Mask of Tlaloc, nahua god of the rain (Nationa...
Mask of Tlaloc, Nahua God of the Rain; Image via Wikipedia

There’s Luna and Stella. Skylar and Haley, too. How would this celestial appellation wear on a child?

Thanks to Claire for suggesting Citlali as our Baby Name of the Day.

Parents love names with attractive meanings, and why not? At some point, our kids will be able to Google. Just look at the comments for Caleb – here or on any baby name site – and you can watch parents pretzel themselves trying to figure out if a name that might mean “dog” is an insult.

Maybe that’s why nature names are so big these days. They’re vaguely spiritual, but not as specifically religious as Mary. Many of them have a modern feel, though you can find antiques like Esther, too. And it is easy to find international variants, like model Niki Taylor’s daughter, Ciel, from the French word for sky.

Depending on your background, Citlali is either a great example of an exotic name borrowed from the natural world, or maybe just a bit over the top. Like Stella, she means star. But in this case, the source language is Nahuatl. You can hear her pronunciation here: SEET lahl lee.

You might find her listed as an Aztec name. Aztec comes from Aztlan, the mythological place the Mexica people considered their Garden of Eden. Aztec is the word that outsiders used to describe not only the Mexicas, but also the empire they ruled. It’s easy to be fascinated by stories of pyramid building and human sacrifice, but there’s far more substance there.

Nahuatl refers to a group of languages spoken by around 1.5 million people, mostly in Central America. If you’ve eaten a tomato or an avocado, you’ve had a taste of Nahuatl. It was originally written in ideographs. By the 1500s, Mesoamericans merged Nahuatl with the Latin alphabet and developed a written form that was used for practical matters as well as literary and creative endeavors. It makes the language relatively accessible and defines Classical Nahuatl.

Like Latin, Classical Nahuatl doesn’t exist as a living language, but Nahuatl perseveres in various dialects, somewhat altered by the influence of Spanish. Nahua culture embraced compound words – try your hand at this puzzle and you’ll see how you can fit a whole sentence into just one word. There’s a mountain in Mexico called Citlaltepec – hill of the star.

Citlali has been used for some time, for men and women, and sometimes spelled Citlalli. The earliest reference I found was 1520, when Chief Citalali ruled Cocula, a city in Jalisco, Mexico.

There’s a long list of possible Nahua names to consider, and here’s a great video that will introduce pronunciations – as well as the politics.

There’s a Citlali in Laura Esquivel’s novel Law of Love, and I suspect I’m missing another influence. From 2001 to 2006, she was popular enough to rank on the fringes of the US Top 1000.

If you or your partner trace your ancestry to Mexico, Citlali might make for a surprising heritage choice. But like Cohen, if you choose the name merely for sound and style, you may find that it is interpreted by some as insulting.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. My name is citlalli and many people that I know pronounce my name
    `Seek-la-lly’ or other people that pronounce it wrong pronounce it

  2. I have twin daughters and just so happens that my wife is Hawaiian and I am Mexican when it came to choosing names we did a lot of research I even purshased an Aztec God book that set me back a little over $100.00 Citlali means Godess of the Stars We named my daughter Xitlaly meaning godess of the moon and my other daughter Leilany meaning heavenly royal child of Heaven so it worked out at the end honoring both of our heritage.