Cecilia is a current choice for girls, with variants Cecily and Cicely attracting more attention among the fashionable. But what about her distinguished brother?

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Cecil as Name of the Day.

Yes, I hear you. Cecil will get sand kicked in his face and be laughed off the football field.

Maybe so. But for every boy named Slade, there’s a Joshua. Circa 2009, you don’t need to be named Gunnar to be taken seriously.

And if you view Cecil as an aristocratic surname pick, he might just appeal to parents seeking alternatives to preppy mainstays like Carter and Brooks.

While many sites link Cecil to Caecilius, the name of a third century saint, he probably owes his popularity to the influential Cecil family. They first rose to prominence in the 1500s, and they trace their surname to the Welsh Seissylt – which, in turn, was derived from the Latin Sextus, meaning sixth.

Back during the reign of Elizabeth I, William Cecil was the queen’s loyal go-to guy, serving as Treasurer and Secretary of State. His descendants have been powerful ever since.

In the US, Cecil ranked in the Top 100 from 1896 through 1930, peaking at #65 in 1902. That’s fairly common, and he remained in use for decades.

But Cecil left the rankings entirely in the 1990s, possibly because so many quirky characters had worn the name:

  • Back in the 1950s, there was a comic book about a boy called Beany and his pal, a Sea-Sick Sea Serpent named Cecil. In 1962, Beany and Cecil became a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon;
  • Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies used the name for Cecil Turtle;
  • On soap opera Passions, Cecil was a magical doll who came to life;
  • Saw IV included the thoroughly spineless Cecil Adams among the body count.

So it is easy to see why he might not inspire modern parents. But Cecil also has a host of positive associations:

  • The name appears on the map, often honoring one of the many English aristocrats wearing the surname;
  • Cecil Day Lewis was a famous poet and author – as well as dad to celebrated actor Daniel Day Lewis;
  • Hugh Cecil was a renowned English photographer;
  • Hollywood’s Golden Age made director Cecil B. DeMille nearly as famous as some of his actors. The Oscar winner is best remembered for The Ten Commandments. He also appeared as himself in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, setting up Gloria Swanson’s unforgettable line: All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up;
  • John Waters riffed on DeMille’s name with his 2000 film Cecil B. DeMented;
  • Sir Cecil Beaton won Oscars for costume design;
  • Cecil Adams is the columnist – or, more likely, the pseudonym for the columnist – behind The Chicago Reader’s The Straight Dope column.

He’s also been worn by athletes, like baseball’s Cecil Fielder, and musicians.

If Cecil has any shortcoming, it is the difficulty in choosing a nickname. Cee seems too short; Ceci decidedly feminine. And the final syllable – Cil – doesn’t provide many options, either.

On balance, Cecil has a certain blue-blooded, English charm and a quirky, even artistic, vibe. But despite his history, this would be a daring choice for a modern parent – and you might play it safe by leaving him in the middle spot.

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. Our short-lived pet cat was named Cecil. Well, actually, when we adopted him the name he came with was Cocoa, but we wanted his name to match our dog’s more, so we changed it. Sadly, we didn’t realise when we acquired Cecil that he was already terminally ill, so we only had him for a month. I really like the name, but could never use it on a child now. Perhaps if we ever get another cat. . .

    Oh, and our dog is adopted too. He came to us as Jack Daniels, but we changed his name to Miles. So yes, for a brief while we were the proud parents of Miles and Cecil.

  2. I don’t like Cecil when pronounced SEE sill, but when said SEH sill, I can see some glimmer of appeal. It’s definitely not one for me. It’s kind of in the same boat as Percival, but that once has a little more panache to me and an acceptable nickname. It also has the pronunciation confusion, with Americans going for the SEE sill version more often (right? sometimes I’m not sure anymore), much like Maurice is said mar-EES in the states and is MORE iss in the UK… Cecil would come across as overly posh and yes, I think on the brink of a butt-kicking invitation, unfortunately. Maybe he’s a bit better as a middle?

  3. I actually like Cecil. But then, it’s the surname of one of my dearest friends. I’d use it in the middle, to honor him, but my other half is mildly jealous of him, so it’s a no-go for me. Funny, he bit on Cecily, but that was easy, He knew my Babci.
    I suggested Cecil as a brother for Byron the very first time we talked about that. She’s got a little over 6 weeks to go now. I can barely wait!

    Cecil’s neat. He’s jaunty, and definitely has a musical feel to me. I could see a Cecil heading the school band, or starring in the spring musical. I can also picture a grown Cecil (since that’s what the friend goes by), he’s a professional DJ, does weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, parites, et al. So yeah, the music thing is embedded for me.

    Cecil’s got a neat history and I have to admit, Cecil B. DeMille was my second thought behnd the friend. What a great guy he was from all accounts! Makes Cecil an unexpectedly awesome choice for me. Maybe I’ll casually bring him up again…. Wish me luck! 😀