Clio: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on October 1, 2012

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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