She’s an alternative to the mega-popular Olivia, a classic boosted just the tiniest bit by a sitcom staple.
Thanks to Dan for suggesting Cecilia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Cecilia’s meaning isn’t especially appealing. She comes from the Roman family name Caecilius, derived from the Latin word caecus – blind. The first Caeculus was the son of Vulcan in Roman myth, abandoned by his mother as a child, but eventually growing up to be a king. The family claimed descent from Caeculus, and female members of the family answered to Caecilia.
Then along came a saint, a faultless woman of the second or third century, born blind. A devout Christian, she went to her death for refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods. It took many attempts to execute Cecilia – or so goes the legend. Despite many re-tellings of her tale, like some other early saints, there is little historical evidence to support her existence.
But no matter, because Cecilia has been wildly popular over the years, enough that other meanings have attached to her name, including:
- She of the shining light, a meaning that might be a play on blindness, or might relate to an archaic French word with a similar meaning. While I can’t confirm the word’s use, light is a common image used with reference to many saints. Saint Therese of Lisieux used the imagery in a poem she wrote to Saint Cecilia.
- In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Second Nun’s Tale lists a long string of possible alternate meanings for Cecilia, including Lily of Heaven. Scholars speculate that Chaucer might have had access to more extensive accounts of Cecilia’s story.
Speaking of her story, it is said that she sang to heaven even as she was beheaded – and so Cecilia is the patron saint of music.
Handel composed the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, one of many works dedicated to her. Rome is home to the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia – one of the oldest musical institutions, founded in 1585.
Then there’s Simon & Garfunkel’s enduring single from their 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. While the lyrics lean PG-13, it is a bouncy, upbeat song.
Other uses abound:
- Popular eighteenth century novelist Frances Burney penned a novel called Cecilia, or Memoirs on an Heiress.
- The name is big name in the royal family of Sweden. Cecilia was believed to be name of a twelfth century queen, the wife of King Canute I and mother of King Eric X. Other princesses have worn the name since.
- A second royal connection is Cecilia of Normandy, said to be the firstborn daughter of William the Conqueror.
The Normans brought Cecilia to England, and in the medieval era she became Cecily. Variants abound: Sisley, Sela, Cecilie, Cecile, even the Irish Sheila. The Shakespearean Celia has different roots, but sounds close enough that she’s sometimes grouped with the Cecilia names, too.
Overall, Cecilia is steady. She ranked #277 in 2010, #283 in 2000, #326 in 1990, #283 in 1960, #262 in 1930, and #199 in 1900. She’s been more and less popular over the decades, but she’s always been present. This makes her a great choice for parents seeking an alternative to Amelia or Sophia. Cecilia is every bit as storied, but not nearly as common.