Clea (novel)

She’s a cousin to Cleo, but with a more conventionally feminine sound.

Thanks to Rachel for suggesting Clea as our Baby Name of the Day.

This name could be pronounced klee UH or KLAY uh.  I can’t make up my mind if one works better than the other.

Maybe that’s because she feels like an invention.

Only she isn’t.  Plutarch refers to Clea, a priestess of Apollo, in his writings.

She lingered in obscurity for eons, until Lawrence Durrell gave the name to a character in his Alexandria Quartet.  The four novels are Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea.  They’re set in Alexandria, Egypt before and during World War II.  Clea moves to Corfu post-war.

The books were published between 1957 and 1960, and this is no Twilight series.  They’re heavy-hitting novels, with serious literary cred.

So it’s funny to think of Durrell’s work and then read about the other uses of the name.

Superhero comics give us two very different Cleas:

  • Queen Clea is a villain who faces off against Wonder Woman.  She rules a city in Atlantis, but is forever scheming to rule all of the underwater lands.  She’s not just power-hungry, she’s mean, too, and has lots of superpowers to aid in her quest for world domination.  Interestingly, this Clea was introduced way before Durrell picked up a pencil to write his quartet.  Queen Clea debuted in 1944.
  • Then there’s a second Clea, a sidekick and love interest for Dr. Strange.  She’s as good as the regal Clea is bad, and has been around since the 1960s.  Dr. Strange hasn’t made much of a dent in the superhero ‘verse in recent years, though his story was re-told in a 2008 animated flick on Cartoon Network.  Clea was scarcely mentioned.  But who knows?  Hollywood could embrace easily embrace this one.

The name has been given to between 10 and 20 girls most years for the past two decades.  Parents may have found her in literature or in comic books.  But two actresses have also worn the name in recent years.

First is Clea Lewis, best known for her role as Audrey on Ellen.

Then there’s Clea DuVall.  I love her full name: Clea Helen D’Etienne DuVall.  Gorgeous, right?  She’s played roles in a few big blockbusters, but is definitely more of a household name in the indie flick industry.  She’s also known as Sofie on HBO Original Series Carnivale and Cora in Argo.  Her career has spanned more than two decades, so chances are that you’ve heard her name at some time.  She favors the klee UH pronunciation.

DuVall comes across as smart and independent, and it is easy to imagine parents hearing her name and deciding to use it for a daughter.

With Chloe so popular, and short names like Mila garnering more attention, Clea strikes the right note.  She shares sounds with stylish names, but she’s distinct and different, too.  If you’re after a stand-out name that still fits in, Clea is one to consider.

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 Clea and it has been a great name to have. It has brought me a lot of good fortune. Ive always been unique/an individual and someone whos moved around a lot, having a name which isnt easy to place or isnt often heard has really suited me as a person. Couldnt recomend it more!

  2. What about this: Clea (or, more likely spelled Clia) as a nickname for Cordelia? I am having a baby girl in about 5 weeks (!!) and we’re torn between a few names. Cordelia is high on the list, but – maybe bc I’ve never actually known anyone named it – it sometimes feels clunky to say. I really don’t like Cory/Cordy as a nickname. Some of the other nicknames are nicer (Cora, Coco, Delia (which my husband loves!), and Lia) but none of them blow me away. I really like the name Clea though… could I get away with calling my Cordelia “Clia” from time to time?? Because that might just clinch it for me as the winner!

    1. I think Clea/Clia could be a nickname for Cordelia – I do love an unexpected nickname! My personal favorite for Cordelia is definitely Coco. But then I just plain love Coco.

  3. How fun to see this name featured! My great-grandma’s name was Clea and I would love to use this (not pregnant at the moment.. just always looking)! She pronounced it KLEE-uh, but I also love the KLAY-uh. Which one do you think most people would assume it is?

  4. My older daughter is named Cléa. We’re French Canadians so we pronounce it clay-ah. We live in a mostly anglophone area but the pronunciation hasn’t been a problem most of the time. I explain it as princess Leia with a C. I’ve always loved the name Cléo and when I first noticed the actress Clea DuVall, I fell in love with her name. I love how it’s feminine, trendy, classic and original all at once.

  5. This is my daughter’s name, we write it Cléa (pronounced Klay-uh). It’s short for Cleopatra, and as you mentioned a mire feminine form of Cleo. It means fame, glory to the father … More populare in francophone countries. It’s also a character in french author Marc Levy’s book The Shadow Thief (le voleur d’ombres) which is a very interesting character and made me love my daughter’s name even more.

  6. Oh, how fun to see this post! I really like this name. I’ve been trying to sell my husband on it, but he doesn’t like names that have multiple pronunciations. I like both ways, and think it’s such a gorgeous, underused name.

  7. Wow, this is another one of those names I just thought was much more common. Probably because the name feels so perfectly “on trend.” Lovely name.

  8. Clea is really lovely–I could really see it growing in popularity. I like the Clee-ah pronunciation, like Leah with a C 🙂