These Are the Meanings Behind the Kennedy Family’s Names

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The Kennedy family is essentially American royalty, rising to particular prominence and fame during the period during which John F. Kennedy and his siblings had significant political power (which Jackie Kennedy referred to as Camelot). But the family has also been struck by much tragedy over the course of their long history, something the rest of the clan tries to honor. By now, the Kennedy family is expansive, with the grandchildren of JFK and his siblings coming into adulthood. A lot of them have similar names, often as a tribute to earlier ancestors, so let's break out who's who and what their names signify.

Eunice & Joe Kennedy At La Guardia Airport
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Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr.

The Kennedy family patriarch went by Joe; Joe's father went by the same name in inverse, Patrick Joseph. Both monikers are traditional Catholic names. After a successful career in finance, then politics, Joe passed on his aspirations to the rest of his many children.

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Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1938-39
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Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy

Rose's father, John Fitzgerald, was mayor of Boston, and the whole family was part of a wealthy Catholic community in Boston. At the time of her birth in 1890, Rose was a very popular name for a girl and symbolized the fragrant flower. You'll see her first name pop up a lot on this list.

Rose's family didn't initially approve of Joe, so they dated for seven years before getting married. The two had nine children: Joe Jr., JFK, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Bobby, Jean Ann, and Ted. More on all of their names, ahead.

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John F. Kennedy, [sic]son of the U.S. Ambassador to Great Br
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Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr.

Named after his dad, Joe Jr. had really high goals set for him: to become the first Roman Catholic U.S. president. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be—Joe Jr. was killed in a top-secret WWII mission in 1944, and the lofty family goal moved to the second-oldest son.

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John F. Kennedy
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John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John was named after his maternal grandfather and often went by "Jack" or his initials "JFK." He went on to achieve his father's goal of becoming president and had a productive first term before being tragically assassinated in 1963.

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Portrait of Rosemary and Eunice Kennedy
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Rosemary Kennedy

Technically Rose Marie, she was named after her mother and sometimes went by "Rosie" and the condensed "Rosemary." Tragedy struck her too—she suffered from intellectual difficulties and seizures in her early years. In a short-sighted attempt to help, her father had her lobotomized. As a result, she lost almost all cognitive function and remained in an institution for the rest of her life.

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Kathleen Kennedy
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Kathleen Agnes Kennedy

Kathleen went by "Kick" because she was so free-spirited, and also because it was apparently hard for her young siblings to pronounce her full name. When she married, she became known as Kathleen Agnes Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington, but her husband was killed in action four months after they wed. She died in a plane crash with her lover Lord Fitzwilliam (who was married to someone else at the time) in 1948 when she was just 28 years old.

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Rose Kennedy's Birthday
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Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver

Eunice is a Biblical name and apparently derives from the Greek word "victory." When Eunice married Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. (who went by Sargent) and took his name. She did an impressive amount of political and philanthropic work, including founding the Special Olympics—partially inspired by her older sister, Rosemary. She died in 2009.

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Patricia Kennedy Lawford
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Patricia Helen Kennedy Lawford

Patricia is the female form of the name "Patrick" and derives from the Latin word meaning "noble" (patrician). Patricia, who often went by "Pat," married actor Peter Lawford and had four children before the couple got divorced. She passed away in 2006.

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RFK Appears As A Senate Witness
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Robert Francis Kennedy

Going by "Bobby" (and later referred to as RFK), his name apparently means "God is my judge" in Hebrew. JFK sometimes referred to his younger brother as "Black Robert" for his habit of constantly moralizing. Bobby went into politics like the rest of his brothers, and was also tragically assassinated in 1968 after winning the California primary for Democratic presidential candidate.

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Authors Night 2017 to benefit The East Hampton Library
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Jean Ann Kennedy Smith

The shyest of the Kennedy children, her name derives from Hebrew for "God is gracious." (The names Joan, Jane, and Jeanne apparently come from the same root.) She was a U.S. ambassador to Ireland and later wrote a memoir. She's the only sibling of JFK's to still be alive in 2020.

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Senate Holds Cloture Vote On Alito Nomination
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Edward Moore Kennedy

The youngest Kennedy was born on George Washington's birthday, so JFK asked for him to be named George Washington. Instead, he was named after his father's secretary, Edward, but always went as Ted or Teddy. Ted also went into politics, yet was often plagued by the Chappaquiddick incident. He died in 2009 from brain cancer.

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America And The World: A Conversation With Ambassador Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ed Markey
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Caroline Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg

The oldest daughter of JFK and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, Caroline was named after her maternal aunt Caroline Lee Radziwill, and given her mother's maiden name as a middle name. She served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan and is a lawyer and author.

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Kennedy Family During Labor Day Weekend In Hyannis Port - August 31, 1980
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John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr.

Named after his father, "John John" or "JFK Jr." became a lawyer and practiced as a New York City assistant district attorney. He also launched magazine George in the 1990s and briefly worked as an actor. He lived a troubled life and died in 1999 when the plane he was piloting crashed off of Martha's Vineyard. His wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister Lauren were also on board and died.

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UCLA's The Friends Of The Semel Institute Great Minds Gala
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Robert Sargent Shriver III

Eunice's son Robert, who goes by "Bob," was named after his father. But it may not be an accident that his nickname is the same as many other family members' (Bob/Bobby), including his uncle RFK. Bob's a lawyer, journalist, and activist who's also been politically active.

