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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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 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.

  2. Such a pretty name, but I have to say it slowly and carefully or it ends up sounding like I have a thistle in my throat! 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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. . .

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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)…..