About A Name: Kennedy

November 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

Jaqueline and John F. Kennedy inspired this name’s current popularity in North America.

I felt the urge to write about this very Irish-American name. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 48 years ago this week (November 22nd), and his death, and naturally, his relationship with Marilyn Monroe, has been brought to the media forefront once again in various stories. Perhaps it’s just irony that country musician Justin Moore on Monday welcomed his second daughter – Kennedy Faye (the middle name a tribute to Moore’s grandmother) – in Arkansas with his wife Kate. Their first daughter, Ella Kole, was born 21 months ago.

Kennedy is a Gaelic surname – or it was, almost exclusively, before John F. Kennedy became the youngest-ever leader of the United States, and subsequently the youngest-ever assassinated president in American history at the age of 46. He died a father of two children under six, was working hard to protect America from the threats of the Cold War, had proposed an end to segregation in schools as part of the American Civil Rights Act that passed after his death in 1964, and he had put millions of dollars into the American space program as the US raced the Soviets to the moon.

I wasn’t born until 22 years after Kennedy’s death, but the impact of his life on North America was far greater than the impact of Princess Diana’s on the world, which is evident when you hear stories from those who lived through one of the 20th Century’s biggest news stories. My father was 15, and the weekend Kennedy was shot, he deejayed his high school ‘sock hop.’ One of the guy’s in his class said something bad about Kennedy, and my father, who was scrawny, not much of a fighter because he would usually lose, punched the boy in the mouth. Neither of them were punished, because people seemed to understand – this was Kennedy. It was emotional. North America existed within a fog for days following his assassination (and the murder, live on television, of his accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald), a fog which may have lasted longer among the millions who were given hope by JFK’s presidency, only to see it snuffed in the blink of an eye, if not for the appearance the following Monday of a certain new band in from Britain on The Ed Sullivan Show. North America needed desperately to cling to something positive, and The Beatles – they were that something positive. As the world lost one hero, it found four more. Less than five years later, JFK’s younger brother, iconic American liberal Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated while he campaigned for the US presidency in Los Angeles.

Though Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records and an advocate of the American civil rights movement, welcomed a son in March 1964 and named him Kennedy in honour of JFK, Kennedy as a first name didn’t hit the US Top 1000 until 1994, the year the world lost his lovely wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, to cancer. That year, the name Kennedy shot up the charts like a bullet, climbing from 550 to just outside the Top 200 by 1995. Today the name sits at 118. Canada is the only other country where this name charts, and is surprisingly more popular up here, having reached the Top 100 around the turn of the century.

It might be Jackie O that made this name so popular for females, but boys named Kennedy are not unheard of. I know one who’s 10. The name Kennedy also exists in Scotland and Ireland, but mostly as a surname that could generally refer to a man who was an armoured soldier. The name could have derived from the given name Ó Ceannéidigh, from the Gaelic ceann (“head”) + éidigh (“ugly”), a theory that could explain the existence of O’Kennedy – meaning “grandson of” – as a surname in Ireland. It’s also possible that it derived from Ó Cinnéide, from the Gaelic ceann (“head”) + éide (“armour/helmet”), and may have led us to the surname Kennedie. Ceanéidigh could be related to the old Gaelic name Cennétig, which is known from Cennétig Mac Lorcáin, the father of the Irish high king Brian mac Cennétig (Brian Boru). Cennetig Mac Lorcain was an Irish king of the Dál gCais, who is said to have fathered 11 sons and one daughter (Orlaith), and died in 951 BCE as the King of Tuadmumu. It was also the first appearance of his name (Cennetig), or any given names close to modern Kennedy, in genealogical records. There are also two separate Kennedy clans in history that are unrelated to one another – the Kennedy’s of Ireland – which is the origin of the American political Kennedy family, and the Kennedy’s of Scotland.

Kennedy’s popularity seems bound to spawn a rise in ‘nickname’ creations like Kennie or Kenna. (We’ve seen a Kennie in the celeb world, on American comedian Christopher Titus’ 10-year-old daughter Kennie Marie – though she was named for his father, Kenneth Titus.) Celebs have been no stranger to Kennedy, either – Amanda Borden, one of the Magnificent Seven female American gymnasts from the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, welcomed daughter Kennedy Faith in 2007, and American NASCAR racer Joe Nemechek welcomed daughter Kennedy Grace in 2004. American baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr. welcomed daughter Taryn Kennedy in 1995. (Griffey and his wife had three children, and each middle name played on Ken – George Kenneth III, called Trey, and Tevin Kendall are his sons.) Canadian triathlete Lori Bowden welcomed son Tyson Kennedy in 2005, one year before Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong welcomed daughter Kennedy with her now-deceased ex-husband Russell.

I like where Kennedy comes from, I really do, and I can see it’s appeal from that perspective, but as a name for either sex it’s not a favourite. It ballooned in popularity so strongly in the ’90s that some days it feels due for a rest, and yet I think my reservations are overblown. I might just be tired of this name, personally, especially with the notion that most new parents these days were not living when Kennedy was assassinated, and some may not even remember when Jackie O died (like me, for example, I was too young for the news in 1994, but remember where I was was John Jr. and his wife died in a plane crash).

But I would stand up for anyone, or any name, that is a symbol of civil and human rights and society’s need to move forward and change, and I’d never tell anyone not to use it.

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§ 3 Responses to About A Name: Kennedy

  • To me, Kennedy is not an attractive-sounding name for either sex, but sometimes the namesake is bigger than the name, and this is one of those times.

    It was also massive news in Australia – schools and workplaces just stopped and many people were sent home. My mother was shocked and grieving for some time – she loved JFK, and really did see him as a shining beacon of hope for the world.

  • Kennedy is my Nana’s maiden name, so I really could use it if I wanted to without worrying about the meaning, but I just can’t connect with the name. The last time I saw the name was in a birthday announcement in a local newsletter, trio of sisters: Kennedy, Carly and Laurie.

    • namemuststay says:

      I’ve just never been a fan of the Laurie spelling for women, but I went to school with a male Laurie before I knew a girl who wasn’t, say, Lori, so I’ve never really gotten past that! In North America, the Kennedy, Carly, Laurie sibset doesn’t hold up – Kennedy and Carly fit, but Laurie doesn’t belong!

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