Irish surname of the week: Kelly

With Kelly being one of the most popular Irish surnames, not only in Ireland but worldwide, it would be quite rare if you didn’t know a single person with Kelly as their surname.

If you don’t know someone, you’ve probably at least seen a shop or a pub with the surname Kelly.

There are plenty of famous people out there with Kelly as their surname, and you’re probably thinking of one or two right now, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

For now, we are going to break down the name including its history, origin, and, of course, the age-old family Crest, with some facts thrown in for good measure.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

Origin and meaning

The meaning of family names have some spectacular origins.

Kelly, the second most popular name in Ireland, after Murphy, is a name with many origins.

Deriving from the Irish word Ceallach, which meant “bright or white-headed”, this name was originally O’Ceallach, which in Irish means a male descendant of Ceallach.

Alternatively, If it were a female, it would be Ní Ceallach. As well as this, the old Irish meaning for Ceallach was strife or war as well as the word Ceall alone, which meant church.

It’s no wonder this name has a bit of uncertainty about it. When we put this all together, the name O’ Ceallaigh potentially means descendant of war or descendant of strife.

Family crest

Here you can see the blue family crest for the Irish surname Kelly.
Credit: @zbrendon / Flickr

As with all Irish surnames, Kelly has it’s very one family crest or “coat of arms” if you will.

We just love this unique feature of Irish last names.

The motto on the Kelly or O’ Ceallaigh is “Turris Mortis Mihi Deus”, which translates to “God is my towe”.

The crest features two lions signifying courage, the colour blue, which represents loyalty, and the colour gold, which symbolises generosity.

Additionally, the tower in between the twins symbolises strength for the family name.


The Irish surname Kelly has many variations but we'll stick to the spelling of Kelly.

Like many Irish surnames, they have been anglicised over the years, and many variations have been created too.

Take Kelly itself, for instance, an anglicised version of the original name O’Ceallaigh. Having made its way around the world, the name Kelly has been changed to Kellie, Kelley, Kelli, O’ Kelley, and O’ Kelly.

Kelly has also been firm favourite girls and boys given name, for several years now too.

Famous people with the surname Kelly

The Irish surname Kelly is attributed to many celebrities, Grace Kelly being one.

Okay so most of us know her by her stage name Iggy Azalea, but how many of you know that the Australian rappers real name was Amethyst Kelly (we think this is just as cool!).

American actress and princess of Monaco Grace Kelly, is one of the most well-known ladies to hold the Kelly name.

Fans of the TV soap Coronation Street, or Corrie, as we like to call it, may know Katherine Kelly who plays Becky McDonald.

Of course, we couldn’t forget our own Irish singer and folk musician Luke Kelly who is much loved in Ireland and around the globe.

Many of us have heard of the Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly, or have perhaps stepped foot in an Aussie pub named after him.

For all the morning people out there, you’ll be familiar with Scottish-born TV host Lorraine Kelly who keeps us entertained daily.

What about Irish-American actor and singer Gene Kelly, the man behind the classic song “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Of course, there are hundreds more famous people with the surname Kelly, but we’d be here all day naming them, so we’d better leave that for another day!

Kelly has a lot of history behind it and a lot of possible origins. It is a name that is not only popular in Ireland but has been proudly carried around the world, predominantly to North America, Australia, UK, and New Zealand.

The name signifies a clan which is strong together, values loyalty and generosity between each member, and overall courage as a family.

We think that anyone with the surname Kelly should be proud to carry it forward as this is a name that was meant to live on.

Its stories of origin, meaning, and family crest continue to enrich the lives of those who carry this age-old Irish name.

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