A dashing British leading man has taken this one-syllable name from obscurity to possibility.

Thanks to Alicia for suggesting Clive as Name of the Day.

Clive’s origins are straightforward. Cleove was a Middle English variant of cliff, making him yet another name once bestowed on people living in a specific geographic area.

Up until Clive Owen hit Hollywood around 2001, this name was most associated with horror writer Clive Barker, or possibly real life adventurer turned adventure novelist Clive Cussler. (Or, depending on your background, any one of dozens of British notables.)

While Owen isn’t as much a romantic hero as, say Cary Grant or even Brad Pitt, he’s won his fair share of attention, co-starring opposite leading ladies like Julia Roberts.

Back in the eighteenth century, Robert Clive was a British soldier and part of the East India Company. If that doesn’t ring any bells, suffice to say that he was a major force in creating British India. By the time he died in 1774, he was known as Major General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive – or simply Clive of India.

British families with a connection to the colony occasionally bestowed Clive as a given name for their sons, just as they sometimes called their daughters India. But the name really caught on a few decades later when William Makepeace Thackery used the name Clive for the son in his multi-generational masterpiece The Newcomes. Thackery’s artistic character made the name even more mainstream, at least in England.

In the US, Clive has never been a popular choice. The name charted in the Top 1000 a few times between 1885 and 1935, but has been headed for obscurity ever since. Meet a Clive today, and he’s probably British – and almost certainly middle-aged.

Clive’s last hurrah in the US, in 1935, is probably tied to the 1935 release of the big screen Clive of India, a film based on the Major General’s life. The biopic starred Ronald Colman in the lead role. If that name isn’t familiar, the English actor boasted four Oscar nominations, including one win. Once upon a time, he was at least as well known as Clive Owen.

There’s also C.S. Lewis. While he’s a well known writer and theologian of sorts, few know that C.S. stood for Clive Staples. And, as it happened, among friends and family, C.S. answered mainly to the nickname Jack.

Today, Clive is cooler than the related Clifford – thanks to his v, and his Hollywood cred. He’s the kind of interesting single-syllable choice somewhere between stodgy and tweedy and edgy and cool. If Rufus and Barney are way too out there for you, certainly Clive is unthinkable.

But if you’re worried that Rufus and Barney are just a little too popular? Clive might be one fresh direction to consider.

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. No one mentioned Clive Davis! An American icon, IMO one of the most influential people in American music, He has started several record companies and launched some of the most successful singers and bands EVER.

  2. Being a British expat looking for a British name, I probably should have used Clive. I didn’t really consider it, but it’s a decent choice. Maybe as a middle name.

    Nigel is another British sounding name – I’m not familiar with Rigel though. Another one is Trevor – which says “unfashionable middle age British man” to me, so I find it slightly funny when I hear Moms calling “Trevor!!!” at the library.

  3. This is interesting. I know that Clive is English in origins but I have never thought of it as a “British Name.” I think if your native language is English, any name is game to use for an English speaker. That said, there are very few names that I think “He must be from England” and that is Nigel and Rigel. I can’t even think of any female names that give me that impression.

  4. Clive is nice! To me it is so British that I’d feel a bit silly using it with no British connections. But I do love the sound and look of it. Instead I’d use the similar Clyde – so handsome!

  5. (as I was saying before I accidentally posted)…so Clive Pearse from HGTV is my main association with the name. It is definitely one I would recommend to fans of 1-syllable names. I like its sharp, clear sound.

  6. I like Clive. I’m not up on my British history, have never been to England, have only met a few Brits IRL, and I’d rather watch TV shows than movies – so Clive Pearse from HGTV

  7. So weird that Clive is the name of the day! Because I met TWO Clives yesterday. Doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo…

  8. I like my “eldery chic” names but not this and I’m a bit of a fan of one syllable names normally. I just get this image of a doddery old man with an epic comb over rambling on about his new hot water cylinder or furry slippers.

    I can see it becoming fashionable again.

  9. Clive Pearse, host on HGTV, is who I first think of. Not exactly the most enticing advertisement for the name… Clive Owen definitely is a better association, but not my initial one, sadly. That said, I don’t think either one really makes me love the name. It sounds like a British grandpa to me (probably b/c I know someone who is grandpa age in England named Clive, but he did provide me with driving “lessons” that got me to pass the Brit road test first time through when I lived there!… the road test in England is harder than the one in the States). In any case, I don’t dislike the name, but it’s not one I’d use.

  10. I like Clive quite a bit. I like the other one-syllable CL names for boys too: Clyde and Claude are two other old favorites. I’d never use him, but I think he would be a nice choice for someone else. He would also make a great middle name.