Thanks to Ashley for suggesting Keir as our Baby Name of the Day.
The first time I heard Keir, I assumed it was related to Kieran.
And it kind of, sort of, maybe is. Except Keir is usually Scottish to Kieran’s Irish roots. Which means there’s more than one possible origin and backstory for this name.
- First up, let’s talk about Kieran. The original spelling is Ciaran – plus a few diacritical marks. In Irish names, -an is the go-to suffix for forming diminutives, so Ciaran was little Ciar. Ciar means dark or black. There were two saints Ciaran, so this name has history aplenty.
- Then there’s Keir as a form of Kerr, both surnames big in Scotland. They originally come from a place name which is Old Norse in origin. It doesn’t appear to have filtered into use as a given name in any Nordic language. Maybe that’s about the meaning – wet ground. You can still find Keir on the map in Scotland.
- And lastly, a folk etymology – and maybe some pointless trivia. It was once said that the surname Kerr came from the Gaelic cearr – left-handed, and that all Kerrs would be southpaws.
James Keir Hardie – known exclusively by his middle name, which was his mother’s maiden name – got his start as a coal miner in his native Scotland, quickly moved to union organizing, and then elected office. Hardie was elected to Parliament in 1900, and was one of the founders of the British Labour party.
Whether it is spelled Keir or Ciar, the name rhymes with sheer and dear. Ciar might not be intuitive, but I think Keir is pretty straightforward.
It’s also said exactly like kir, as in kir royale – the sweet French cocktail made with blackcurrant liqueur and white wine. It was named for Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon in Burgundy. World War II destroyed Burgundy’s red wine grapes, leaving them with lots of white wine, and a need for novel uses. Necessity is the mother of cocktails!
There is some history of using Kir as a given name. It’s the Russian form of Cyrus, and there’s an early twentieth century Romanian story called Kir Ianulea, named for the devil-protagonist of the tale.
Now back to Keir. The name rose in the 1960s – the age of surfer boy names like Troy and Dean, Keith and Todd. Keir peaked in 1970, when 63 boys were given the name.
A handful of them might be familiar:
- Actor Keir Dullea is best known for his role in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as Dave. Dullea probably gets credit for the name peaking in 1970.
- Professional snowboarder Keir Dillon.
- Actor Keir Gilchrist, who played Marshall on Showtime’s The United States of Tara.
As of 2013, 14 newborn boys were called Keir. That’s many fewer than Kieran’s 469, or even Ciaran’s 80. Then again, Kieran had young actor Kieran Culkin to help boost the name, and we’ve been mad about two-syllable, ends-in-n names for boys.
If single-syllable choices for boys are on the rise, this could be Keir’s moment. Jack, Jace, Keir – the name stands out, but still fits in.
If you’re after something distinctive and different for a son, but want something with roots – especially Scottish roots – then Keir could be one to consider.
Do you think Keir could catch on? Do you prefer Keir or Kieran/Ciaran?
More names to explore: