Clio: Baby Name of the Day

Clio close-up

Clio at 3

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on September 25, 2008, and was substantially revised and re-posted on October 1, 2012.

She’s a muse, she’s a queen, and while she’s short and simple, there’s nothing flimsy about today’s choice.

Today’s Baby Name of the Day goes out to my daughter on the eve of her fourth birthday: Clio.

In Greek, kleos means glory. The original bearer of the name wasn’t earning renown as much as she was telling of others’ feats, as the muse of history and historic poetry. Legend has it that she also introduced the alphabet to Greece. (Fraternities everywhere can thank her.)

There were nine muses in all, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. While Thalia and even Calliope could make a comeback, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore and Urania will likely linger in obscurity. In illustrations of the nine, Clio is the one holding a parchment or scrolls.  There’s a minor nymph called Clio, too.

The original Greek spelling would’ve been Kleio, so both Cleo and Clio are derived from the same source, and are equally valid spellings. Cleo brings to mind Cleopatra, the powerful, alluring, and ill-fated Egyptian queen. She was the seventh ruler to bear the name.  Adding patra transforms the meaning to something closer to father’s glory. Others argue that Cleopatra is a distinct choice related to khleis, or key, and meaning “key to the fatherland.”

Cleo references are plentiful.  To names a few:

  • Cleo Madison was an early silent film star, and also took a turn as a director
  • She picks up more Hollywood gloss from Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 star turn in the movie
  • Cleo also has literary cred thanks to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
  • There’s also television psychic Miss Cleo
  • 1998 pop single “Cleopatra’s Theme” boasted the catchy the refrain Cleopatra comin’ atcha
  • More recently, the most popular ghoul at Monster High is Cleo de Nile, daughter of the Mummy
  • David Schwimmer named his daughter Cleo in 2011

Clio has a big screen connection of her own. Back in 1947, Rita Hayworth played the muse Terpsichore, who adopted the name Kitty Pendleton and attempted to help a Broadway producer in the movie Down to Earth. That title was taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan. And so in 1980, the modern adaptation of that old movie became – wait for it – Xanadu. That’s right. Olivia Newton John roller skated and sang her heart out as the muse Clio – known on Earth as Kira – in the 1980 cult classic.

Kira exploded, and remains popular in several spelling variations. But Clio has never charted in the US Top 1000.  Cleo peaked at #171 in 1907 but left the rankings after 1956; Cleopatra has never appeared.

Writer Jane Roper has twin daughters called Elsa and Clio.  Her blog is now chronicling Clio’s battle with leukemia.  (The only thing our daughters share is a name, but every time I see a new post from her pop in my reader, I’m on pins and needles hoping that the update is good.  And so far, thankfully, the news appears to be mostly good.)

Clio’s similarity to the oh-so popular Chloe can cause some confusion, but it also raises the possibility that more parents will consider the ends-in-o name.  And why not?  She’s bright, strong, and just a little bit different.  I’ll count her among the Katnisses – modern, but rooted in the past.

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  1. jamie says

    I named my 2 year old Cleo, after the muse. I like it because it sounds like a perfectly common name but nobody has it. The only problem is all the chloe’s running around! People get it wrong a lot. Cleopatra was an interesting powerful woman who got a bad rap so I don’t mind that association either. We hope our daughter will love it too.

  2. Olivia says

    I thought about you today Abby. It has been raining, and so naturally I decided to plunder through the family records. I learned that my grandmother had an aunt by the name of Cleo, which has been one of the best names I have seen. I think they must have been more creative in rural areas as I have learned my grandmother had great aunts by the names of Henriella, Louella and Queen Isabelle. Their mother even had the name of Khayine. Reuben “Ruby” Augustus was also intriguing, and there was a surprising number of Juanitas, one of whom spelled it Wauneta.

    • appellationmountain says

      Juanita had a good run back in the day – she and Inez were quite in vogue around 1910/1920.

      What fabulous names you found on your rainy day! Thanks for sharing. Henriella is fascinating. And oh, a Cleo – makes my day!

  3. mary says

    Great Blog. My little Clio is 10 months old and it is a wild name for a wild baby girl… funny though about everyone mixing it up with Chloe! There is the car, as i learned from watching “Top Gear UK”… but it’s a very cute and popular car… just like my girl. I thought Calliope would have been too eccentric until i was watching Grey’s Anatomy and saw they used it… so part of me was like “oh, Calliope wouldn’t have been that weird then” and the other part thought “Glad I picked Clio because i don’t know of any others yet!”

  4. Swan says

    Kleopatra was the name of Alexander the Great’s younger sister – she went on to become a Queen in her own right, but her brother stole her thunder :/

    Love Clio! I could never use it though, because of the car. Everyone has one, it seems :/

  5. Havoye says

    Ha, I guess my naming style falls at least partially into what you define as ‘The Katnisses’. We seriously considered Clio for our daughter, but it’s the name of a popular car made by Renault sold in Europe and other parts of the world, so we thought our relatives in Europe might find it an odd choice. I do think it’s a great name, though.

