Today’s post goes out with a Happy First Birthday to my daughter, Claire Caroline Wren.

Our Name of the Day was worn by Clio’s great-great-grandmother: Chiara.

I don’t know much about Chiara Nobile, but I do know that the name she was given in Naples didn’t transition well to New York. At Ellis Island, the clerk called her Katie. In official records, she is sometimes Chiara, and sometimes Chiarina, a diminutive form.

As Italian families often do, Chiara’s name was handed down to many of her American descendants. They became Claire, Carina and eventually Clarina. While honoring family mattered, and my forebearers fearlessly bestowed heirlooms like Filomena and Francesco, every one of my extended seems to have agreed on one thing: Chiara just plain didn’t translate.

They weren’t alone. Despite plenty of immigrants who arrived with the name, Chiara has never charted in the US Top 1000. Derived from the Latin clarus, she means clear or bright. The thirteenth century noblewoman Chiara Offreduccio is remembered to history as Saint Clare of Assissi – St. Francis’ associate and the founder of the Order of the Poor Ladies, better known as the Poor Clares.

Plenty of related names have fared well:

  • At #62 in 2008, the gently French Claire is at her highest point of popularity, though she easily qualifies as a classic;
  • The austere Clare charts in the Girls’ Top 1000 most years. Until the 1940s, Clare also regularly charted on the boys’ side;
  • Clara was a Top 10 pick in the nineteenth century and a Top 100 mainstay right through Clara Bow’s reign as the It Girl.

But none of these sound anything like Chiara. Pronounced with three syllables, kee AR uh is undeniably pretty. Similar names have actually done quite well in recent years:

  • Kiara appears to be a phoentic variant. But her first appearance in the US Top 1000 was 1988 – the same year that Disney’s sequel to their smash hit The Lion King was released. This time, Simba’s daughter is the hero of the tale, and her name? Kiara, of course. After peaking at #78 in 1999, she’s fallen to #241 as of last year;
  • Kyara appears to be an ever more creative take on Kiara;
  • Here’s where it gets fuzzy – Ciara might also be a simplified spelling of Chiara. Or a riff on Kiara. Or she could be related to the Gaelic masculine name Ciar – think Ciarán or Kieran, as well as the seventh century Saint Cera. Or Saint Ciera. Or one of several other spelling variants. She’s usually given a two syllable pronunciation – KEER uh;
  • There’s also Keara, Kira, Ceara, Kierra and more – though it is possible to link some of those variants to other names. (Kira, for example, is often listed as a feminine version of Cyrus.)

And that’s her drawback. Style-wise, she fits in seamlessly with Isabella and Alexandra. But she’s so very unusual that a Chiara born in 2009 might find herself answering to she AHR ah, CHEE rah and other manglings.

But if you can overlook that, Chiara could be an intriguing import for those seeking something unexpected.

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. I remember when I first saw this name when I first went to Italy. I was 10 years old and visiting Assisi and we went to see the tomb of St. Claire of Assisi. I thought it was pronounced (chee-AHR-ah) and instantly fell in love with it. I was so disappointed to learn that the CH was actually a K sound. I didn’t like it as much. I still like it, but not as much as I did when I thought it was (chee-AHR-ah).

  2. Nope – I triple checked, because I thought the same thing! In 1988, when the movie was released to DVD, she entered at #817. A year later, she’d leapt to #114, then drifted downward. I’m not clear on the reason for the spike coming as late as 1999 – surely there’s something else, there …

    Thanks to all for your birthday wishes! And yes, a year just FLEW by.

      1. I wasn’t trying to show you up or anything. I just was pretty sure I was in HS when the movie came out and I’m not *that* old. 😉

  3. Happy 1st birthday, Clio!

    Chiara is a decidedly pretty name and would be a welcome relief from all those little “k” babies. However, I can fully appreciate its pronunciation problems; when I first saw the name — being uncertain of its origins — I was not sure how to pronounce it myself.

    (Did you mean 1998?)

  4. Has it been a year? Not really. It can’t be! Happy birthday, Clio!
    Chiara is a gorgeous name. It will never appear on my list, though, because of a bad association, unfortunately, and a relative who bears the name.

  5. Happy Birthday, Clio!

    I’m genuinely shocked Chiara is such a rarity and perceived as a name that does not translate. It’s a fairly common name in Italy, I believe; in any case I’ve heard of the name multiple times before, which leads me to this conclusion. The pronunciation seems straight-forward and fairly intuitive (yes, one must understand the in Italian Ch is said “k,” but really, we have plenty of Ch names with that “k” sound – Christine/Christopher and variants, so it’s not all that foreign a concept). I actually quite like the name, even if it’s a little on the girly girl side for my personal use/tastes. With Sarah, (Angelina Jolie’s) Zahara, Zara, etc., it seems Chiara should be much more popular.