Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 9, 2008, and substantially revised and reposted on August 27, 2012.
Torn between Chloe and Francesca? Today’s name is the best of both.
Thanks to Christina for suggesting our Name of the Day: Cloelia.
To be accurate, Christina suggested Clelia as the Name of the Day. It appears that Clelia is simply a contracted form of the original. Both are quite rare. While we find Cloelia and Clelia in US census records in the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither has ever charted in the US Top 1000. As for modern day Italians, some are still called Clelia, but the older form of the name appears to have fallen out of use entirely.
Nonetheless, Cloelia’s story is an appealing one. It’s told several places, including Livy’s history of Rome, but whether it is fact, fiction or somewhere in between is difficult to say.
The tale goes like this: once upon a time hostages were routinely demanded as part of international relations. Unlucky Cloelia was one of several young Roman women handed over to an Etruscan king in exchange for a peace treaty. While en route to his lands, she gave her captors the slip, taking along some of her fellow hostages. Their escape required a swim in the Tiber. Her daring and bravery ultimately won her the admiration of the Etruscans. In fact, they agreed to uphold the treaty and release all of the hostages – quite a coup for a young woman in the 6th century BC. The Romans erected a statue in her honor.
As for the pronunciation, there are two to consider. I’m partial to the four-syllable klo EL ee ah. But there’s also klow EE lee ah and the softer three-syalble klo EL yah to consider. It’s tough to pin this one down, as the name’s origins are obscure. Some have linked Cloelia to the Latin for key – clavis – but the evidence is limited. She might also come from cluere – to be famous, renowned, but again, that’s guesswork.
Opt to say the first syllable klo and you’ll reserve the option of referring to your daughter as Chloe. If you love the sound of Chloe, but dislike the idea of using a Top Ten name, Cloelia offers a compromise. Other nickname options include Cleo, Clea, and Lia.
As for Clelia, she did see some use in Italian, including the nineteenth century saint Clelia Barbieri, the patron saint of those ridiculed for their faith. The composer Verdi married a Clelia, and Clelia Grimaldi was a member of the aristocratic family and an established botanist. Clelia has also been used in France, and there’s no reason she wouldn’t wear well in the US today.
But back to Cloelia – she’s rare, she’s heroic and there’s a ready nickname or three built-in. What’s not to love?