The names Jentree and Gentree both debuted in the U.S. baby name data last year. Jentree was given to 14 baby girls, and Gentree to 6 more.
Though the original form of the name, Gentry, has been on the rise recently — and has given rise to spelling variants* — these two particular variants didn’t pop up until a video featuring towheaded 2-year-old Jentree Joles went viral.
A one-minute clip of Jentree getting emotional while watching the movie The Good Dinosaur (2015) — specifically, the part where a young dinosaur became separated from his family — was posted to social media by her aunt in September of 2017.
The video racked up nearly a million views overnight. By the time Jentree and her family were featured on the local news several weeks later (Oct. 6), the video had been viewed 75 million times across several different platforms.
Gentry — both the surname and the vocabulary word — mean the same thing: “nobility of birth or character.” The word can be traced back (via Anglo-Norman French genterie and Old French gentil) to the ancient Roman word gens, which referred to one’s clan or tribe.
The baby name Gentry is particularly popular in a handful of central-ish U.S. states: Oklahoma (where Joles is from), Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah. It’s strongly associated with country music via duo Montgomery Gentry and singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry (whose fame in the late ’60s inspired parents to use “Gentry” as a girl name more often).
What are your thoughts on the baby name Gentry? What spelling do you prefer?
Philadelphia native Grace Kelly appeared in her first movie in 1951. By 1955, she had become one of the biggest box-office draws in the nation. But she gave up her career as an actress to assume the role of a princess in 1956 when she married the ruler of Monaco.
I know of five baby names (so far) that got a boost thanks to Grace Kelly…
First thing’s first: Grace Kelly’s first name, Grace. It saw a two-year uptick in the mid-’50s:
1959: 1,660 baby girls named Grace [rank: 204th]
1958: 1,708 baby girls named Grace [rank: 198th]
1957: 1,917 baby girls named Grace [rank: 186th]
1956: 1,837 baby girls named Grace [rank: 189th]
1955: 1,390 baby girls named Grace [rank: 216th]
1954: 1,410 baby girls named Grace [rank: 213th]
Decades later, it would peak in the rankings at 13th place for two years in a row (2003 and 2004).
The rise of Kelly can’t be attributed to a single factor, as we saw yesterday. That said, I have no doubt that Grace Kelly played a part in feminizing the first name Kelly during the 1950s:
1959: 6,379 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 74th]
1958: 4,471 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 108th]
1957: 1,907 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 187th]
1956: 831 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 310th]
1955: 540 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 380th]
1954: 455 baby girls named Kelly [rank: 406th]
Grace Kelly’s paternal grandparents were Irish immigrants. The Irish surname Kelly can have several possible origins, but a common one is the Ó Ceallaigh, “descendant of Ceallach.” The meaning of the personal name Ceallach isn’t known for certain — some sources say “bright-headed,” others say it comes from a word meaning “war,” or a different word meaning “church.”
In 1968, the name Kelly saw peak usage on the boys’ list (97th) and then-peak usage on the girls’ list (12th). In 1977, thanks to the Charlie’s Angels character, it bounced back to reach an even higher peak for girls (10th).
Grace’s little sister Elizabeth “Lizanne” Kelly married Donald LeVine in Philadelphia in June of 1955. The same year, the baby name Lizanne debuted on the charts:
1959: 32 baby girls named Lizanne
10 born in Pennsylvania
1958: 39 baby girls named Lizanne [peak]
13 born in Pennsylvania
1957: 36 baby girls named Lizanne
10 born in Pennsylvania
1956: 32 baby girls named Lizanne
9 born in Pennsylvania
1955: 15 baby girls named Lizanne [debut]
Notice how the usage of Lizanne in the late ’50s was particularly high in Pennsylvania. It was the same through most of the ’60s as well.
Grace married Rainier III, the Prince of Monaco, in a lavish wedding in Monaco in April of 1956. The same year, the baby name Rainier debuted on the charts:
1957: 7 baby boys named Rainier
1956: 11 baby boys named Rainier [debut]
The name Rainier is ultimately based on the Germanic words ragin, meaning “advice, decision, counsel,” and hari, meaning “army.”
(The six bridesmaids at the wedding were named Bettina, Carolyn, Judith, Maree, Rita — actress Rita Gam — and Sally.)
Grace and Rainier had three children: Caroline, Albert, and Stephanie. The births of the latter two didn’t seem to have an effect on U.S. baby names, but the birth of Caroline in January of 1957 did give Caroline a bump that year:
1959: 1,046 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 273rd]
1958: 990 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 282nd]
1957: 1,135 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 253rd]
1956: 702 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 329th]
1955: 743 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 315th]
1954: 770 baby girls named Caroline [rank: 304th]
Toward the end of 1957, John and Jacqueline Kennedy — who were still several years away from becoming President and First Lady — also welcomed a daughter named Caroline. They didn’t get the idea from Grace Kelly, though. Caroline Kennedy was named after her maternal aunt, Caroline Lee Radziwill.
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?)
The influence wasn’t the movie that gave yesterday’s name Ilya a boost, but the Cold War-era spy show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which premiered on TV in 1964 and ran until 1968. (U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”)
The main characters were CIA agent Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and KGB agent Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin (played by David McCallum). Illya, a Slavic form of Elijah, was spelled out in the opening credits.
The name Napoleon may have also gotten a slight boost from the show, though it’s hard to tell.
When Ilya first popped up in the SSA’s baby name data, it appeared as a girl name in 1961:
1961: 5 baby girls named Ilya [debut]
Because the Greek romantic comedy Never on Sunday was released in October of 1960. It starred Greek actress Melina Mercouri as a free-spirited prostitute named Ilya.
The movie was a big hit, and Melina Mercouri was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (she lost to Elizabeth Taylor). The film earned four other nominations as well, but only won the Best Song category.
Interestingly, the trailer for the film starts with a string of names: “On Monday, it’s Tonio. On Tuesday, Boris. Wednesday is Spiro the fisherman’s day. And on Thursday, Jorgo’s the lucky fellow. Friday is devoted to Homer…”
Most sources classify the name Ilya and similar names (Iliya, Illya, Ilia, etc.) as male names — specifically, as forms of Elijah/Elias. So my best guess on the character name is that it was a nickname for Iliana, the feminine form of the Greek name Ilias (yet another form of Elijah/Elias).
Do you like the name Ilya? Do you prefer it as a girl name or as a boy name?