Where did the baby name Keely come from in 1957?

Keely Smith's album "I Wish You Love" (1959).
Keely Smith album

At a time when Kelly was bounding up the baby name charts, we see the debut (and quick rise) of the very similar Keely:

  • 1959: 119 baby girls named Keely
  • 1958: 84 baby girls named Keely
  • 1957: 7 baby girls named Keely [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: unlisted

Keely debuted the year Virginia-born jazz vocalist Keely Smith had her first big solo hit, “I Wish You Love.” The next year, she and her duet partner/husband Louis Prima scored another hit with the song “That Old Black Magic.” In fact, the song won ‘Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus’ at the very first Grammy Awards, in May of 1959.

Keely Smith, born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, had spent much of the ’50s performing in Vegas with Prima. He had originally wanted to call her Dottie Mae Smith (Smith being her stepfather’s name) but, as she later said: “I was no Dottie Mae.” They settled on using her Irish surname as her first name instead. (The surname means “descendant of Caollaidhe,” with “Caollaidhe” being a male personal name derived from caol, meaning “slender.”)

Which name do you prefer, Keely or Kelly?


2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Keely come from in 1957?

  1. Ok, so I’m your oddball patron lol I do love Keely, as I love the unusual.
    That being said, I LOVE the spelling Caollaidhe ( much better than Queally- looks like queasy lol) I just can’t imagine in real life a kid would want to have to try and spell a name sounding as C-a-o-l-l-a-i-d-h-e. And the Caol in Irish does sound more like KWE-awl.
    I just mangle it with American bastardization and have Keely, or, to drag my Tolkien nerdom into this – Kíli (Keeee {drag it out a bit and say it with a big smile to get your mouth right}- lee // KEEE-lee. Second son of Dís Durin- sister to Thorin Oakenshield)
    There’s my nerdiness quotia for the week lol
    Now off to do a bit of digging on Caollaidhe, many thank!!

  2. I’m fascinated by Irish orthography, but, like you, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have a name like “Caollaidhe.” “Keely” is just an approximation, but at least it’s easier to live with. (Though I’m sure it gets confused with Kelly a lot.)

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