He’s an Ancient Athenian statesman who fits right in with the hickster trend.
Thanks to Silent One for suggesting Cleon as our Baby Name of the Day.
If you named your kid Leo back in, say, pre-Titanic 1996, you were ahead of the trend. But maybe it was 2001, and you noticed Leo was on an upwards trajectory, so you went farther and named your son Leon. Since the 2008 arrival of the youngest Jolie-Pitt son, Knox Léon, Leon, too, is gaining favor.
Cleon has a completely different origin, but he shares sounds with Leo and Leon. And while he’s never been common, between the nineteenth century and the 1930s, he makes periodic appearances at the higher end of the US Top 1000.
It is probably more fair to class Cleon with other names from the era, like:
Today they all scream old man – possibly old man from small town in Idaho or Alabama or someone obscure – hick. But in days gone by they were worn by a a writer of Greek epics and a pair of Roman poets. If you met a little kid in a fashionable New York or L.A. neighbor called Homer, you might even find it obvious and unoriginal.
Cleon was born wealthy, but his dad had earned his money in trade. This makes Cleon something new for Athens – a man of means, but also a man of the people. He made enemies with prominent writers, including Thucydides and Aristophanes, so history traditionally gives us a rather unflattering portrait of Cleon. He also appears briefly in Shakespeare’s Pericles, where he’s an outright villain. However, in more recent times, Cleon’s career has been re-evaluated and a picture of a capable figure – if an often dissenting voice – has emerged.
The name must’ve been somewhat common. At least two other Cleons surface in the ancient world – a Greek sculptor, and a warlord who fought with, and then against, Mark Antony.
In any case, we don’t think of Cleon as a villain or a hero – we simply don’t think of him much at all. His writings aren’t required reading, and few of his quotes have made their way into popular anthologies. Today, Cleon feels a little bit like a masculine form of Cleo, and indeed, the two names share a root – kleos, Greek for glory.
You might also think of:
- The character Cleon from the 1979 movie The Warriors, based on a novel about a street gang – inspired by, believe it or not, the life and biographical writings of soldier fifth century BC. The warrior was Xenophon, and the name Cleon wasn’t used in the novel – I’m not quite certain how he made it into the film;
- 1995’s Dead Presidents includes a military vet-turned-robber called Cleon;
- Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series gave the name to an emperor of the Galactic Empire;
- Cleon Jones, a member of the 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets, a team widely expected to lose to the Baltimore Orioles. Jones caught the fly ball that secured the Mets’ victory and earned him a place in the club’s Hall of Fame.
Despite Cleon’s similarity to popular picks like Leo and Owen, he seems unlikely to be the next big thing. But if you live in the kind of ‘hood where hipster babies named Roscoe and Dinah play, Cleon might be one to consider.
My son is called Cleon… He will be 5 in January and we’ve never met another 🙂
We pronounce it Clian, we live in the uk.
A Girl Cleon says
This is my middle name. I am a girl and I never liked it. It was my grandmother’s name (she was born in 1900) and she LOVED it. I think she liked the strong sound of the name for a girl. I still do not admit that this is my middle name to anyone to this day. My advice is to pass on this name for a girl or a boy. The only plus to having it as my middle name is NO ONE has ever guessed it when they try to figure out what my middle name is!!
Thanks for doing this. When I think of Cleon, I usually think of author/theologian Cleon Skousen, so it’s got a bit of an older, educated association for me. But I can see the hick in it, too. And I realize most people probably haven’t heard of Skousen.
Klingon. That is all.
Charlotte Vera says
Being from Canada (and having grown up in India), it’s interesting reading all these comments. My associations with most of the names mentioned are purely their classical/historical beginnings. I’m drawing on my rather limited knowledge of American literature to understand the emotions that invoke the responses being expressed here.
Lady Gwyn says
Well, I live in rural Nebraksa (the heart of Nowheresville 🙂 ), so I have to say that is does sound kind of “hickish” to me-and this is speaking as a born-and-bred hick! I’m also edumacated, and I love classical names (Lysander, Aurelius, Claudius, Theodora, Julia, etc.), but I wouldn’t use Cleon. My kid is already going to be labeled as an uneducated redneck just by being born in Nebraska (and, honestly, I have met soooooo many people who believe this-it makes me nuts! *), so I really have no desire to further that delusion. I’ll stick with my chosen Edward Paul, thanks!
