English: Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal. França...
English: Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This one is a real rarity, a place name with possible ties to an ancient goddess.

Thanks to Caitlin for suggesting one from her family tree.  Our Baby Name of the Day is Cintra.

When Caitlin wrote in, she noted that her aunt Cintra was the only one in her immediate family with an unusual name, deepening the mystery.

But was Cintra always so unusual?

Though she’s never made the US Top 1000, she appears in US Census records, especially in the 1930 Census.  Cintra wasn’t common, but she’s not the rarest name I’ve ever researched, either.  It suggests something that was once relevant, but isn’t well remembered today.

Does Cintra come from a place?  A poem?  A peace treaty?  Maybe all three.

In the early days of the nineteenth century, Napoleon’s French Empire was at war, fighting for control of Spain and Portugal.  The British sided with the Spanish and Portuguese, and together, they defeated the French.  In August of 1808, the two sides reached a deal to evacuate the defeated French from Portugal.  The deal was signed at a palace in Sintra, but was recorded in the history books as the Convention of Cintra.

Other battles and place names from foreign lands have come into use as given names over the years, like Alma.  But this wasn’t a popular treaty.  Lord Byron mentioned the Convention of Cintra in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, comparing it to Eden, but adding: “Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name.”

This makes it unlikely that Cintra would come into use as a name in honor of the events that took place there.

So back to Portugal.  It’s close to the capital city of Lisbon, chock full of stunning nineteenth century architecture, like the palace where the treaty was signed.  There are also the Sintra Mountains, and a large nature park.  It’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, with buildings dating to the 700s and 800s.

The story goes that Sintra comes from Cynthia, and that Sintra was considered a place sacred to Diana and moon worship back in the day.  It’s plausible.  Ptolemy referred to the area as the mountains of the moon -serra da lua, and the Romans called it Mons Lunae – Moon Hill.  It has also been known as Suntria, Sintria, Xintara, and Xentra in various records.

Sintra has featured prominently in Portuguese history and literature over the centuries, and was a popular resort destination for centuries, first for royals, then aristocrats and the wealthy, eventually evolving into a favored place for artists to live and work.

Perhaps there’s a missing link – a lost novel or play, a major news story involving the community from the 1800s.

Because what’s certain is that Cintra has persisted as a given name.  Cintra Wilson’s writing has appeared in the New York Times.


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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  1. Hey, I just heard the story that my father was working lights for a theater in Colorado when he overheard some people talking about their friend Cintra. He liked the name and put it in the back of his brain, and when I was born, there I was. Hi Cintras!
    – Cintra Wilson

  2. Actually the name of the beautiful town of Sintra was spelled with C until 1911 when the ortographic reform of the Portuguese language changed it to Sintra. My last name Cintra is after a certain Pedro (Peter) who arrived in Brazil in the 18th century coming from Cintra. He was known as Pedro de Cintra (Peter from Cintra), thus the family name.

    1. I have been trying to find out more about my last name, it’s de Cintra and was wondering if you could help

  3. I have at least 17 Cintra’s in the branches of the family tree all going back to my fourth great grandfather who spent time in Portugal in the 1820s and 30s for business / diplomacy and named his daughter Cintra. She died quite young, but her brother named a daughter Cintra and the name has persisted.

    1. HI my name is Cintra too. I would love to chat I noticed you posted back in 2013, hoping you will see this comment five years later.

  4. Fascinating name – I like this one! And as a traveller at heart, this Sintra, Portugal sounds like a pretty awesome place! I might even prefer the spelling of the name with an S…

  5. I was named after a friend of my mom’s in college, Cintra Scott, who may be the writer “Cintra Wilson” mentioned above. I eventually learned that there was a city in Spain and so had a bit of something to tell when people asked “Where did you get your name?” Now I have a bit more to share…Thank you! Although I have heard of and seen similar names on-line, I have yet to meet another Cintra/Sintra face-to-face. Something to look forward to!

    1. Coincidentally, my mother and father also named me after their college friend, Cintra. We’re all from Iowa originally, and that’s where they went to college. I was born in 1960. I had never heard of anyone else with this name until I went to Las Vegas in my early 20s. My friend who lived in Vegas introduced me to his friend who was with a group. When they heard my name was Cintra they practically went into shock. Apparently, their friend, Cintra, was in the city with them. They called all around until they found her and a meeting between the two of us was arranged. She made me show her my license (: I think she was disappointed not to be the only one anymore. I’ve always enjoyed having an unusual name. I knew that Sintra or Cintra was a port in Portugal and that many people in Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken, have Cintra as a last name. I always tell people it’s a Portuguese name, when they ask. Then they ask me if I’m Potuguese and I have to say no. Until recently there was no info about our name on the internet. This is an interesting development. I wonder how many of us there really are. Someone should start a facebook page for all Cintras!

    2. My mother also went to college (Penn) with Cintra Scott and I too was named after her. Small world! I wonder if our mothers know each other?