Where did the baby name Kayelani come from in 1987?

Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko

The rare name Kayelani debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1987, reached peak usage in 1988, and hung around for three more years before disappearing again.

  • 1992: unlisted
  • 1991: 6 baby girls named Kayelani
  • 1990: 13 baby girls named Kayelani
  • 1989: 7 baby girls named Kayelani
  • 1988: 22 baby girls named Kayelani
  • 1987: 7 baby girls named Kayelani [debut]
  • 1986: unlisted

The similar name Kaylani also debuted in 1987.

What put these two names on the map?

Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, who was crowned Miss America 1988 in front of “a television audience estimated at 60 million” in September of 1987.

(It’s hard to know how many of the babies above were named “Kaye Lani” specifically, as the SSA data omits/ignores spaces and internal capitalization.)

Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko

Kaye Lani Rafko, who represented the state of Michigan, was the first registered nurse to win the title.

She spent much of her tenure promoting the nursing profession and hospice care, which drew national attention. Her example would spawn official platform requirements for all contestants two years later.

For the talent portion of the competition, she donned a Barbie-pink grass skirt and performed a Tahitian dance that had “a little flavor of Hawaii thrown in,” according to the emcee.

And what motivated her to learn this particular style of dance in the first place?

Her Hawaiian-ish compound first name, which was said to be inspired by one of her mother’s friends. (Perhaps that friend had a more traditional Hawaiian name, like Kailani or Kalani. The second element of all three names, lani, is the Hawaiian word for “sky” or “heaven.”)

Kaye Lani’s three younger siblings were given the less-exotic names Kimberly, Nicholas, and Paul.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Kayelani?

P.S. A street in Kaye Lani Rafko’s hometown of Monroe is now called Kaye Lani Avenue.


Images: Screenshots of the TV broadcast of the 61st Miss America pageant

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