Kennedy is the Anglicized form of an ancient Irish personal name Cinnéidigh from the Old Gaelic elements “cinn” meaning “head” and “éidigh” meaning either “ugly” or “helmeted”. As such, the personal name most likely finds its origin in a frisky nickname for a man with a misshapen head. We know it’s not the most pleasant of etymologies so don’t kill the messenger. Given the 21st century trendiness of Kennedy as a baby girl’s name, we were quite surprised to discover its actual etymological roots. In any case, we find it rather amusing in a charming sort of way. The name was most famously borne by Cennétig Mac Lorcáin, a 10th century Irish king in a sub-kingdom of Munster and the father of Brian Boru (an iconic Irish historical figure often regarded as the last High King of Ireland). Brian Boru greatly expanded his power throughout Ireland thanks in part to the foundation laid by his “helmet-headed” father and older brother. Brian is credited with restoring Ireland’s greatness by orchestrating the unification of the Irish kingdoms against the Viking invaders and pesky Norse settlers. Brian’s nephew, Cinnéide, was named after his grandfather and became the founding father of the O’Kennedy clan (from whom the American Kennedys are ultimately descended). Obviously, the Kennedy name remains quite common in Ireland, particularly in the region of North Munster (Counties Clare and Limerick). As a forename, Kennedy was first coined in America in 1960 as a masculine personal name in honor of the 35th U.S. President, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
The name Kennedy started out as a boy’s name in 1960, the year JFK was elected into the office of the presidency. Clearly, the name’s sudden usage was in homage to this greatly admired man, but by 1969, the name fell off America’s Top 1000 list. Then, abruptly in 1994, American parents decided to resurrect Kennedy for their daughters (it just so happened Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis passed away in May of 1994; coincidence? Probably not). From this point on, Kennedy overtook her male counterpart and is now primarily considered a female name in the United States. In less than 20 years, Kennedy reached Top 100 status (2011) – a remarkable achievement in such a short period of time. The name came back on the charts for boys (also in 1994), but didn’t stick around, falling off entirely by 2006. It’s become overly feminized through popular usage; now parents aren’t interested in this name for their boys. Not surprisingly, as we often see with trendy names, modified spellings began to emerge, like Kennedi, Kenadee and Kenadi. Right now, Kennedy is the most popular of all the female “Ken” names (e.g., Kendell, Kenzie, Kendra, Kenley, Kenya and Kenna). Ironically, a lot of the female “Ken” names were inspired by Kenneth, from the Scottish-Gaelic Coinneach meaning “handsome” (the opposite of Kennedy). C’mon. It’s funny. Right?