Celebrity Names Blog

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly
Wiki Commons

Grace Kelly is this month's Vanity Fair cover story.  Ms. Kelly passed away years ago, and yet she, like Diana and Jackie, continues to capture our attention, to ignite our curiosities, and to prompt us to buy magazines.  A Vanity Fair article reports that soon the Victoria and Albert Museum in London will display a collection of her clothes and other accessories, and recently The New Yorker ran a long piece on Ms. Kelly and a recent biography.

Why does Grace linger so strongly in our minds?  She was certainly beautiful, and enigmatic. Check out the Vanity Fair cover image, and how Grace peeks out of the curtain, allowing us a controlled glimpse of what she wants us to see.  She manages to be both simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar.

Familiar: Her charisma gives off a sense of accessible, human, vulnerability -- she knew what it was like to have a father who saw her as a disappointment and to have a director tell her how she was "not pretty." (See The New Yorker article for more.)

Unfamiliar: She is beyond pretty, possessing glamor, poise and cool, plus a compelling story that takes her from Philadelphia girl to Hollywood star to Monaco Princess.  Part of Grace Kelly's mystique is her ability to ride the contradiction between the close-up and the far-away shot.

How about her name?  Along with her beauty and her mystery, what part does her name play in the enduring interest in Grace Kelly, and what Vanity Fair calls "The Eternal Style of Grace Kelly?"  In our opinion, a big part -- her name is an essential part of that eternal style.

Look back to that same Vanity Fair cover.  The name GRACE KELLY is in an enormous font, rivaling the Vanity Fair heading for attention.  Grace appears even bigger than Kelly.  The color?  Bright red.  Her name and the magazine's are the only bold colors on the page.

As much as her face, it is the name we recognize.  Again, the familiar -- we know the noun grace, and here it is in name form (an increasingly familiar sight these days, as Grace, always in the top 1000 names, is currently #21 in America, and #1 in England).  Namipedia tells us grace, meaning eloquence, or beauty of form, kindness, mercy, favor, comes from the Latin gratia, for favor, thanks.

Namipedia also tells us that Kelly is an Irish surname meaning "war, strife," or an English place name derived from the word for wood, grove.  It's kind of fun to go with the first meaning -- if that's so, then within the name Grace Kelly itself there's a certain tension, between kindness & mercy and war & strife.

We think there's a certain satisfaction that comes from name and person fitting one another so well.  Can you imagine if her name had been Shirley?  (Shirley was the 17th most popular name in America for girls in the 1920s, the decade of Grace's birth.)  Shirley is a lovely name, but would our imaginations have been ignited in the same way, seeing Shirley kissing Cary Grant before a window of fireworks?  

Maybe it's because Grace went beyond actress to icon that her name makes so much of a difference, that we can never quite lose her in her role.  Because another role supersedes it -- the role of Grace Kelly. We won't ever know all the details of her "real" life, but from what we do know, the name seems a perfect fit: this elegant and glamourous side, a screen goddess (Grace) and yet also a tough childhood, a strategic career and a complicated marriage (Kelly).

What are your thoughts?  How important is Grace Kelly's name in her enduring appeal?  How essential is her name to her "eternal style?"



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April 27, 2010 9:38 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Whenever we hear the name Grace, Jackie, or Diana, we know exactly to whom the speaker is referring. Shirley is a beautiful name, but I do not feel that it would have the same image as Grace.
I do think the name Grace Kelly helps keep Graces appeal current and classic.

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