He’s an oversized fictional canine, and everybody’s favorite know-it-all postal carrier. Could he also be the perfect choice for your son?

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Clifford as Name of the Day.

Before there was the Big Red Dog and Cheers’ Cliff Clavin, Clifford was an Old English place name. If you happened to live by a cliff near a ford – the ledge or overhang by the crossing for a body of water – you might wear this name. (Or Cliff. Or Ford.)

In the US, Clifford regularly charted in the Top 100 into the early 1950s. He’s something like Adam today – never a chart topper, but not a surprising choice, either.

That means that plenty of dads and granddads wear this name – and yet Clifford dropped out of the US Top 1000 entirely after 2005. Short form Cliff has fared worse – never reaching the formal versions’ heights, Cliff dropped off after 1985. (For what’s it’s worth, Ford has fared worst of all – even before Detroit’s current round of woes.)

Non-canine Cliffords that might inspire you to reconsider this choice include:

  • Playwright and social critic Clifford Odets. He’s best known for his 1935 work, Awake and Sing;
  • Clifford Simak was a celebrated sci fi author from the 1970s and 80s;
  • Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown lends the name some swing – though you’re more likely to hear him called Brownie;
  • Other musicians who have worn the name include Ted Nugent’s drummer Cliff Davies and Metallica bassist Cliff Burton.

And yes, John Ratzenberger’s character on Cheers wore the full name Clifford C. Clavin, Jr.

Of course, Clifford has also been common in the surname spot, including:

  • The aristocratic Clifford clan of England. There’s been a Baron de Clifford since the late 1200s, when Robert de Clifford won the title for his military service;
  • Some years earlier, Rosamund Clifford was a celebrated beauty, and mistress to Henry II of England;
  • JR Clifford was a pioneering attorney in the early days of the Civil Rights movement;
  • Michael Clifford walked in space as an astronaut;
  • John Clifford is a dancer-turned choreographer-turned founder of the Los Angeles Ballet.

While Clifford might seem like an unlikely bet for a comeback, he does have a few advantages. He combines the surname and nature name trends. Cliff sounds just right with other rising choices like Cade and Cole, but Clifford fills out the birth certificate. Parents could also opt for Heathcliff, but that’s just a smidge more dramatic.

Plus, he was at his most popular between 1900 and 1910, keeping company with Leo, Everett, Benjamin, Samuel, Arthur, Walter, Charles and Henry. With all of those names either sounding fashionable or even downright sensible, why not Clifford?

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. Wait, she pronounces the name like Isolde but spells it Icel? :() That is a bit confusing. So they forgot to add the “d” but still pronounce it?

    1. No. We were in a skating rink, and it was loud. Icel is prouncouced Ice-ul. Still, even if you could hear a pin drop, this girl is in for a lifetime of “What?” and “Can you spell that, please?” and she’ll probably hear “Isolde?” at least a few more times.

      1. Do you think it is possible she was Jamaican? My son has a classmate called Iceline, and her father told me it is a family name on his (Jamaican) wife’s side. I’ve never been able to confirm it, but I’m intrigued.

  2. It does nothing for me, though I wouldn’t mind it if I met one. I do think of the dog.

  3. Clifford is solid and classic, if not exactly dashing. Cliff seems a lttle more stylish, I like it alright but it’s not a standout for me.

    Yesterday I met one of my daughter’s day camp pals, a darling little blonde girl. She told me her name, and I swear I heard her say, “Isolde.” Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Isolde, really?? How cool! “I bet I know how to spell it,” I said, “I-s-o-l-d-e, right?” “Nope, ” she said, “it’s I-c-e-l.” Um, que? Whisky,Tango, Foxtrot? Turns out it really is a legitimate name, albeit an archaic Anglo-Saxon male one, but there it is. It’s also an ancient Turkish city, and an acronym for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which I can only assume is as riveting as it sounds. I still haven’t completely recovered from my confusion. Anyway, Abby: tuck that one away for an obscure NOTD!

    1. Ah, never mind – I’m reading comments backwards! Interesting … I’m making Icel NotD on 8/21.

  4. Clifford’s definitely admirable; however, I prefer Heathcliff. 🙂

    I live for the dramatic.

  5. Actually, I prefer Ford after reading this! I dated a Ford in college, but never really thought about the name. He was insanely hot, plus had a nosering and several eyebrow rings. Preppy name, decidedly unpreppy guy. Clifford, however, well…it’s awkward sounding. I do know a 50-something Cliff. I like Cliff a lot better than Clifford and Heathcliff. it’s interesting.

  6. You know, if it weren’t for the big red dog, I might find this name kind of charming. He’s definitely not for me, and I also think a Clifford might fare better on urban streets instead of my rural neighborhood (where the uber-trendy names rule the playground).

    Funny this should be NOTD since I remembered knowing a Bert in college (ohhh, way back in the early days of this decade) and have been wondering how his parents decided upon that moniker. So, I guess children’s show characters are on the brain…