  6. Nicole says

    Love Clio/Cleo … the thing that pops into my mind is the sweet flirty fish on Pinocchio named Cleo. I have always loved more of the main star friends from disney movies more than the star.. such as Flounder, Cleo, Timone and Pumba.. anyway, I am aghast that this sweet little fish didn’t make it onto the description =). I do love the connection to muses and cleopatra… overall I am convinced Cleo is uber chic and very wearable… I do like it as just a name and not short for anything, but I am a nn proof kind of girl. Happy Birthday little Clio!

  7. Sarah.S. says

    I love the sound of Cleo/Clio. I know a few:
    A beautiful 14 year old Clio, along with her sib set Sam, Anna, Clio and Reuben.
    My great aunt was Cleotta nick named Cleo. No one knew her real name until she passed away! She went by Cleo her whole life.
    My mother has a cat named Cleopatra nick named Cleo! She also has a cat named Chloe so it is often confusing!
    Also, happy birthday to your little one!

  8. Thea says

    I LOVE Clio! (It’s my daughter’s name as well, so I’m ever so slightly bias). However, I must say, I was a bit dissapointed to discover the “Clio” Renault Car, which is incredibly popular in just about all of the Western World other than America! We just moved to Italy, and these Clio cars are EVERYWHERE here. Cest la vie, maybe I’ll name my second child Mercedes 😉

  9. Cleo says


    Apart from the Chloe attatchment, I have never ever wished to be called anything else. Your daughter will be tres cool. Lets just hope it doesn’t get too popular!

  10. Jane says

    Yay for another Clio! I obviously love the name, though I hope it doesn’t become the next “Emma” or “Madison”

    Thanks for all the wonderful background. I’m going to hang onto this post for my Clio to read when she’s older.

    And yes, a fair number of people do get mixed up and call her Chloe by accident, but it’s not a big deal.

    Congrats on the (impending) new member of the family.

    Great site!

  11. Emmy Jo says

    I love Clio, and I think it’s a fabulous choice. It made my long list a few years ago when I was looking for interesting Greek mythological names that would wear well today. I occasionally suggest Clio and Thalia to people on Yahoo Answers looking for coordinating twin names, though I think Clio’s definitely the more substantial sounding of the two.

  12. Katharine says

    I love Clio too – she’s short and simple but has a whole lot of substance – a winning combination! Good luck with everything Verity… :-)

  13. appellationmountain says

    Ah, the question for the ages! As it happens, I’m due pretty much right now. We’re hoping she doesn’t arrive until later this week, when my mother will be in town. (As soon I hit post, this means I’ll probably go into labor.)

    But I’ll have Arthur post a post as soon as she’s here. And I guess I’ll need to update my icon eventually, too. :)

  14. Another says

    I love it, Verity! And I love the sentimentality, too. I think it’s a great name for your new baby – by the way, when is she “arriving”?

  15. Lola says

    Yes, they do. At least, in my experience. But rest assured, by the time she’s an adult, she’ll not only like her name but enjoy it. (I know, I had the worst case of name hate and I’m fine with Laura now) 😀 Rest easy, Verity. Clio’s awesome!

  16. appellationmountain says

    Thank you, thank you and thank you!

    There’s a sentimental twist to Clio – my dear dad, who died when I was 14, used to call me Cleopatra. When I was younger, I always thought it *might* make my baby name list, but it seemed too out there. Somehow, ends-in-o names sound so much more mainstream than they did in the 80s.

    Of course, she’ll probably hate it. Doesn’t every girl go through a phase where she wants to be Emily or Evalina or something completely different than what she was named? :)

  17. 8dana8 says

    I agree with Jess and Lola: what a great choice! Your daughter is going to have the name that all her friends are jealous of! It has history, it is beautiful, and it stands out from the crowd.

  18. Lola says

    Indeed, Clio is just perfect! I have a soft spot for Cleo and Cleopatra) since I was 2. I decided then that I’d make an awesome Cleo and still think so. (Brash, loud, attention grabber I can be). :) I don’t fear confusion with Chloe, rather, I’d be worried she’d have to spell it for all & sundry “no, C-L-I-O, not ‘e’ ” I considered it as a possible middle for Josephine but in the end went with a family surname, again.

    Light, airy, Historical and pretty, I can’t find a single fault with Clio and think you chose beautifully, Verity. I’m sure she’ll thank you in years to come! (I wanna see pictures if you can when she finally does get here!) 😀 Clio’s awesome!

  19. Jess says

    You could not have chose a more beautiful name for your daughter! I absolutely adore Clio! Congratulations on finding the perfect one.


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