The baby name Cecilia combines timeless appeal with a rich and storied musical pedigree.
Thanks to Dan for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
If meaning matters, the baby name Cecilia comes up a little short.
It comes from the Roman family name Caecilius, from a Latin word meaning 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.
Among their members were many consuls and other powerful leaders of the late Roman republic.
The Roman clan name is also one possible source for Cecil. Though chances are Cecil comes from a Welsh given name. And it’s the surname – and the noble Cecil family – that inspired the surname’s adoption as a first. The family’s roots are Welsh, and the name started out as Seisyll, from another Roman family name, meaning sixth.
Cecilia might also be used as a feminine form of Cecil.
Plenty of ancient names survived, so the baby name Cecilia might’ve endured, just like Julia, Claudia, and Octavia.
But this name’s popularity has far more to do with the saint.
Saint Cecilia also deserves credit for reshaping our perception of the name’s meaning.
According to legend, Cecilia was a faultless noblewoman of Rome – born blind – sometimes in the second or third century. A devout Christian, she convinced her pagan husband to convert. Both died for their faith under persecution.
So where does music come in? During their wedding, Cecilia said that she sang to God in her heart.
Legends around the martyr saint were firmly established by the Middle Ages, and she’s been strongly associated for at least a millennia, and possibly twice as long. Cecilia is considered the patron saint of music.
Other associated meanings include:
- Another Catholic saint, Therese of Lisieux, referred to her as “she of the shining light” in a poem she wrote.
- 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. Again, though, it might be more literary embellishment than actual etymology.
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.
But even outside of a religious context, we tend to associate the baby name Cecilia with music.
When it comes to names in song titles, most of us will think of Simon & Garfunkel’s enduring single “Cecilia” from their 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s a bouncy, upbeat song. And while it’s not exactly a lullaby or a sing-along for your toddler, it’s the kind of song that adds to the name’s appeal.
THROUGH THE AGES
While the baby name Cecilia doesn’t appear on lists of classic girl names, it has a long and steady history of use across languages and cultures.
History lists Cecilia of Normandy as the eldest daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, born around 1056.
The Normans brought the name to England, where the everyday use form would’ve been Cecily, while the Latinate form Cecilia would’ve been reserved for written records.
In twelfth century Sweden, King Canute I married Cecilia Johansdotter. Her biography – in fact even her name – is poorly documented. But other Swedish royals have answered to the name since then.
Factor in Cecile and Cecilie, and plenty of royal families have used variations of the name.
Popular eighteenth century novelist Frances Burney penned a novel called Cecilia, or Memoirs on an Heiress, in 1782.
In more recent years, characters named Cecilia have appeared in novels-turned-movies The Virgin Suicides and Atonement. It’s also the name Jim and Pam gave their daughter on The Office.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S GRANDMA
The name has enjoyed steady, if sparing, use, across the English-speaking world.
One notable Cecilia? The grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth II.
Born to a thoroughly aristocratic family, Cecilia Bowes-Lyon became the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne by marriage. Her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, married Prince Albert, the Duke of York. When Albert’s older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne, Albert became King George VI. That made her Queen Elizabeth.
Their firstborn daughter, Princess Elizabeth of York, became her father’s heir. When she assumed the throne in 1952, her mother became known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, to avoid confusion.
The Bowes-Lyon family has used the name Cecilia for succeeding generations, but it’s yet to be heard in the royal family.
CELIA and CECE
Strictly speaking, Celia is a separate name. It comes from yet another Roman clan name, this one meaning heaven. But it is sometimes heard as a short form of Cecilia.
Cece – or Ceci or Cici – are options, too. So are Celie and Sissie/Cissie.
Sheila is the Irish form of the name.
BY THE NUMBERS
With names like Olivia and Amelia and Sophia and in the current US Top Ten, it’s not surprising that Cecilia, too, is on the rise.
As of 2021, the baby name Cecilia ranks #132 – it’s most popular ever!
One factor may be spelling. A century ago, Cecelia and Cecilia were used in nearly equal numbers. That makes true popularity tough to gauge.
As Catholic saint names go, the 3rd-century martyr is accessible – both for current style and for the connection to music. That may influence some families to consider the name.
