspire parents to start using her surname as a girl name. Before her was Janet Gaynor, June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Debra Paget, Denise Darcel, Pier Angeli, etc.
The movie Kelly and Me, which co-starred Piper Laurie, is weirdly reminiscent of the 2008 movie Marley and Me. Both films feature a male dog as a main character, and both titular names saw increased usage as baby names — particularly girl names — the years the movies were released. Apparently neither the species nor the gender of the character mattered much to parents. (Here’s the popularity graph for Marley.)
The TV show Bachelor Father focused on a wealthy Beverly Hills attorney named Bentley Gregg who is raising his orphaned teenage niece, a female Kelly. The show clearly gave the name Bentley a boost in the late ’50s and early ’60s, nudging it into the top 1,000 for the first time in 1961, so no doubt it also helped American audiences see Kelly as a nice name for a daughter.
Do you like the name Kelly? Do you like it more as a girl name or as a boy name? (Or does it not matter to you?)
Laurette Taylor was an actress who appeared in films in the 1920s. She was born in New York in 1884. Her birth name was Loretta Cooney. Laurette was also a character played by actress Molly Lamont in the film Scared to Death (1947).
Lavolia was a character played by actress Etta McDaniel in the film Magnificent Brute (1936).
Leatrice Joy was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1950s. She was born in Louisiana in 1893. Leatrice Joy Gilbert (Leatrice Joy’s daughter) was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1940s. She was born in California in 1924.
Leontine Dranet was an actress who appeared in 2 films in the 1910s. Leontine was also a character name in multiple films, including The Closing Net (1915) and The Shielding Shadow (serial, 1916).
Lita Grey was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1940s. She was born in California in 1908. Her birth name was Lillita MacMurray. Lita was also a character name in multiple films, including Bachelor Apartment (1931) and The Girl from Monterrey (1943).
Lorna Gray was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was born in Michigan in 1917. Her birth name was Virginia Pound. Lorna was also a character name in multiple films, including Traffic in Souls (1913) and The Butterfly Girl (1921).
Luana Walters was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was born in California in 1912. Luana Patten was an actress who appeared in films from the 1940s to the 1980s. She was born in California in 1938. Luana was also a character played by actress Dolores del Rio in the film Bird of Paradise (1932).
Lucile Watson was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1950s. She was born in Canada in 1879. Lucile Browne was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was born in Tennessee in 1907. Lucile was also a character played by actress Marguerite Snow in the short film Lucile (1912).
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader looking for lists of old-fashioned double names. She was aiming for names like Thelma Dean, Eula Mae, and Gaynell — names that would have sounded trendy in the early 1900s. She also mentioned that she’d started a list of her own.
So I began scouring the interwebs. I tracked down lists of old-fashioned names, and lists of double names…but I couldn’t find a decent list of double names that were also old-fashioned.
I loved the idea of such a list, though, so I suggested that we work together to create one. She generously sent me the pairings she’d collected so far, and I used several different records databases to find many more.
I restricted my search to names given to girls born in the U.S. from 1890 to 1930. I also stuck to double names that I found written as single names, because it’s very likely that these pairings were used together in real life (i.e., that they were true double names and not merely first-middle pairings).
Pairings that seemed too timeless, like Maria Mae and Julia Rose, were omitted. I also took out many of the pairings that feature now-trendy names — think Ella, Emma, and Lucy — because they just don’t sound old-fashioned anymore (though they would have a few decades ago).
The result isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a decent sampling of real-life, old-fashioned double names. I’ve organized them by second name, and I also added links to popularity graphs for names that were in the SSA data during the correct time period (early 1900s).
Rafaela Ottiano was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1940s. She was born in Italy in 1888. Rafaela was also a character played by actress Alice Joyce in the short film The Bag of Gold (1912).
Reno Browne was an actress who appeared in films from the 1940s to the 1950s. She was born in (Reno) Nevada in 1921. Her birth name Josephine Ruth Clarke. Reno was also a character played by actress Ethel Merman in the film Anything Goes (1936).
Rosina Galli was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was born in Italy in 1906. Rosina was also a character played by actress Jose Collins in the film The Last Stake (short, 1923).
Rosita Marstini was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1940s. She was born in France in 1887. Rosita was also a character name in multiple films, including Hell’s Valley (1931) and Zoo in Budapest (1933).