Everything you need to know about the Irish surname Kelly - its meaning, origins, interesting facts and famous people with the last name Kelly.

Irish derivation: Ó Ceallaigh.

Name meaning: Descendant of Ceallach," "bright-haired," or "troublesome."

Counties associated with the name: Armagh, Carlow, Clare, Derry, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath, and Wicklow.

Coat of arms motto: God is a strong tower to me.

Interesting facts:

  • Second most common name in Ireland, behind Murphy.
  • There are more Kellys in the US and in Britain respectively than in Ireland.
  • Australian sailors whose surnames are Kelly are nicknamed "Ned" after the famed outlaw.
  • It is not only in the top 100 surnames in the US but also in the top 100 first names.

Some famous Kellys:

  • Gene Kelly (1912-1996, American actor)
  • Grace Kelly (1929-1982, American actor)
  • Minka Kelly (1980, American actor)
  • Ned Kelly (1855-1880, Australian outlaw)
  • Ellsworth Kelly - one of America's great 20th-century artists
  • Machine Gun Kelly - American bootlegger, bank robber, and kidnapper
  • Chris Kelly - America rapper; one half of the rap duo Kris Kross, best known for their 1992 song "Jump."

History of the Kelly name

"The original Gaelic form of the name Kelly is O Ceallaigh or Mac Ceallaigh", according to Ireland's House of Names. "These names denote descendants of Ceallach. This personal name may be derived from the word 'ceallach', which means 'strife.'"

They continue "The surname Kelly was first found in southwest Ireland, south of Dublin where they held a family seat from very ancient times. The Kelly surname is conjecturally descended from King Colla da Crioch, who died in 357 A.D."

Are you a part of the Kelly clan? Let us know in the comments, below!

* Originally published in 2014, updated in Sept 2022.