But with Cecilia’s timeless style and on-trend sound, long history of use and relatively uncommon status? It’s not surprising to hear more parents considering this lovely, musical choice.
What do you think of the baby name Cecilia?
First published on January 17, 2012, this post was revised and re-published on July 3, 2021 and again on August 17, 2022.
Lisa S says
Love is Blind!
How come I can’t see the whole article?!
Um yeah, article where are you??? Too many ads?
Hi Mari – Cecilia is back! A few years back, when I switched hosts, a bunch of the articles disappeared. They’re still in the back end of the site, but they don’t display properly unless I go in and manually fix a few things. There’s no way to know which posts aren’t displayed, until I stumble on one – or someone else does. Every time I think I’ve got them all, I find a few more. Its feel like there oughta be a prize for finding one. 🙂 For now, here’s the post on Cecilia. Best, Abby
Cecilia Nyarkoh Anderson says
i used to feel bad about the meaning of my Cecilia ,thinking it would have an impact on my life.i am now proud of my name now and i cherish it alot.
While I like the song, I’ve never liked the name. I did know a girl in school with the name, called C.C. — I’m pretty sure she was named for the song.
I love Cecilia it is my number one currently. My husband was all of it, but interestingly enough since I have mentioned it to his family it seems to have fallen out of favor with him. He is mostly Irish while, I am Italian. I like that the name sounds somewhat Italian although I don’t believe it is entirely (or at all). It has such a cute nn I also love how it has been pretty consistently used, but not too popular. It is beautiful in my opinion. The Virgin Suicides, though so tragic is where the name first entered my thoughts…
Actually, I’m Irish through and through as far as I know. We’ve been living around the one town for generations. My grand aunt, great grandmother and two great great grandparents are all called Cecelia or Celia. They used a different name on different records. Although, the name wouldn’t be common now as the only person I know with the name who isn’t a relative with this name is the Irish author Cecelia Ahern.
Cecelia is on my short list because of a beloved neighbor of mine who sadly died a few years ago after succumbing to Alzheimer’s. I went home after elementary school every day and hung out with “Grandma Luce,” telling stories and listening to her talk about immigrating from Poland and growing up during the Depression. On weekends my grandad and I would pick up and mow her lawn. She also gave me Pez dispensers for every holiday. Her first name was Cecelia, but she went by Celia some of the time.
I’ve considered Cecelia or Lucy as an appropriate homage. She was a wonderful and inspiring woman.
Also, I like the S&G song, but I prefer the “CecElia” spelling. The other way reminds me of cillia, the little “arms” bacteria and cells use to propel themselves around. Yay biology?
I thought Sela was a biblical/ Hebrew name, not a variant of Cecilia? Actually I would love it if you did a NOTD on Sela/ Selah if you haven’t already!
It is! Selah is a word in the Old Testament – I believe it means something along the lines of pause. (Like pause to reflect during prayer.) But spelling variants were fast and furious in the Middle Ages, so Sela surfaces, too, almost certainly as a respelling/short form of Cecilia.
I really like Cecilia — such a pretty, underused name. Somehow, though, spelling it Cecelia totally changes my opinion. No idea why a one-letter change can make such a difference!
I absolutely love Cecilia and Cecily, but I find the reference to the Virgin Suicides character (a discreet little girl who killed herself in a horrid way) even more appalling than the meaning, which does not disturb me at all.
That reference does bother me – and yet, I feel like it is one of those quietly influential novels. (I’ve never seen the movie, but I suppose it is equally true for the film.) It is so well known, and while you’d never directly name a child after the story, the names reverberate. I think it is like the rise of Natalee and Caylee after they were connected with horrific events. While the wrong figure can make a name feel unusable, for the most part merely hearing a name in use tends to boost its frequency – strange, but often true.
Confession: My almost 4 month old daughter is named Cecilia… and the book/movie were really where I first fell in love with the name. Though I didn’t specifically name my daughter after the character….I was certainly reacquainted with the name through the book. Hoping it doesnt get too popular in the coming years. I have already heard of 3 others since I’ve had my daughter!
