The antique Atticus is hot. Little wonder parents are searching history for more choices from way back.

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

Cyril comes from the Greek kyrios – lord. You might recognize it from church – kyrie eleison translates to “lord have mercy.” Or if you’re a child of the 80s, there’s two-hit wonder Mr. Mister’s 1986 chart-topper “Kyrie.”

The Greek name would’ve been closer to Kyrillos, with a hard k. But as the Greek was translated into Latin, Kyrillos became Cyrillos. (Ks are rare in Latin.) That’s when Cyril started to sound more like cereal.

Back in the ancient world, Cyril and company must’ve been fairly common. It was worn by a number of notables, including:

  • The scholarly Saint Cyril of Alexandria lived in the fourth century;
  • His contemporary, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, is considered a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church;
  • In the fifth century, Cyrillus taught legal theory in what is now modern-day Beirut;
  • The ninth century Saint Cyril and his brother Saint Methodius are remembered for creating the Cyrillic alphabet, allowing them to translate the Bible into Slavic languages.

Cyril might mean lordly, but he sounds brainy, and the early bearers of the name back this up.

Until recent centuries, most Cyrils were Slavic, though English playwright Cyril Tourneur penned The Revenger’s Tragedy back in 1607.

The English speaking world overlooked Cyril until the nineteenth century. While he was never wildly popular, you can find Cyrils in many fields of achievement, including:

  • Cyril Cusack, an Irish actor successful on stage and screen in the 20th century;
  • British military officers like World War I’s Sir Cyril Deverell;
  • Cyril King was elected governor of the US Virgin Islands in the 1970s;
  • Cyril Power was a modern artist and co-founder of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London in 1925;
  • The quips of 20th century literary critic Cyril Connolly are oft-quoted.

Toss in scientists and athletes, and there are Cyrils aplenty. In the US, Cyril charted right through 1966, so American Cyrils are among the list, too. But to many, Cyril feels British, not unlike Basil.

He enjoyed a spike in usage in 1970s France, and as you cruise through a list of Cyrils, you’ll find plenty of them throughout the French-speaking world, too.

Today his prospects for a comeback seem slim. Fictional Cyril O’Reily is a character on HBO’s gritty prison drama, Oz. He’s not likely to inspire many parents.

Slavic variants Kiril and Kirill fit right in with current trends. Neither have charted in the US Top 1000, but they track with hyper-masculine picks like Cannon and Slade, as well as all those kreative-with-a-K picks.

The Italian Ciro is another variant, but he sounds just a smidge too much like zero.

Instead, the related name poised for a comeback is probably the regal Cyrus. While he shares Cyril’s soft C, he’s not nearly as gentle. Between the bookish Cyril and the commando Kiril, Cyrus seems to inhabit a perfectly masculine middle ground.

Cyril has some saintly appeal, but he’s probably not quite ready to be rediscovered.

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. I love this name and it was on our short list for a boy in 2010. Alas we had a girl. It is on my (maybe not DH’s short list again). We got the idea from the movie “Eastern Promises”. There is a terrible character Kirill and I came right home and googled the name. The character is repugnant but I think Cyril (SEAR-ul) is lovely (and a better pronunciation and spelling than Kirill). Eastern Promises wasn’t terribly popular so few people would connect Cyril to Kirill of the movie. I also like the nickname Cy.

  2. I missed this. Cyril is a “wet blanket’ name. I cannot stand it. Nigel and Basil are two notable others. I don’t adhere to the ridiculous “He’s going to get a whipping on the playground with a name like that” argument but I’m still thinking about it 😉 I can’t help it.

    On a cat? Sure.

  3. I enjoy Cyril although I have trouble with pronounciation. Is it SEAR-ul? Of sir-ILL? I like the latter more but who in America would automatically assume to put the emphasis on the second syllable? I really like Cyrus (pronounces SIGH-russ). He’s a brave knight! But I’m not sure if he could ever be my son… maybe. As for Kiril, that just reminds me of krill, what whales eat: not very appealing.

    1. Claire, you’re right about krill! But Kale – which to me is cabbage, and only appropriate to see in the produce section/farmer’s market – ranked #500 last year and is gaining quickly. (Cale, which strikes me as a less leafy spelling, ranked just #623.)

      I’ve usually heard sir ILL, but I lived in Pittsburgh, where Cyril Wecht got his start as a coroner. (Before becoming the go-to guy for any high profile case, a la JonBenet Ramsey.) So I’m not sure if he’d be SEAR ul elsewhere.

  4. I’m a sucker for boys’ names that start with a C, and Cyril certainly qualifies. While’s it’s not up there with my favourites, I certainly like it a lot and would consider using it for say, a future cat or something.