*No really, I was chatting with a lady whilst standing in line at Disney World, where upon hearing that we were from Nebraska and that it does, indeed, get hot there, she said, and I quote, “At least we have air conditioning down here!” We were delighted to inform her that not only did we have air conditioning, we also had electricity, indoor plumbing, and the Internet!
Well, I like Cleon, in a classical sense, anyway. He doesn’t strike me as uneducated or backwoodsy at all. Rather more cultured & high-brow. If that makes any sense.
Of course, with an almost 25 year old Leo and a lifelong love of Cleo, Cleon, while I like it, will never be used by me. Too similar for comfort. Maybe for the next grey cat. Yeah, Cleon’s perfect for the cat who is Sherman, sitting here next to me. Why not? 😀
Yeeeeah… all Klingon to me. Really not attractive. I’d have said, “Weird, sci-fi, out-there inspired name”… Not, “There goes a hick name!”
As for the classification of “Hick” names being quite classic – I’d attribute, like you said, to grabbing handy resources and a bit of hoping that the name will lead to a big future. You don’t want your son to appear a dim-witted farm boy, allowing him to reach higher heights than you could even imagine, get taken seriously in the big city? Name him something that smacks of culture and smarts! And also, name trends probably shift a bit faster in urban areas, so as new names were taking off, there were still old trends just getting started in the more outlying areas. So while everyone else was on to the new trends, those following the old ones were seen as backwards and uneducated. Which, of course, is not always the case.
I hear Klingon, too. And, I grew up in Nowheresville, although I now live in Dallas. Count me among the educated, as well.
C in DC says
I prefer Cletus to Cleon. I’m not a fan of the -on ending.
Generally I love the “eo” sound in boys names, and I love almost anything Greek. Leander, Leonidas, Theron, Theodore and the like are all big favourites of mine. I’m not digging Cleon though, despite all that, and it’s great “glory” meaning. I also hear Klingon, and I think its similarity to Clio and Cliona is jarring slightly for me.
Thank you very much for that extremely good explanation: that all makes sense.
I love the name Dante, btw – my hubby rejected it for being too artsy and feminine sounding! Apparently stereotypes can be not only different, but opposing. I don’t see why we couldn’t have an artistic, feminine son anyway, but there you go.
PS I am also from “Nowheresville”!!!!
HA! Fortunately Clio was a girl, so we never really had The Battle of Dante. Or Huck. Or any of my favorite names that brought out the big veto stamp.
And I think most of us are from Nowheresville. It’s a nice place. 🙂
C in DC says
Yep, I too am originally from Nowheresville. Rural western NY, in my case.
I’m always surprised (and impressed) by how supposedly “hick” or “urban” or ” backwoodsy” Americans gave their children in the past obscure names from classical times. Can anybody explain it? It sounds as if they were actually pretty educated people despite living in Nowheresville.
Whenever I suggest a name on Yahoo Answers from a classical background (or something they think is from a classical background), people often say it sounds like a “black” name or something less flattering meaning the same thing. Now I don’t know why that is, but Cleon sounds like the sort of name that people on Yahoo Answers would say was a “black name”.
It’s very handsome, and I like it, but for some reason it reminds me of Klingon …
I live in metro Washington DC, and I think that one of our dangerous arrogances is to believe that no one in Iowa or West Virginia has themselves an edumacation. This is snobbery, and it is also false. I know plenty of smart cookies that live in parts of the world that, to quote the Dukes of Hazzard “don’t even have an Outback Steakhouse.” And I’ve lived in Nowheresville, and I don’t think I’m all that different now that I live in an urban center, though the shoe stores are better here.
My hunch is that many of the names borrowed from antiquity aren’t so different from Biblical obscurities – parents didn’t have access to baby name books or websites in the 1890s or 1930s, so they turned to the resources they might have at hand – the Bible, and whatever great books were in their personal collection or local library, or whatever struck a chord from their time at school. There have always been parents, of every race and class and educational level, who preferred to find a different name. Maybe because they were expecting baby #9 and had exhausted family members to honor, or just because name nerdery is not really new.
