Where did the baby name Gelsey come from in 1979?

American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (as Kitri from "Don Quixote") on the cover of Time magazine (May 1978)
Gelsey Kirkland

One of the pop culture baby names we’re keeping an eye on right now is Misty, which may have gotten a boost in 2015 thanks to ballerina Misty Copeland.

But before we find out about Misty (in a matter of days!) let’s talk about Gelsey, which first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1979:

  • 1981: unlisted
  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: 5 baby girls named Gelsey [debut]
  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: unlisted

The inspiration?

American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, whose first name is pronounced with a hard g, like Gilbert and Gertrude.

Gelsey Kirkland started dancing at the age of 8. She was asked to join the New York City Ballet (NYCB) in 1968, at the age of 15. She was promoted to soloist in 1970, then promoted to principal dancer (the highest rank possible) in 1972.

In the mid-1970s, she left the NYCB to join the American Ballet Theater and begin her memorable partnership with Mikhail Baryshnikov. They danced together in Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, and most famously in a televised performance of The Nutcracker, which aired in late 1977.

In May of 1978, Gelsey — dressed as Kitri from Don Quixote — was featured on the cover of Time magazine. This is likely what gave her name the exposure it needed to debut in the baby name data in 1979.

[She might have had an even earlier impact on the charts had she performed alongside Baryshnikov, as planned, in the dance movie The Turning Point (1977). Instead the part was played by ballerina Leslie Browne, who received an Oscar nomination.]

She left dance for a while during in the mid-1980s (due to drug addiction, among other things) but eventually returned. During the 2010s, she taught at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet in New York City.

The name Gelsey also returned: It’s been a regular in the U.S. baby name data since the mid-1990s.

What do you think of the name Gelsey?


Image: © 1978 Time

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Gelsey come from in 1979?

  1. Quite acceptable, but it does put me in mind of the name Kelsey. Same diff?

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