This choice sounds quite aggressive, but one of the earliest bearers was a saint.

Thanks to Sophie for suggesting our Name of the Day: Cillian.

Gunnar. Slade. Cannon. Believe it or not, these hyper-masculine monikers all appeared in the US Top 1000 in 2007 – and appear to be gaining in use. Cillian can’t escape their company. Not only does the first syllable of his name sound like “kill,” the meaning found in most baby names guides is “war or strife.”

The seventh-century Saint Cillian knew how to start a fight. Born in Ireland, he was dispatched to Bavaria to convert the heathens. Cillian made progress until a local noblewoman refused to see things his way. Instead of backing down, Cillian attacked her marriage and got himself beheaded.

Still, he is considered a martyr and a saint. Like Blaise, he sounds trendy and current, but has all the history a parent could want.

There are alternate meanings – and spellings – for Cillian:

  • Cillian could trace his roots back to the Gaelic ceall – church;
  • Ceallach, commonly given as the original version of the name, might also mean bright, instead of bellicose.

Just like Kaitlyn has eclipsed Caitlin, the K spelling of this name is more common, too. While Cillian failed to rank in the US Top 1000, Killian came in at #836 in 2007. Kilian is also sometimes seen.

Opinions vary on the precise pronunciation. KEEL yan or KILL yun blurs the sounds and puts this one in a class with Ronan and Orrin. But I’ve most often heard KIL ee ahn – possibly influenced by our familiarity with Jillian.

Handsome actor Cillian Murphy has boosted his given name’s profile. He’s played Batman’s enemy Scarecrow and Rachel McAdam’s scary seatmate in Red Eye. You’ll also find a smattering of Irish football and rugby players answering to Cillian.

There’s another connection that keeps this choice familiar – Killian’s Irish Red is a widely available beer. Despite the Irish name, this one is owned by Coors. But George Killian was a real Irishman – and a brewer. It’s reasonably common as a surname, but seems to have started out as a given name.

I can’t help think that the popularity of the lager should influence parents to stick with the more authentically Gaelic Cillian. (In Ireland, Cillian ranked #28 in 2006.) But it doesn’t appear to be working quite that way.

The incredibly popular and uber-Irish appellation Kelly traces his roots to Ceallach, too – making him a related name. Since Kelly has gone to the girls, parents might opt for Cillian instead. Or if you’re trying to honor a sister called Kelly, here’s a way to give her nephew a related name.

Cillian has some real possibilities for parents searching for an authentically Irish moniker that is familiar but uncommon. You will need to be patient with the K/C spelling – but that’s a challenged shared by Catherines, Karls and Christinas the world over. And while Cill doesn’t seem like a good nickname, opt for the three-syllable pronunciation and you could always call your boy Ian for short.

If Ryan and Aidan feel too popular, Cillian might just be the name for you.

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. This name is in the running for our son due in September! I feel like this post could use an update since Killian is zipping up the popularity charts in the US these days (hint hint). I’d especially love to hear what alternative nicknames people are using besides Ian.

    1. Hi, Our 5 year old is Cillian, and we are so happy with this name! We call him Cillie, Cillie-Billie, Cills, Cill, and one does not think of the “Kill” connotation that some mention. Also, Think about the Lovely Kili in the Hobbit, played by Aidan Turner.

  2. Our son is also named Cillian, and yes, like most people here, it was thanks to Cillian Murphy for handing it to us lol. We are big fans of the show Peaky Blinders and we thought him and his name were pretty cool.

  3. I also named my son Cillian. I first fell in love with the name when I saw the zombie movie “28 days later” in 2002 in which Cillian Murphy is the main character. I didn’t have my son until 9 years later but I still loved the name! It does frustrate me that everyone who sees his name thinks it is pronounced “Sillian”, but I still prefer it to the “K” spelling for it’s history and authenticity. :o)

  4. I’m a sucker for Irish boy’s names that start with a K and end in n (Keiran, Kellen)… I wrote a story where the little boy’s name was Killian, called Lian. His older sisters were Saoirse, Caoimhe and Aoife (SEER-sha, KEEV-ah, and EE-fa).

    I do love Irish names, but they’re not super high on my list (My favourite names are Rose and James), suprisingly.

  5. I also named my son Cillian. The first time I saw the name was the end credits to the movie Red Eye. We were having a hard time deciding on a name, but Cillian made the cut. I love that my son has such an uncommon name in the U.S.

  6. I named my first son Cillian, and it was thanks to Cillian Murphy for helping that name stick..we didnt have a name for him for 3 days then finally his daddy remembered this name and wouldnt give up on the name..we wanted something you wouldnt hear often and this was a winner, we always get compliaments on his name 🙂

  7. I love Cillian. I prefer it over Killian, but I really don’t mind Killian that much either. I also really like Kilian, which takes away the kill part to me. It sounds very handsome. I can imagine him being a brother to Cormac and Eamon. Is Kellen related?

    1. Thanks for helping me to finally decide on Cillian! DH and I have been pondering for weeks. I came up with it, he liked it, then I got cold feet due to the “silly” possibility. However, DH is Eamonn and his brother is Cormac, and so far there is no Cillian in the family, so it is a great way to honor the Irish heritage (and FIL is already dead chuffed about our name choice 😉

  8. Ooh – I do love him 🙂

    I’ve never really quite known why I find him so endearing. He’s been swimming atound in my mind for a number of years, but after I had the twins in June, he’s been pushed to the forefront by a long shot! I love his strength, though to me he still gives off a tiny amount of softness and spunk!

    And, as Lola & Nessa both pointed out – Cillian Murphy definitely doesn’t hurt him at all!! 🙂
    If I have another boy, he’s about 85% likely to wear Cillian as a name – thanks for the NotD!

  9. Mr. Killian was THE hot teacher at my high school. The name will always sound super sexy to me because of him… and Cillian Murphy sure doesn’t hurt that image! I’ve never met a Cillian (given name Cillian, that is) but it seems like it would fit in perfectly with all the little Aidens running around. I like Killian

  10. I like Cillian! I hope Sophie uses it for her next kid, she’s been talking about it so long I definitely associate Cillian with her. I do like him, especailly spelled this way. The K version is all beer to me and I’m not a fan of the word Kill at the beginning either.

    Cillian Murphy (oh, *swooooon* those eyes!) definitely keeps his name current & interesting. I do see Cillian at least once in a while here near Boston, where all things Irish seem to bloom well. It’s a lovely sounding name with a good history and is easily pronounced & spelled. What’s not to like?

    Cillian’s a winner in my book, simple, strong and handsome. Huzzah for Cillian!