Clara sounds sweet, but this name has some backbone.
Thanks to Emmy Jo and Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
This name benefits from a great meaning. It comes from the Latin clarus, clear or bright. Various forms of Clarus have been used over the years, including Clare – as in Saint Clare of Assisi. Her renown helps explain the name’s long history of use throughout Europe.
Clara: Vintage Gem
Like Emma and Amelia, this name feels vintage and feminine. It can sound almost dainty. A nineteenth century staple, it’s easy to file this name with the charming antiques.
Except that would be a mistake.
One of the most influential bearers of the name was born Clarissa in 1821. We know her as Clara Barton.
Barton trained and worked as a teacher first, then served as a patent clerk. When the American Civil War began, she was working in Washington DC. Barton responded to a call for help with the wounded; as fate would have it, the victims she volunteered to nurse were from her hometown. She had even taught some of them.
She quickly became involved in efforts to organize medical supplies and hospitals. While we think of her as a nurse, it’s more correct to see her as a tremendously capable administrator. Following the war, she established the office to help identify missing soldiers and give them proper burials.
A few years later, she established the Red Cross. Detractors insisted that there would never be another calamity on the scale of the Civil War. She responded that there would always be disaster, and a need for an organization ready to bring relief in any circumstance.
Barton also worked with abolitionists and suffragettes. Her legacy lends this name a certain integrity and stubborn strength.
Then there’s the 1920s It Girl, Clara Bow.
The silent film star’s story leans tragic. But she remains the iconic flapper, a glamorous figure of the Jazz Age.
Clara: Twentieth Century Status
Whether inspired by Barton’s good works or the shimmer of Bow’s stardom, parents continued to use this name in big numbers. It remained a Top 100 choice through 1938.
The name belongs to the same generation as current revivals like Alice and Grace, but also still dusty choices like Ethel and Bertha.
But mostly, all of the Clar- names fell into obscurity during the 1970s and 80s, including the French Claire and the frilly Clarissa.
Meanwhile, the similar-sounding, but unrelated, Cara and Kara caught on.
Clara: The Nutcracker Suite
Somewhere along the way, the world fell in love with The Nutcracker.
Based on an 1816 story by German author E.T.A. Hoffman, it was adapted as a ballet in 1892 by Tchaikovsky.
Fun fact: the ballet bombed. At the very least, the original St. Petersburg production wasn’t much of a success. Changes were made for later productions in Budapest, London, and New York over the following decades.
What kept interest alive? Possibly the music, the one part of the original production that received praise from critics.
By the 1960s, it was becoming a Christmas tradition to attend a performance.
None of that could save the name, though. Incidentally, she’s Marie in the very first version of the story, by Hoffman. Masha, a Russian nickname for Marie, also occurs in some tellings. It was Alexandre Dumas’ take on E.T.A. Hoffman’s original tale that introduced Clara as the heroine. Over the years, it’s Dumas’ name that has caught on.
Clara: The Comeback
What explains the comeback? Maybe it’s our love for the ballet, as generations of parents grew up seeing it on stage or televised at the holidays.
Or maybe it’s just the passing of time. It’s been a solid century since Clara topped the charts. If the hundred-year rule holds, it’s time for a comeback.
It helps that other Claire names have gained, too. Claire is a Top 100 choice again today.
As for Clara, it has climbed from #353 in 2000 to #96 today. But that’s still not anywhere near the name’s previous Top Ten status.
What might just push this name over the edge?
Clara: The Four Realms
Mackenzie Foy stepped into her dancing slippers as Clara in Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Had the movie been a smash hit, the name might have rocketed up the charts.
But even a modest showing is enough to put the name on parents’ radar.
And it makes for a quintessentially Christmas-time pick, without being as obvious as Holly or Noelle.
If you love classic, feminine name with history galore and a certain storybook appeal, Clara might belong on your shortlist.
Do you think Clara will climb higher? What’s your favorite of the Clare names?
First published on August 22, 2008, this post was revised, updated, and re-posted on November 7, 2018.
Clara is very quiet where I am in Australia. It has none of the pronunciation problems I hear of in the US, either. Here it is always CLAR rhymes with star. And I love it! We would have used it, too, but our last baby (7 weeks old) was a boy. He’s Edwin instead. I’m now very happy for Clara to be discovered 🙂
Laura Powell says
This is our chosen name if this bubba is a girl to go with big Brother Edward and big Sister Matilda. Absolutely love the name and the Nutcracker story is just an added bonus to such a rich and luscious name.
Thanks for such an informative post
I fell in love with Clara when I was a teenager and discovered Clara Bow. She’s well worth looking into. Clara is a beautiful, classic, timeless name. I would be thrilled to have a daughter named Clara.
