Name of the Day: Clarence

This is one of those suggestions that we almost dismissed. Too fusty, we thought. Hopelessly out of style.

But after a moment’s reflection, we found much to love in today’s Name of the Day: Clarence. Thanks to Lola for opening our eyes.

While Clarence strikes many as a very old name – and indeed, statistics suggest that most men of this name are now in their dotage – it is actually of fairly recent vintage, though his roots run deep.

Back in the days of William the Conquerer, the Norman Lord Richard FitzGilbert was created Earl of Clare, after his holdings in Suffolk, England. FitzGilbert’s descendants adopted the surname de Clare, amassed lands in Ireland and eventually gave their name to County Clare. Clarence emerges as a surname related to the family and the various locations, and as the name of a dukedom created by King Richard III for his son Lionel in the 1300s. The story comes full circle here, as the king was inspired by Lionel’s bride’s family – the de Clares.

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. The meaning is tangled in a web of possible inspirations. The Latin clarus is the source of the word clear, and some claim that Clare, Suffolk was named because of the clear waters of the local river. There’s also a link to Clarensis, a Roman title used by the Britons and said to mean “illustrious.” Others contend that the Gaelic clรกr means board and was used to describe the simple board bridges built in the area that eventually became Clare.

Regardless, Clarence is actually a relatively novel given name, entering common use in the 19th century. When the US first gathered statistics on baby names, Clarence was a hottie. In 1882, he broke into the Top 20 and stayed there until 1910. He remained a Top 50 pick until 1935 and was a Top 100 choice through 1951. He’s remained in the Top 1000 ever since, though his current rank – #845 – is the least popular to date.

Plenty of throwback names are hot today, for boys and girls. If you can call your daughter Hannah or Hazel, Esther or Mabel, why not Clarence (or Arthur or Walter) for a boy? They’re not such a huge leap from Henry and Charlie, Theo and Will. With musicians Elvis Costello and Diana Krall naming their sons Frank and Dexter, comedian Rainn Wilson choosing Walter and Jack Nicholson using Raymond, it’s reasonable to imagine a newborn Murray, Albert or Ernest.

Fictional Clarences have appeared throughout the 20th century. In It’s a Wonderful Life, he’s the angel who earns his wings convincing George Bailey that he’s a lucky man, indeed.

But our favorite Clarence – and the one who gives this name an indie edge – is Clarence Worley, the hero of 1993’s True Romance. The movie is part-love story, part-violent action thriller. The character was played by Christian Slater, and while we won’t reveal the ending, he does get the girl – who goes by the name Alabama.

If you’re looking for a flesh and blood inspiration, there’s the famous attorney Clarence Darrow, best known for defending John Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher who dared tell his students about evolution back in 1925.

While the name reads a bit on the serious, bookish side, there are two strong nickname options. Lola pointed out that Clare is one possible short form, if you can overlook the chances that he’ll share his name with a female classmate. And we think that Clay works nicely, too.

Clarence is so dusty that he’s daring, and so far out of use that he starts to sound fresh. We may be just one starbaby away from seeing Clarence turn around and climb the popularity charts again.

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16 Comments

My husband and I both like the name Clarence and will probably use it for one of our boys someday. It’s my father’s middle name and he’s said before that he should have gone by it instead of his first name, which he shared with a trouble maker who unfortunately had the same last name as him (they were distally related). Needless to say my Dad got into a lot of trouble for things he didn’t do.

As for nicknames, I cannot stand the name Clare for a boy. I can, however see us calling him Ren, Renny or Lance for short. Even Lare (rymes with hair) works, though that’s too much for my husband.

Personally I love the name Clarence. My husband liked it but didn’t want to name his son Clarence, so we settled on naming our dog Clarence. The best dog and such a great name. Truly our first child. Now the name has grown on my husband so much he agrees we wish we would have saved it for a son. Great name. Clare as a shortened name is easy and works. There are plenty of unisex names out there that I don’t think should be used for girls …Claire is one of them. I’m sure I’m in the minority though ๐Ÿ™‚

Adding this now because there’s a kid’s cartoon on Disney XD called “Kick Buttowski” and “Kick” really is a Clarence; a fact the cartoon points out about once an episode. (He’s got a preppy, annoying classmate, a girl named Kendall, who only calls him Clarence).
I *still* dig Clarence and think I’d use him, given the chance. Clarence is awesome!

