Cecily: Baby Name of the Day

Portrait of Cecily Bodenham Abbess of Wilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 25, 2008 and substantially revised and reposted on November 5, 2012.

Today’s choice sounds surprisingly modern for a medieval moniker.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Name of the Day: Cecily, and Jennifer for suggesting that this one be updated!

Everyone loves Emily – she’s been in the US Top 10 since 1991.  Three syllable, ends-in-y or -ie choices for girls are undeniably appealing, no matter your style:

  • 20th century staples like Natalie, Kimberly, and Stephanie
  • Modern noun names like Destiny and Trinity
  • Surname and stolen-from-the-boys choices like Avery and Mackenzie

Meanwhile, Cecily has only appeared in the US Top 1000 a handful of times.

The name likely comes from the Roman Caecilius, which means blind, though there are plenty of more elaborate explanations.

There’s a semi-legendary Saint Cecilia, dating from the 300s.  Legend has it that she a noblewoman, martyred for her beliefs.  As she died, she sang out to praise God.  She’s the patron saint of musicians.  Cecilia was popular in the Middle Ages, and her name caught on as Cecily.  If that sounds unusual, remember that Margery was the preferred form of Margaret through much of the medieval era.

Scan the historical record in Medieval England and you’ll find a number of bearers, including two royals. In the 1400s, Cecily Neville was Duchess of York and mother of two future kings of England: Edward IV and Richard III.  (Her signature suggests that she spelled her name Cecylle.)  King Edward IV named one of his daughters Cecily in her honor.

There’s also:

  • Cecily Bonville, a baroness and heiress in fifteenth century England
  • Cecily Bodenham, a well-born woman who served as Abbess of Wilton until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries

By the eighteenth century, the Latinate Cecilia had eclipsed Cecily, and that remains true today.  She may sound charmingly English, but she’s not particularly popular in the UK, either.

The name does pop up from time to time:

  • Cecily Cardew is one of the characters in Oscar Wilde’s enduring work, The Importance of Being Earnest
  • World War II heroine Cecily Lefort
  • Actress Cicely Tyson  wears an alternate spelling of the name, one that is also used for an herb, as does nineteenth century suffragette and writer Cicely Hamilton
  • The fictional Alaskan town where Northern Exposure took place is another Cicely
  • Cecily von Ziegesar is the creator of Gossip Girl

Two starbabies wear the name. Comedienne Sandra Bernhard named her daughter Cicely Yasin.  British supermodel Stella Tennant has a Cecily.

For nicknames, Cecily could answer to Cece, Ceci, or Cyl.

Overall, Cecily makes for a great option for parents seeking something uncommon but not completely novel.  She’s pretty, even prim, an alternative to Abigail and Hannah.  This is one medieval name that sounds just right in the 21st century.

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21 Comments

My name is Cecily and I am always getting mistaken for my name to be Natalie or Bethany and I hate it. I wish someone could just get my name right without going into madness of other names. Some of my friends from school sometimes call me celery the vegetable and make fun of me or they start singing Cecil is my catapillar song and I hate it so much I hope they stop. I can’t wait to get out of here.

Great timing. My Cecily will turn 7 next week. I first saw the name in “The Importance of Being Earnest”. My husband liked the name from The Road to Avonlea show from when he saw it as a kid. It fits our little girl perfectly.

I, too, am puzzled that it’s still not a top 1000 name. I think it fits perfectly into current trends and sounds.

My primary reference for Cecily is the youngest of the King siblings in Road to Avonlea (she’s also in the show’s source, Montgomery’s _The Story Girl_). I’ve always thought it a pretty name, although in a way I’m more fond of the male form Cecil. Cecilia is just a little too frilly for me and Celia’s too brief, so Cecily is my favourite version of the girls’ name.

Not that I could seriously consider any of the above for a child since we used to have a cat named Cecil. . .

Cecily is one of my faves on the “gorgeous for someone else” list. I’m more of a polka dot dress namer and Cecily is too lacy for me. But I’d love for my baby to come home from camp besties with a Ceci. 🙂

Yes, alot of people call me Sicily…..I think they can’t hear the subtle difference between that and Cecily. Once I spell it for people, they usually get it.