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The Hollywood Reporter's Empowerment In Entertainment Event 2019 - Inside
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Maria Owings Shriver

Eunice and Sargent named their oldest daughter Maria. Maria/Mary is a common Catholic name that often celebrates the Virgin Mary; it looks like Owings is the maiden name of a very distant relative. Maria went on to be an author and philanthropist like her mom Eunice. She also married, and subsequently divorced, film actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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2018 So The World May Hear Awards Gala Benefitting Starkey Hearing Foundation
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Timothy Perry Shriver

Like his sister Maria, the "Perry" middle name looks like it may come from the maiden name of a great-grandmother. Following in the footsteps of his mother Eunice, Timothy has championed the Special Olympics, most recently as chairman.

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2014 Father Of The Year Awards
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Mark Kennedy Shriver

Mark was given his mother's maiden name as his middle name, but the politician and activist who has most recently served as president of Save the Children Action Network doesn't seem to have any particular meaning behind his own first name (beyond Biblical significance). Mark named two of his own young children Tommy Kennedy and Emma Rose—note the historic middle names.

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The Creative Coalition Hosts Freedom of Speech Debates - 2000
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Christopher Kennedy Lawford

According to his memoir, the oldest son of Patricia and her husband Peter Lawford was named after Saint Christopher and because his mother, Pat, liked the name. An activist, actor, and author, he spoke about being in recovery from addiction. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2018.

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"An Evening of Love for Special Children" - February 12, 1991
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Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford

Sydney was her father's middle name and the first name of several paternal relatives, including her grandfather. Maleia is a name of Hawaiian origins that means "calm or gentle waters." Aside from a brief engagement announcement to James Peter McKievy, Sydney has largely kept out of the spotlight.

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Ron Galella Archive - File Photos 2011
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Victoria Francis Lawford

Victoria, who's kept out of the spotlight like her sister, is married and apparently named two of her children Caroline Patricia and Victoria Rose. Lot's of family names there. Her own name means "victory" and "frenchman."

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Robin Lawford And Patricia Lawford
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Robin Elizabeth Lawford

As with her other siblings, very little is known about Robin, Patricia and Peter's youngest daughter. But she does have the same middle name as her grandmother. Robin is a diminutive of Robert (so perhaps there is some family significance there) and also means "bright fame."

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Arlington National Cemetery Hosts Remembrance Honoring the Life & Legacy of Robert F. Kennedy
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Kathleen Harrington Kennedy Townsend

RFK's oldest daughter was named after his sister and her aunt, but unlike "Kick," her nicknames include "Clean Kathleen," "the Nun," and "the Un-Kennedy" for her stoicism. Ironically, then, she too is politically active. Also, her daughter Maeve gave birth to Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, the first of the sixth generation of Kennedys with the same middle name as Kathleen's grandfather.

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DEATH OF JACKIE KENNEDY-ONASSIS IN NEW YORK
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Joseph Patrick Kennedy II

A prominent member of the Kennedy household, Joe was named after his grandfather and uncle. RFK's son served as a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts in the 1990s and his son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III (whom you'll see in just a couple slides), is politically active currently.

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"Fire Drill Friday" Climate Change Protest
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Robert Francis Kennedy Jr.

Robert and his wife Ethel Skakel decided to make their second son a junior. He's an author, environmental attorney, and activist. He drew some very recent criticism from his siblings on his status against vaccinations. He is married to actor Cheryl Hines.

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Senator Edward Kennedy Congratulating David Kennedy
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David Anthony Kennedy

"David" is a Biblically significant name referring to the King of Israel. David, who was apparently introverted and sensitive, was particularly close with his father, RFK, and watched his father's assassination on TV. He began drug use after his brother Joe caused a car accident that fractured David's vertebra and paralyzed his then-girlfriend. Unfortunately, he died of an overdose at 28.

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Ron Galella Archive - File Photos 2011
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Mary Courtney Kennedy Hill

RFK's daughter, goes by her middle name, Courtney, but her first name has religious and familial significance. She has mostly stayed out of the limelight. She named her daughter Saoirse, which means "freedom," after the freedom of her relationship with now-ex Paul Hill and the freedom she hoped for in her daughter. Saoirse (whom you'll see later in the slideshow) died of a drug overdose in 2019.

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Michael Kennedy
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Michael LeMoyne Kennedy

Michael was named for Michael Kennedy, a family friend and Irish priest, and his uncle JFK's prep-school roommate and close family friend Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings. He was a lawyer and activist, and died tragically in a skiing accident in 1997.

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Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts 2019 Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction In NYC - Inside
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Mary Kerry Kennedy

Yes, Robert and Ethel named not one, but two of their daughters Mary, but neither of them goes by it. This Mary goes by Kerry. She was married to, and got divorced from, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, during which time she was known as Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. She's a writer and president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights advocacy organization.

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Christopher Kennedy Portrait
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Christopher George Kennedy

Robert and Ethel's eighth child, Christopher goes by Chris (unlike his cousin). He is chair of Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises, Inc. He named his own son after him and also has a daughter named Clare Rose.

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Juma Entertainment's "Deer Valley Celebrity Skifest" Day 2
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Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy

Going by Max, RFK's ninth child was named after the WWII general Maxwell D. Taylor. He's a writer and activist. He named his son after him and named his daughter Caroline Summer Rose.

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