Dana, thanks – some people pray daily, others jog … I wake up in the morning and do this. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Let’s hear it for controversial Clarence! I think Clancy and Cary could both work as nicknames, too. It’s so funny, though – I find Terrence/Terrance less appealing, though I love Henry and Oliver. Some names are easy crowd pleasers and others just split the audience.

If baby #2 were a boy, we seriously considered Clare as a middle name, in honor of my mother, but we never thought of Clarence … possibly because we were too busy debating the first name to move on to the middles. ๐Ÿ˜•

As for Clarence the Cow … maybe in the UK? Australia? Clarence is apparently the kind of name that is often chosen for cows, but unlike Clarabelle Cow of Disney fame, I couldn’t find an original bovine Clarence. Or maybe I’m just missing him …

And Catherine, I last saw Elvis live with Emmylou Harris about two years ago … easily one of my best nights out in memory! He gets better with every passing year.

AH! You mentioned Elvis! I love his kids’ names (and I’m a superfan cough cough). *reels with delight* Anyways, I wouldn’t use Clarence, but would love to see it used. It sounds very clear to me, like Clara and to a lesser extent Clare. Of course that has to do with the root! I like the Cl- sound. It’s very crisp. I’m really warming to Clarence now. Those Cs are just to die for! I love the 2 Cs in the name, god knows why. Clay, Clare, Ren and Clancy are all good nickname options. I almost feel like Cary could work, but I’m not quite sure if it’s too much of a stretch… ๐Ÿ˜€

I love Clarence! The idea of naming a son Clarence might need to grow on me, though. I know too many female Claires for the nickname Clare to work for me.

By the way, I love this blog! I found it through a link at another name blog, and I’ve been reading through past posts. It’s great– and I love the fact that you post every day!

I’m not such a big fan of throwback names. Some, like Ava or Oilver, are lovely, but most of them, like Mabel or Arthur I can’t handle at all. I’m sorry to say that Clarence belongs in that second category. I just can’t picture it on a modern day kid, although I do have a thing for Terrance… Clarence just isn’t for me.

I’ve let Clarence sit with me for a couple of hours to see if I could get into the swing of things and embrace him, but, uh, no. Every association I have for him is either old and corny (It’s A Wonderful Life) or barnyard related (isn’t there a famous Clarence the Cow?).

It’s interesting, though, that at least around me, Claire is a really popular, universally applauded girls name but most parents wouldn’t touch Clarence with a ten foot pole.

But, if forced with threat of life or limb to name my child Clarence, I think Clancy is a cute nickname for him.

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my main reasons for loving Clarence. I don’t need convincing to love the name, I think it’s awesome. However, a lot of people don’t so I tend to think it’s not quite ready for a comeback yet (though I’m ready when it does).

As I’m a complete and utter sucker for girly nicknames and girly names, in general, on boys (Kelly on a guy is a secret love of mine) , I would happily name him Clarence and call him Clare, at least until he’s 4. ๐Ÿ˜€ After that, he could go by Ren, should he want.
I find Clarence quite bright, but also a bit stodgy. He feels like rich pudding to me; sweet and heavy, feels good when I say it. That’s a winning feeling for me. And Clarence Darrow has been a personal hero for his teachings since I was a kid (yes, I was a catholic school nightmare child).

All in all, Clarence is my #2 name, just inches behind Cosmo. ๐Ÿ˜€ I think Clarence is aces! And a stray thought: Could Clancy be a Clarence nickname? Clancy’s wicked cool himself!

Uh-uh. Sorry. But NO WAY. And while we’re at it, I’m not too thrilled with Mabel, Hazel, and Esther – but I’ve been a fan of Walter for a while, though it seems that I’m the only one. I think there are some great old names for boys these days – Harry, Henry, Oliver, Adrian, but not Clarence.