According to an alumni newsletter, one of my college classmates has a daughter named Sicily. :-/

Cecily is lovely, Sicily makes me think of the Godfather movies.

I am in love with Celcilia. It’s my #1 pick right now. Not too sure on Cecily. Whenever I say it in my head I expect it to be spelled Sicily.

My name is Cecily…….so it was interesting to read this blog. . . . . Named after St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, in part because my Father is a musician. My Mother sought unusual names for her 8 children because she had 6 other classmates named Dorothy. My name never became popular as did some of my siblings …Megan, Seth, Jeremy, Lise, Jonathan, ….whose names were unique at the time. My relatives called me Ceci for the longest time til I put up a stink, but Aunt MaryAnn still calls me that. Now, I don’t mind because it’s endearing. I like my name because it is very different…..maybe sounds pretentious, but I’m not……I’m very down to earth (Virgo), friendly, fun and funny…I found out the name is Gaelic origin just last year. After having this name since 1953, I have only known of, met, or heard of half a dozen other Cecily’s. I don’t like the name Cicely, it seems mis-spelled. I knew someone named Sessily (her Mother made it up)….In graduate school, one professor thought I was the black student in the class (think Cicely Tyson, actress), sometimes people think I’m from Italy (Sicily)…so there can always be confusion but, oh well, I have been called ALOT of things, including cess-pool, Cecil, so-silly, Sesilie, and Celeste. when I travel in Spain or Mexico, my spanish name is Celia because it sounds much nicer and simpler than Cecilia. Anyway, good luck choosing a name.

My official birth certificate name is: Cecily Ann Mary (gotta get the Virgin in there)…..

Ooh.. I adore Cecily.. she’s so pretty, yet retains more spunk than Cecilia, IMO.
Despite a neice named Cecelia, Cecily remains in a pretty high spot on my list, featuring in my current top 3 combos: Beatrix Cecily Jane.

Love Cecily! It’s an Alice in Wonderland type name to me. Eternally youthful, sort of, but not out of place on a grown woman. I prefer Cecilia because it’s easier to match and more directly honors a Cecilia, but Cecily overtakes it sometimes.

Thanks for the suggestions Lola, I’m inclined to find Annette the most appealing of those suggestions too, it sounds a lot less dated than it might of even five years ago.

Another, I know exactly what you mean and have this problem with quite a few names. Let me explain, I like Cecily simply for its own sake, without any attempt at trying to impress anyone or trying to be different, I simply adore underused- fresh-sounding yet historical appellations.

However, I am quite aware that she could sound a bit on the pretentious side. In the UK, Sloanes of my age (The UK equivalent of the Preppies) sport names like Henrietta (Hen), Camilla (Mills or Millie), Clementine (Clemmie), Arabella/Annabelle (Bella), Imogen (Immy), Victoria (Vicks or Tor), Philippa (Pippa), Isabella (Issy), Olivia (Livs or Livvy) and Matilda (Tilly, Tills). And as a result, many of these names have a social cache attached to them (Henrietta, Camilla & Arabella for example). Although it must be noted that some have become increasingly mainstream in the last few years (think: Olivia, Isabella and latterly, Matilda).

If you take a peak at the Telegraph or Times birth annoucements (a great barometer of these things) you will notice a smattering of these names plus some new ones of which Cecily is one such. It’s impossible to tell which of these names will remain very ‘elite-sounding’ as time passes and which will become more mainstream; but I don’t actually think it really matters. Some of these names might sound a trifle pretentious but almost without exception – all are attractive, historic names that will stand the test of time.

This is one of those names that makes me roll my eyes. I think it’s extremely pretentious! To me it sounds like the type of name someone might pick if they were trying to impress someone, or if they were trying to be classy (a word I can not stand). I don’t like it. I don’t like Cicely, either, although it doesn’t strike that same chord of pretentious-name-choosery – I just don’t like the sound of Cicely. Oh well, I guess I can’t love them all!

