Frans Wouters - Cloelia and Her Companions Esc...
Frans Wouters – Cloelia and Her Companions Escaping from the Etruscans – WGA25866 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

A few years back author Jane Louise Curry published a children’s book about the heroine. The girl had gumption, and that lends a rather frilly feminine moniker some strength.

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?

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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. The correct pronunciation of Cloelia is… Clelia. Like in Phoebe and Phoenix, oe is pronounced ee here.

    Names like Zoe and Chloe are the exception rather than the rule. That’s why these names are sometimes spelled Zoë/Zoé and Chloë/Chloé.

  2. Cloelia has been a favorite of mine for a while now. I found it on another baby name site and fell in love with it! I think this name is simply gorgeous! The proper pronunciation is “clo-EE-lee-uh”. I’ve never heard it any other way.

  3. As interesting as it is, it looks and sounds completely awkward to me. My second impression is that it looks like the name of a microbe; it’s not, but I swear it should be. Cloelia Botulinum. Mycobacterium Cloelia. Sure, that’s pretty esoteric, but I bet I’m not the only one.

  4. With this spelling, Cloelia, I would wonder how to pronounce it. klo-AYL-ee-a? klo-EEL-ee-a? klo-EEL-ya? klo-AYL-ya? or is the “oe” as in Phoebe.. KLEEL-ee-a or KLEEL-ya. Out of all of those, I think I like klo-AYL-ee-a best.

  5. I knew someone named Clelia. She pronounced it KLEEL-ya. Not bad, but a little awkward souding to me. I like Celia or Delia better.

  6. Gotta admit, my first impression was, “what the hell?”… but after reading about it, I really like Cloelia (only pronounce Clo-EL-ee-ah). It’s definitely something I would consider. Love that Chloe (or I guess it would have to be Cloe) is built in. I’ve always loved Chloe, but this gives her a little weight, which I like. She’s got a great story, too, always a plus. Think it could honor a Cecilia? Big stretch, I know.

  7. It is an awesome story, Christina, I agree more people need to hear it. I like the looks of Cloelia, and am intrigued by klo-EL-ee-ah. When I see Clelia, my brain makes it Celia, so I can see how Christina’s aquaintance said it! I can’t make Cloelia anything less than the three syllable klo EL yah but don’t like it, it’s mushy sounding. I much prefer klo-EL-ee-ah. I think I’l add it to my lists to suggest to people who like Chloe but want something more distinctive, I’ll point them here too! 🙂

  8. I met a Clelia over 10 years ago near San Francisco, and frankly am at a loss as to why more people don’t use it. She pronounced it KLEH-lya, rhyming with the Spanish pronunciation of Delia, Celia and Ofelia.

    This story needs to be told more often so the name and heroine become as familiar as Joan of Arc or Helen of Troy. Cloelia and Clelia deserve a spot in the Wonder Woman category.