Title page from Clarissa; Image via Wikipedia


There’s spare Claire and vintage Clara. But what about the frilliest of them all?

Thanks to Fran for suggesting Clarissa as Baby Name of the Day.

A recent post featuring Larissa prompted comments about the -ssa ending. It’s true that many -ssa names are fading: Melissa, Vanessa, Alyssa, and Marissa all have their best days behind them, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.

Clarissa, too, is more of a modern success than a vintage revival. Her best year in the US was 1994, when she peaked at #236, before falling to a distant #602 in 2009 – about where she ranked in the nineteenth century.

Her 1990s use probably has something to do with Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All. Melissa Joan Hart played teenager Clarissa who did, indeed, break the fourth wall to explain everything to her young viewers.

There was nothing controversial about Hart’s good girl character, but the original pop culture Clarissa was a different story. The title page pictured above is from Samuel Richardson’s 1748 Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady.

Richardon’s Clarissa is virtuous, but saddled to a nouveau riche family with greater social aspirations. Her parents and brother conspire to make an advantageous match for the lovely young Clarissa. Their plans end badly; her attempts to thwart their plans go even worse. Despite her many trials, she remains an admirable figure.

It’s difficult to say how many girls were named Clarissa after the novel, but it appears that Richardson did put the name back into the mix. The Latin clarus – clear, bright, famous – generated many a given name. Clarice, Claricia, and Clarrie can be found in the Middle Ages. Clarissa appears to have been a Latin form of Clarice, or sometimes a diminutive derived from the Clar- names. Fifteenth century aristocrat Clarice Orsini married Lorenzo de Medici; they’re the parents of Pope Leo X. She’s referred to as both Clarice and Clarissa in the historical record.

Other notables include:

  • Clara Barton was born Clarissa, though she’d shed her -issa by the time she organized the American Red Cross;
  • Poet and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés is known for her advocacy on a range of social justice issues, but also lends the name a certain New Age vibe;
  • Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is named Clarissa;
  • Celeb chef Clarissa Wright is known in name circles for her extended appellation. Her full name is Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.

Despite her -ssa ending being out of favor, Clarissa could be that perfect alternative for parents weary of finding all the -ella ending names overused. With Claire ranked at #53 and Clara rising to #199 last year, Clarissa fits in. But since she’s never been overused, she’ll still stand out.

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. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is actually one of the reasonsI love the name Clarisse/Clarissa. It’s feminine but strong. I absolutely hated the character Clarisse La Rue at the beginning, but I like her towards the end of the series.