As for the “black name” comment – yes, I’ve heard it. I think there’s actually a kernel of something legit in that comment – at least some slaves were given names like Caesar, Homer, Scipio, and Venus (I pulled those three from this list: http://www.archives.gov/southeast/finding-aids/slave-manifests/charleston/names.html) In fiction, I think those unusual names are amplified, even though William and Charles were perfectly common, too. It’s kind of like every Pilgrim being named Mercy or Myles when obviously most of them were just plain ol’ John.
At other times, I think it is a racist, dismissive comment about a name. And sometimes it is a honest reaction to a stereotype. My own dear husband rejected Dante for that reason – though I think he’d have rejected it regardless of our race or ethnicity, for fear that Dante was a name for a big guy, an athlete, someone who could throw a punch. And we’re more of the pun-throwing types around here. (Groan.)
One last thought on that issue – I also think that sometimes our image of a name is deeply connected to a use of which we may not be completely aware. Cleon in The Warriors is, indeed, an African American character. The same actor – Dorsey Wright – played Junior in The Hotel New Hampshire, and had a few other roles in the 70s & 80s, so I can picture Cleon. If that comment were specific to Cleon, I’d say that it was the lingering influence of the actor and the role, even if we were only dimly aware of the movie’s existence.
Sarah A says
Wow Abby, thanks for that amazing insight! I’ve known quite a few older (55+) African American men with names like Virgil and Julius so this makes sense.
I’m personally not from Nowheresville, but I am from the Midwest. I know more Mackenzies than Tamsins, but yes most of us are edumacated 🙂
As for Cleon, all I hear is Klingon unfortunately.
Emmy Jo says
I get the “sounds black” comments about a lot of my favorite boys’ names, including my son’s name (Julius). I do think certain very distinguished sounding names (especially those with classical origins) have a stronger recent history of use among African American families. But just because some African American families are using these great names, does that mean I can’t?
Like Abby, I have heard that it’s because many slave owners gave their slaves names from antiquity, and then those names were passed down either within families or through naming after famous heroes. I know this is horrible, but I think we see a similar impulse today in how many people today give their pets uncommon, educated-sounding names but their children much more common names. Someone might have kids named Jack and Emma but cats named Chaucer and Persephone. In fact, when I told my sister-in-law that I was considering Julius for our son, she suggested that we save it for our next pet instead. 🙁
When I hear Cleon, I think of 70’s actor Cleavon Little (the sheriff in Blazing Saddles.)
Re: the idea that Cleon is a black name…
1. Mr. Little and Mr. Jones are both African American and they are probably the best-known, prominent people with the name (or something similar.)
2. The suffix “-on” (or suffixes pronounced “-aun”) are a popular suffix in male names that “sound Black”. Antoine, Marlon, Deion, Javion, Daquan, Trevon.
As for Cleon, to my ear it feels musty and old-mannish. More fitting with Seymour and Florian… less so with Cosmo and Axel.
You’re right Emmy Jo, it IS horrible, but that’s because slavery is horrible.
And I agree with you – so what? I also don’t get why people are barred from using names considered “black” anyway – I mean, why do people say it like it’s a bad thing, or the names are unusable? I can’t see how “name apartheid” helps improve the situation.
PS LOVE the name Julius!!!!
Sarah A says
I agree that just because some names are considered “black” that it’s not a bad thing, nor does it render a name unusable. My guess is that sentiment comes from a feeling that if one is not culturally black, it would be odd to have a name that “sounds black”, perhaps similarly to naming one’s child Svetlana without having Russian heritage. That’s just a guess though 🙂
Something else I just remembered that might make Cleon “sound black” is that one of the teen moms on the current season of MTV’s 16 & Pregnant is an African-American girl named Cleondra.
And Emmy Jo – I also LOVE the name Julius!
It would be nice to think so, except they use a bad word instead of “black”, suggesting that they see it as “low class” in some way. Probably not everyone is as nice as you!