Kelly (surname)

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Language(s)Irish, English
Other names
See alsoKelly (given name)
Map of medieval Gaelic Ireland showing the location of Ulaid circa 900 A.D.

Kelly is a surname in the English language. The name has numerous origins, most notably from the Ui Maine. In some cases it is derived from toponyms located in Ireland and Great Britain, in other cases it is derived from patronyms in the Irish language.


In many cases Kelly is an Anglicisation of the Irish surname Ó Ceallaigh (IPA [oːˈcal̪ˠiː]), which means "descendant of Ceallach", but it can also mean warrior or fighter. The personal name Ceallach has been thought to mean "bright-headed", but the current understanding is that the name means "frequenting churches", derived from the Irish ceall.[1] In other cases the surname Kelly is an Anglicisation of the Irish Ó Cadhla, which means "descendant of Cadhla".[2] The O'Kelly or Kelly of the Clan Brasil Mac Coolechan originated as a chieftain clan of the Ulaid.[3]

The surname can also be derived from several place names. For example, the surname can be derived from two places in Scotland: Kelly, near Arbroath; and Kellie, in Fife. The surname can also be derived from a place name in England: Kelly, in Devon. This place name is derived from the Cornish celli, meaning "wood" or "grove".[4]


The surname is one of the most common in Ireland. It is also very common in Galloway, and the Isle of Man.[4] When including all of its variations, the name O'Kelly, Kelly, Kelley, Kellie and the Gaelic form O'Ceallaigh, makes it the most prevalent surname in Ireland. There are approximately half a million people worldwide who bear this name. The name O'Kelly did not spring from a single source, but arose independently in several areas in Ireland, also in Scotland and the Isle of Man and in England. In other areas, notably in Isle of Man, Cornwall and probably in Antrim, the name Kelly arose from Celli, meaning man of the woods.[5]

People with the surname[edit]






As first name[edit]

Fictional Characters[edit]

  • Kurt Kelly, a character from the 1988 black comedy Heathers, and it's musical and TV adaptations


  1. ^ Learn about the family history of your surname,, retrieved 17 December 2010, which cited: Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508137-4, for the surnames "Kelly".
  2. ^ Ó Cadhla, Library Ireland (, retrieved 15 December 2010 which is a transcription of: Woulfe, Patrick (1923), Irish Names and Surnames
  3. ^ John O'Hart, Irish Pedigrees; or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, 5th edition, in two volumes, originally published in Dublin in 1892, reprinted, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1976, Vol. 1, p. 820
  4. ^ a b Reaney, Percy Hilde; Wilson, Richard Middlewood (2006), A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd ed.), London: Routledge, p. 1820, ISBN 0-203-99355-1.
  5. ^ "Failte – Hi – Welcome". Retrieved 19 July 2019.