The baby name Clara sounds sweet, but this name has plenty of backbone, too.

Thanks to Emmy Jo and Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

BARTON, BOW, and OSWALD

History and popular culture have given us plenty of examples of Claras.

There’s Clara Barton, a pioneering nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. Jazz Age icon Clara Bow is the image we picture when we think of a 1920s flapper. And, far more recently, one of Doctor Who’s companions was Clara Oswald.

The list goes and on and on.

But let’s go back to the Middle Ages – or even a little earlier – to find the roots of the name Clara.

MEANING OF THE NAME CLARA

In Latin clarus means clear or bright. Over time, clarus also came to mean acclaimed or famous.

The name Clarus was used at least occasionally in the ancient world. A third century Bishop of Nantes answered to Clarus; others can be found into the early Middle Ages.

ORIGIN OF THE NAME CLARA

Before we arrive at Clara, we have to talk about Chiara.

Born to a wealthy family in 1194, Chiara Offreduccio gave everything up to become a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Chiara is the Italian form of Clara, which is the feminine form of Clarus.

In English, we typically call her Saint Clare of Assisi.

With Francis’ support, she went on to found an order of nuns. 

The Order of Poor Ladies was meant to follow Francis’ example of poverty and holiness. Following her death, they became known as the Order of Poor Clares, a name they bear today.

Thanks to the saint’s fame, the name spread across Europe. It became Clare in England, Claire in France, and Klara in Germany, Scandinavia, and much of Eastern Europe.

FAMOUS BEARERS  of the NAME CLARA

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

vintage and strong

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Clara combines the enchanting tale of the Nutcracker with the glam of flapper icon Clara Bow and resolve of Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

Popularity

#99 as of 2023

Trend

holding steady

Origin

from the Latin clarus, meaning clear or bright, and made famous by a medieval nun

CHRISTMAS NAME

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.

But get this: the ballet bombed. 

At the very least, the original St. Petersburg production wasn’t much of a success. Changes were made for later ballets 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.

The little girl at the heart of the story is now known as Clara. But she was first called Marie in the original version of the story, by Hoffman. Masha, a Russian nickname for Marie, is also used for some tellings. Over the years, it’s Clara that has (mostly) caught on for the main character.

That makes Clara a Christmas classic among baby girl names, as seasonal as Holly or Noelle, though possibly a bit more subtle.

TWENTIETH CENTURY FALL and RISE

Whether inspired by Barton’s good works, the shimmer of Bow’s stardom, or a chance outing to the ballet, parents continued to use this name in big numbers. Clara remained a Top 100 choice through 1938.

Still, by the middle of the twentieth century, Clara was out of favor, falling to #386 in 1965 and #594 in 1978.

The supernatural sitcom Bewitched gave the name to a character called Aunt Clara. The show chose names that were distinctively different for their witches, even though Samantha and Serena seem mainstream today. It’s a mark of how offbeat and unexpected Clara became during the 1960s.

In some ways, the return of Clara isn’t a surprise.

It belongs to the same generation as current revivals like Alice and Grace. In fact, a solid century passed between Clara’s peak in the Top Ten during the late 19th century and the name’s return to the US Top 100 in 2015. 

As of 2023, Clara ranked #99. 

Other Claire names have gained, too. Claire is a Top 100 choice again today.

PRETTY, CLASSIC, STRONG

Clara combines so many positive qualities – it’s a pretty name with an appealing meaning. No question Clara counts as a classic. And there’s plenty of this strength to this name, too, derived from both the sound and the women who have worn this name across the years.

What do you think of Clara?

First published on August 22, 2008, this post was revised on November 7, 2018, and again on May 6, 2024.

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?

18 Comments

  1. I have a soft spot for all the Claire related names, I can see Clara getting popular in the next few years on the coat tail of other trendy old fashioned 2 syllable names like Ava and Lily.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.