I think it is a pretty name kudos to my father for coming up with that
I like Clara because it sounds like a more legitimate version of Claire to me. I think its cute and can wear well on a young girl and a woman as well.
It has long been looking for this information, Thank you for your work.
What about Clea as an alternative (pronounce Clee-ah)? Here in France the name Cl
It’s interesting to hear the reactions to Clara. As it happens, Nicole, my big Italian family is bursting with Claras, too. We had a matriarchal Chiara whose influence is still felt, three generations later. My mother was due to be named in her honor, but since there were already umpteen Claras, Clares and at least one Clarice, she became Clarina.
And she hates it. Passionately. Which is why she gave me a “normal” name, which I hated with equal force.
I do like Clara, but tend to agree that it sounds a bit too plain. Then again, we live in a big city where anything goes. Friends of ours – who live in the great middle of nowhere – already have an Emma and I suggested Clara should #2 be a girl. To them, Clara is appealing, but they worry it sounds *too* extreme.
All a matter of where you sit, I suppose. 🙂
a ‘gaughter’ – um think I mean daughter there! opps!
I really like Clara but one drawback is that I’ve heard it pronouced Clar -a (to rhyme with Car) and Clare-a (to rhyme with Clare) which is a tad confusing. It’s definately ripe for a comeback, in fact I think Ewan Mcgregor has a gaughter called Clara but just a little too sweet for me and a little to close to Clare – I have eight friends called Clare at the last count…
Emmy Jo says
Thanks, Verity! I do love Clara, but then again, I am into sweet, feminine names for girls. (Katherine and Lily were my favorites before I’d realized how popular they were.)
I’ve never met any “old, fat” great-aunt types with this name. My husband, though, had a great-aunt Clara who was generally regarded as the family saint, so the name has very positive associations in his family. I’d never heard of Clara Bow before; I’d always associated this name with Clara Barton and a relatively minor character in “Great Expectations.” I”ll have to look her up.
I was going to do Sibyl because of the ancient Sibyls – but an uncommon spelling of an uncommon name makes things tougher, as everyone knows! 🙂 Sybil it was to be…next baby might get a whole new name anyway.
Another, I didn’t know that Sybil was really Shirley! It’s an ancient name – in fact, I almost think the Sibyl spelling predates Sybil … but then I’m fairly sure that Disraeli used Sybil for his novel and that would’ve been 18??. That’s gonna be a fun one. She’ll be NotD on 9/18.
Lola – Sybil was my pick had my son been a girl! I think Clara, Sybil, Phoebe, and Olivia are a wonderful sib set. You must be so proud of your friend 😉
I love Clara, and I like Clarissa, too! I was a fan of Claire until someone I knew made it a middle name for Madison. Now I can’t hear it without putting it with Madison. It’s a shame.
Back to Sybil – Verity, I know I ask a lot of you, but would you mind examining this one? It was my first pick for a little girl in 2006. I got a lot of negative feedback about it, but in my defense, Sybil was te name of a character in a movie – the actual MPD woman was Shirley. 🙂
I LOVE Clara, I do, but I agree w/ Hippy to an extent. There is something a tad bland here. I think it is likely due to the very popular Claire, which I do not love. Add an -a to many a name and suddenly I’m for it. 😛 You also mentioned Cara and Ava… Clara seems to have a blending quality about her. I prefer my names more distinctive and flamboyant, but I adore hearing Clara on others.
I have a GF with a little Clara (older sisters Phoebe & Olivia, little sister [maybe a month old now] Sybil.
Clara’s a bit too sweet for me. I like my names stronger and a touch less sweet. I like sweet for nicknames (Hence Posie & Fifi before Josie!) But she’s undeniably pretty. 🙂 I prefer Clarissa (Again, a literary thing for me, she’s Orry’s mother in John Jakes “North & South”) and Clara Barton as an assocation doesn’t hurt it at all.
Clara’s a lovely choice and If I did use it, I’d probably call her Clarabel at least a handful of times as a nickname (or maybe Clarabow…). I see nothing wrong with Claribel, since Annabel strikes me as just as much ‘cow’ yet people flock to Annabel. I think she’s really pretty and an ideal sister for Alice, Abigail or even Phoebe! Clara gets a :thumbsup: from me, she’s aces!
Hmmm . .. I think you’re being very generous in your assessment, AM. Clara has two great big negatives for me . . . I have more than one old, fat great aunt with this name (from a large Italian family) and Clarabel the cow seems to be lurking just around the corner.
That being said, I can still hear it’s femininity and I imagine that one particularly cute little Clara might make rethink this name. I guess that you’re also right in that it’s like Emma and Hannah—two names I find kind of dull. Even once I get into the pretty-Clara mindset, it’s still kind of dull for me.