Even in the Age of Aidan, he might make for a distinctive and decidedly Irish choice.

Thanks to Corrine for suggesting Ciarán as our Name of the Day.

If you’re thinking of calling your son Ciarán, your first choice is a tricky one. Preserve the more authentic spelling, or opt for the common Anglicized form, Kieran? To an unfamiliar American, it is possible that either spelling leads to something other than KEER uhn.

In the US, Kieran has been steadily chugging out of obscurity, though he’s still far from common. In 1992, he first ranked at #971. He’s climbed most years since to reach his current high of #530 in 2008. That’s a far cry from the dizzying heights of popularity enjoyed by Brian, Ryan and other Irish boys’ names ending in -n.

Kieran places in the UK Top 100. Ciarán is popular in Ireland.

Variant spellings are possible, as is the use of either version as a girls’ name, especially considering the many spellings of Kyra currently in the US Top 1000. (Though Kiera, Kierra and Ciara may be given a three-syllable pronunciation, too.)

But Ciarán is an old name, and a masculine one. The Irish Ciar means black. The -an is a diminutive suffix, so Ciarán means something like “little dark one,” probably in reference to hair color. Famous bearers of the names include:

  • A semi-legendary Ciar appears as the son of the semi-legendary Fergus, King of Ulster;
  • Saint Ciarán the Elder was the first bishop of Ossary and one of twelve apostles of Ireland. He is sometimes Anglicized as Kevin;
  • Fellow apostle of Ireland, the second Saint Ciarán, founded Clonmacnoise Abbey;
  • At least three more saints Ciarán appear in various records, though only the first two are consistently listed.

Surname Kerry comes from the same soup. While he’s not common today, in 1960 he reached #158 in the US.

Parents probably first heard Kieran in the multiplex. Back in 1990, child actor Macauley Culkin cemented his place in pop culture as Kevin, the son mistakenly left behind as his family flew to Paris in the holiday blockbuster Home Alone. Macauley’s real life brother had a bit part in the flick, as cousin Fuller. Kieran Culkin’s best known role was Igby in 2002’s indie classic Igby Goes Down. Igby was born Jason Slocumb, but nicknamed after his toy bear. It’s not a happy movie.

There’s also Ciarán Hinds, known for small roles in many very big films, like Finn in 2002’s Road to Perdition. He’s set to play Aberforth Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Hinds also donned the laurel wreath to play Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome.

Hinds was born in Belfast, and you’ll have no trouble finding an Irish Ciarán in nearly any field of endeavor, from literature to politics to athletics.

He could wear very well in the US. Kieran and Ciaran occupy that middle space between underused gems with backstory and nouveau names of recent coinage. Kieran looks new, and fits right in with Jalen, Colton and Kellen. But his credentials as a saints’ name and Irish heritage choice are impeccable.

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. Love Ciaran! Met a Ciara when younger and never had a problem with it- never confused it with See-Ara or Sierra or anything, and same for the male Ciaran. I like how Kieran looks but prefer the traditional 🙂

  2. Ciaran is eversoslightly different than Keiran. Ciaran is more like KEYar-an than Keiran’s KEER-an. It’s the same difference with Ciara and Keira. I knew a Ceara, (KEER-a) who got called Sierra a lot. Eventually she gave up, and if people were only saying her name once, she didn’t even bother correcting them. She was very Irish, if i remember right, she did Irish stepdance.

  3. I LOVE Kieran! I have Kieran Asher on my list. I’d spell it as Kieran as it’s WAY more practical & I do find a ‘k’ has more presence than a ‘c’ at times.It does depend on the instance. I’ve been told by some Irish friends that Kieran is actually used also

  4. Ciaran should be a no brainer here in NZ. I’ve encountered equal numbers of Ciaran and Kieran on all age groups. Of course both are said KEER in here and Ciar

  5. I knew a Kier in high school. I though his name was German, but maybe it was Irish. Either way, I like the nickname Kier better than Kieran.

      1. My (slighltly) alcoholic mother might! Being a non-drinker, it would never even occur to me. Of course you had to go and ruin that. 😉

    1. Hmmm, Kier makes me think of an Indian desert, while Ciaran makes me think of Jane Austen (since Hinds acted in Persuasion), so I think I’ll stick with the NotD.

      1. I meant dessert, not desert! And I’d completely forgotten that Kiran is an Indian/Muslim name pronounced the same as this NotD. It’s generally a girl’s name and means something like, “ray of light”.

  6. If you hadn’t mentioned the connection to Kieran, I never would have pronounced this right. It looks like see-ARR-uhn, chee-ARR-uhn or sigh-ARR-uhn. What are we doing to poor children these days???

    1. Factor in that some girls named Ciara are cee-AR-uh and others might be see-AR-uh and yup, it is not an intuitive pronunciation. It is an authentic heritage choice – and that’s what makes it a tough call.

    1. You’re welcome!

      Your comment made me think. My son has a friend Deaglan – Declan – and I think I can hear the tiniest pronunciation difference when his (Irish) father says his name. I can’t duplicate it, but I can hear a subtle difference.

  7. I saw the title of the post and couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name. I totally didn’t realize that it’s pronounced the same as Kieran. So for that reason I do prefer the Kieran spelling that I’m familiar with. Either way, it’s not really a name I’m personally attracted to.

    1. This is one that I almost changed from the requested Ciaran to the more familiar Kieran. But I do think Kieran strikes some as dangerously close to creative, nouveau names while Ciaran is an authentic heritage choice. Though there are certainly Irish Kierans, too.

    2. It’s not actually pronounced the same. Kieran tends to be pronounced KEER-in, whereas Ciaran is pronounced KEER-on.

  8. Ciaran is way too feminine sounding IMO, whenever I hear it, I always mistake it for Karen, plus the sound is really harsh.