Photograph of blue sky

Nature names are a huge category for baby names these days.  So are all things français.  No wonder, then, that a handful of French nature names are attracting attention.

Thanks to Jen for suggesting Ciel as our Baby Name of the Day.

Ciel is the French word for sky, but also for heaven.  If you recite the Our Father in French, it begins “Notre Père, qui es aux cieux …”

In Spanish, the word is cielo, and it also does double-duty, meaning both sky and heaven, too.

Together, they’re attracting attention, and plenty of variants:

  • The Spanish Cielo is the most popular, given to 100 newborn girls in 2013.
  • Ciel comes in second place, and trends unisex – 17 girls plus 17 boys were given the name in 2013.
  • The elaborate, and more clearly feminine Cielle was chosen for 10 girls.
  • Add-an-a and eight girls became Ciela, plus another 6 named Ciella.

They join:

  • Over 3,700 girls named Skylar, plus nearly 900 Skylers, 700 Skyes, over 500 Skylas, and nearly 300 Skys.  Plus almost 1,000 girls called Heaven, and let’s just sidestep the issue of Nevaeh …
  • In addition, over 1,000 boys were named Skyler plus nearly 500 Skylars.

A quick note on pronunciation: Ciel rhymes with miel – honey, and “be well.”  Cielo sounds like Ciel + an o.

Anyway, we’re all looking up, but there’s more to Ciel and company than just the optimism of a blue sky on a beautiful day.

  • The heavenly meaning is probably relevant to some – especially in Spanish.  While Cielo screams modern to my ears, it has some history as a Marian name, referring to the Virgin Mary.  In Spanish, it is Maria del Cielo, Mary of the Sky, and I’ve found the phrase Madonna del Cielo used in Italian.
  • Enter the telenovela.  In 1999, Por tu amor debuted on Mexican television, with the lovely Gabriela Spanic as Maria del Cielo Montalvo – Cielo.  In the US, Cielo peaked back in 2001, with 258 girls given the name that year – the same year that a Univision affiliate finished broadcasting the series in the US.
  • Of course, with -elle, -ella, and -ela names in vogue, it doesn’t take any familiarity with the Spanish soap opera or the religious meaning to embrace this name.  As of 2013, the US Top 1000 included five ends-with-ella names, plus Annabelle.  Similar-sounding choices abound.  Couldn’t Ciela just as easily be a spin on Graciela?
  • Lastly, there’s a high profile birth announcement in the mix.  Back in 2009, supermodel Niki Taylor named her first daughter Ciel.  She had sons Jake and Hunter from a prior marriage, and she and NASCAR driver Burney Lamar are also parents to Rex.

If you’re a fan of anime, you might know of a masculine character by this name.  And some quibble that it is le ciel in French, making this a masculine name, a successor to Daniel and Gabriel.

Maybe so, and the numbers on the -el spelling are even.

But overall, this category of names tends to go girl.

As for whether Ciel is authentically French, it appears that you’d never hear this one on  Paris playground – though Oceane is quite popular.

If you’re after a completely unexpected name with ties to the natural world, Ciel has some strengths.  It’s relatively easy to say and spell, and the explanation “it’s the French word for sky,” will probably satisfy most who comment on the name’s distinctiveness.  Plus, it falls into the category of foreign words many English speakers tend to recognize – thank you, compulsory foreign language classes in high school – so that makes it wearable, too.

As rarities go, Ciel is truly unusual, without being tough to wear.

What do you think of Ciel?  Is it better for a boy or a girl?  Or do you prefer Cielo, Cielle, or Ciela/Ciella?

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. As someone who is a MALE named Ciel then I obviously consider the name more masculine. It would be weird to know someone named that who’d be a girl

  2. Take it from someone whose name IS Ciel and IS female… It’s not easy to spell, to pronounce, or explain [in a sea of Sarah’s and Emma’s] … but it is distinct. The gender may be up for debate but not for me!

  3. Well, I think Ciel suits a boy better, but then, I’m an Anime fan so my opinion may as well be void…

  4. I prefer Ciela, pronounced as “Shella”. I love it because it’s simple, rare and it sounds cute and femine. The name Ciel reminds me of a girl, so for me its a girly name.

  5. I love Cielo – a native Spanish-speaker with a Cielo tells me that it’s given in the sense of “sweetheart, darling”, as in “my heaven, my angel”. I thought that was beautiful.

    Ciel looks a little unfinished to me.

  6. Starbucks has a blend of coffee called Casa Cielo. They pronounce it ‘SEE-ehl-oh’. I would imagine that most people in the Pac NW would pronounce it as such as well.

    Perhaps because of the java association, it feels extra Italian… like a next generation for Siena or Cecily.

    Personally, I love it! I think I would be charmed to meet a Cielo.

  7. Ciel and Cielo are both masculine nouns in french and spanish respectively. So I prefer to use them on the appropriate gender.

  8. I’ve recently started thinking a lot about Cielo – maybe it is in part to all the kids that go by Sky. I like the soft “s” sound and L of Ciel and Cielo; I do think that Ciela/ Ciella would be a nice way to honor a Graciela or Graziella.

    Also, I really like the new “More Names to Consider” addition to the site.