Perhaps because so many English female names, especially in their diminutive form, end in unstrssed /i/ (“ee”) — Mary, Margie, Betty, Lizzie… — since about the second half of the 20th century almost any name (place-name or surname) having such an ending has been potentially a female first name: Ashley, Brittany, Chelsea…
For reference, when I was a graduate student at Columbia, one of my professors was named Shirley Quimby (male, born 1893). The actor Leslie Nielsen was born in 1926.
A few such names have resisted being feminized, for example Bradley and Stanley, perhaps because their abbreviated forms (Brad, Stan) have a strong masculine association; thus, for example, Bradley Manning, on becoming a woman, took the name Chelsea Manning.
“Chelsea Manning” has a certain assonance with Chelsea Morning, the Joni Mitchell song that was enormously popular around 1970, about the time that Bill Clinton met Hillary Rodham. It is well known that it was the song that inspired them to name their daughter Chelsea. But there are female Chelseas born well before Chelsea Clinton; for example the writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (born 1942). Chelsea Morning, by the way, was inspired by the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan (where Joni Mitchell was living at the time), which in turn got its name from the district (formerly borough) of Chelsea in London, over the centuries home to many celebrities from Anne of Cleves and Sir Thomas More to Mary Quant and Mick Jagger by way of J. M. W. Turner, T. S. Eliot, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ava Gardner.
Perhaps the most famous entity bearing the name Chelsea is not a person but the Chelsea F(ootball) C(lub), a club not located in Chelsea but in the neighboring (to the west) district of Fulham. At the time of the club’s founding, in 1905, Fulham was a working-class area which already had a football club (Fulham FC). The new club’s adoption of the name of a tonier neighboring district is reminiscent of the way Sarah Lawrence College, located in the working-class city of Yonkers (near New York), gives its address as being in the posh village of Bronxville.
My own relation to Chelsea FC is one that I hinted at previously: I would watch their games in the hope that (1) the team would lose (something that didn’t often happen last season, when they won the League title convincingly), (2) one of its players would be injured, not severely, but enough to have the lovely team doctor, Eva Carneiro, come out onto the pitch. Alas, in the wake of the incident referred to in that post, Dr. Carneiro is no longer with the team.
In that incident, one of the team’s top players, the Belgian international Eden Hazard, was injured in stoppage time of the season’s first game, with the scored tied 2-2 with Swansea FC in stoppage time. The referee called the medical team (Dr. Carneiro and a physical therapist) to the field, with the result that Hazard had to get off the field — a fact that angered Chelsea’s coach, the arrogant and misanthropic José Mourinho, enough to shout what may have been filha da puta (literally ‘daughter of the whore,’ in effect the female equivalent of ‘son of a bitch’) at the doctor. (Eva Carneiro, despite her name, is not Portuguese but a Gibraltar-born daughter of a Spaniard and an Englishwoman, but she is said to know the language.) Mourinho claimed that the words had been filho da puta, supposed an impersonal curse word equivalent to ‘son of a bitch,’ and his claim was upheld by Portuguese linguists, so that no disciplinary action was taken against him, though he was urged to apologize to Eva Carneiro (which he of course didn’t do) by the President of the Football Association. In fact, he suspended her from further action with the team, despite her having followed the referee’s order. But then Mourinho is no great respecter of officials — he has just been fined £50,000 for having made a derogatory remark about a referee. Needless to say, his reaction to the fine was not gracious.
I will miss Eva Carneiro, but I am enjoying Chelsea’s current record of two wins, two draws and four losses — good for 16th place. And tomorrow morning, while I will mainly focus on Everton vs. Man U, I will check in on the Chelsea vs. Aston Villa game and cheer on Brad Guzan’s team.