Kate, Jeanette, Lyonette, Garnet, Annette/Nanette and if you don’t mind a modern spin with a throwback nickname: Monet might work too. (it’s a stretch, yes, but definitely doable). Are on my lists, somewhere. Personally, I’m finding Annette rather attractive again. And the connection to the courageous & lovely Ms. Funicello can’t be beat!

and thanks! Emmy Jo, I appreciate the back up. 🙂 Nice to hear my instincts are right on.

I love Cecily! One of my baby name oddities: while I generally dislike two-syllable names that end in the “ee” sound, I’m all for three-syllable “ee” names, especially the less common ones (such as Cecily, Rosalie, Elodie, and, yes, Emily, if it weren’t so common). Cecily definitely has a spunky, peppy, modern feel despite its solid history. And, Lola, Josephine and Cecily sound darling on sisters. Cecily is definitely strong enough to stand up to Josephine.

I was thinking earlier about Celeste and have come to the conclusion that my dislike of her has more to do with her lispy sound and the fact that, said quickly – she sounds like cess (as in pit or pool) than the factors I listed earlier. To cut a long story short, my thoughts then coincidentally drifted to Cecily. By rights, I should dislike her for the same reasons but I don’t. This puzzles me, if I’m put off of Celeste because of her sound then I should be put off Cecily for the same reason, no? But somehow, my liking of Cecily transcends this, it even transcends my vague dislike of her meaning and even vaguer concern regarding her pronouciation. All in all, Cecily sounds slender, aristocratic, artsy and enchanting.

On a different tact, Lola mentioned Nettie – I love this wicked nickname but could anyone offer any suggestions as to what it might be a valid nickname for? Ps. I’ve already thoguth fd Annette, Antoinette, Lynette… Thanks!

Thanks Verity! Cecily is, ATM, our #1 name. She’s a bit more mainstream than Ottilie/Ottoline (which remains in #2) and honors my Grandmother Cecylia. (I was 7 before I realised that’s not how Cecilia was spelled in America!) I already have three cousins named Cecilia to honor that Grandmother (funnily enough, the three of them are half cousins, the Grandmother they’re named for was the second marriage one, their grandmother was Catherine!). So I thought Cecily would work better and still stand out in the family. (Cecily Frances Rupinder [for Babci, Mom and one of his cousins] or Cecily Pandora Jane [Babci, his mother and my mom’s middle]) Can’t decide which I like best, although I lean towards honoring my long gone mother over his, who’s still here). I find Cecily, light, pretty and still stern enough to suit me. I’d probably end up nicknaming her Celie (like in “The Color Purple”, where I’m also fond of Nettie, Millie & Harpo [yeah, I’m a Marx bros. fan too]) Cece’s a slight possibility as is simply Celia. I also like that she’s three syllables, so sits with Josephine rather well without rhyming or otherwise detracting. I also dig that Cecily feels familiar but isn’t on the charts, so she’s likely to stand out a fair bit!

Cicely is an herb to me, otherwise known as Chervil. While I like a lot of foods as names (Clementine, Plum, Mirabel & Honey all reside on my lists) but Cicely feels overly fluffy and really doesn’t sit well with me. Funny that you mentioned Margery, I have a cousin with that name as well and it’s long been my favored form of Margaret for her medieval & nursery rhyme feel. I could still nickname her Daisy (which beats what the cousin got stuck with: Margie).

I had a faint idea that Cecily was medieval herself but really hadn’t done any digging in that respect, thanks so much for doing it for me! I’ve been collecting medieval monikers for a few years, but the girls side has been rather limited compared to the boys.

I really think she’s staying on top. While I love the storybook feel of Ottoline/Ottilie, Cecily woeks more directly for honoring and feels a bit less “far out”.
Thanks again!

I love Cecilia because of the Simon & Garfunkel and would call her Cecily without a doubt. Cecile is irritating sounding, but Cecily is so wonderful-sounding!

Cicely looks like a misspelling to me, but I guess you could get the nickname Cici more easily. Cece is easier to get to from Cecily, but looks misspelled, once again.