It is a lovely name! Congrats on your new daughter. 🙂
I know two born in this past year and one headed for kindergarten … but it is really too soon to say what that means for popularity. Neither of my children has ever had an Ava, Olivia, Emma, Emily, Jacob, or Michael in their class, and those are Top Ten names …
And I think your experience is more common that most of us are willing to admit. We hear a name in a book/movie/tv show, and it sticks with us. We’re not naming our kids after the characters, exactly, but we’re aware of the name because of the characters.
I love Cecilia! Either that or Cecily will be my first choice if I ever have a girl. : ) Simon and Garfunkel is my favorite band, and the name itself has such a beautiful sound…Plus my great grandfather’s name was Cecil, so I’ve got a family connection as well!
I absolutely love Simon and Garfunkel and “Cecilia” is one of my favorites – actually 80% of their catalog are favorites – but honestly, on the basis of the song alone, I’d use the name. Being as I’m not religious, the name is pretty much limited to connections to the song and “The Office.” I don’t know any Cecilias, but I do know a Cilia – spelled with the ‘i’ in there – she’s in middle school.
I like Cecilia. I love the story of St. Cecilia, but the meaning really does bug me.
It doesn’t actually mean ‘blind’ but rather ‘the way for the blind.’ If you still hate that meaning ‘Celia’ means ‘heavenly’ so you could use that name.
My great-great grandmother was Cecilia, which I always thought was pretty but the meaning totally turned me off. However, it doesn’t matter as we ended up with all boys!
Lady Gwyn says
I adore Cecilia, as well as Cecile, Cecily and Celia. My step-grandma is called Celie (don’t know what her real name is), and I have always thought of using one of the above as a tribute to her.
namelover, I always thought that the traditional spelling of Cecilia comes from it being a feminization of Cecil, which makes sense to me.
Same here, I always thought that Cecilia and Cecil shared the same roots. Granted, the only thing I know about Cecil’s meaning is that it’s Welsh for ‘6th child’ or something like that. Cecil is yet another family name. My great-great uncle was the first Cecil, and then my great uncle (who WAS the 6th child out of 11!) and his son. I’ve always loved the name and wouldn’t mind having a little Cecil of my own…which brings me back to my point…since I thought that Cecilia was the female form of Cecil, I’ve thought about Cecilia….but now I’m unsure.
Cecil has a funny story. He and Cecilia do come from the same roots – Caecilius. But the Cecil family derives their name from Sextus – sixth – via a Welsh variant. So the names are the same, but Cecil has another layer to consider.
I know a little Cecilia who goes by Cece. She is precious. I think this name is definitely a good alternative to the too common but lovely Amelia and Olivia. It’s a bit frilly but perfect for parents looking for a feminine name with a great nickname.
Dumb question. Something I’ve never been able to understand is the spelling. Why is the Celia part of Cecilia spelled Cilia?
Some people (such as my family) spell Cecilia as Cecelia.
My first daughter’s name is Cecelia and her toddler nickname is Cece. When she is grown she may choose Celia. There are two common ways to spell the name: Cecilia and Cecelia. They are pronounced a little different too. My grandmother was Cecelia, with an “e”. I think the Ceciilia, with an “i”, spelling and pronunciation of the name is more common in South America, while my heritage is more German. Friends of mine from S. America say the common nickname for the Cecilia version of the name there is Cisa (Cee-Sa). Anyway, I obviously love the name since I named my first after it. (Cece’s younger sister is named Penelope, and her nickname is “Poppy”).
Christina Fonseca says
I’ve always loved Cecilia. I like her sound and the fact that she’s the patron saint of music. In Mexico it is traditional for musicians to play in churches throughout the day on November 22nd, her feast day.
Charlotte Vera says
Mmmmm, Cecelia. She’s so pretty and she has a history. I wouldn’t use here — she ends in “a” — but I’d cheer on other parents who do. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Cecelia. Celia yes, Cecelia no.
This is another instance where I really regret my sibilant surname. I suppose it’s a case of loving what you can’t have… like wishing for straight hair when you have a head-full of ringlets.
Anyways Cecelia is lovely and I’d love to meet a few more little ones.
I love Cecilia and would use it in a heartbeat…if it wasn’t the name of my ex-boyfriend’s wife (who’s a real b*tch *sigh*)