Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The Italian city is spelled with just one N: Siena.
Located in Tuscany, it’s been settled since sometime between 900 and 400 BC. That means the Etruscans got there first.
The Romans referred to the city as Saena Julia by the year 70.
Theories about the name Siena about, including:
- Senius, son of Remus and nephew of Romulus, founded the city, and gave it his name.
- That honor might also belong to the Saina tribe.
- Etruscan family names, like Saina and the Saenii, could be the source.
- The Gaulish tribe known as the Senones crossed the Alps to Siena some 400 years BC.
- Then there’s the Latin seneo – to be old.
While the city remained small and sleepy under the Romans, it flourished in the Middle Ages. Siena became a center for banking and trade, as well as the arts.
The Piazza del Campo remains among the most famous city centers, an iconic European town square. It’s also home to the twice-annual Palio horse race. Bareback riders race around the Campo at breakneck speeds. The tradition stretches back to the 1300s.
A reddish-brown pigment comes from this part of Tuscany. Originally called terra rossa – red earth – it eventually became known as terra di Siena – earth of Siena. It was used from ancient times through the Renaissance and beyond.
The word appears in English by the 1700s, spelled with a double N.
Born in 1347, the future Saint Catherine of Siena witnessed both the height of the city’s prosperity, and the devastation of the plague. Devoutly religious from a young age, Catherine refused to marry. Instead, she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic.
Catherine became involved in politics, traveled widely, worked for religious reform, and wrote prolifically – all at a time when such pursuits were rarely open to women.
She’s considered a patron saint of Italy and a doctor of the church.
BY the NUMBERS
It’s not clear exactly how the baby name Sienna went from the map and the artist’s palette to the nursery.
One theory comes from British Baby Names. Families sometimes named their children for foreign cities in which they were born. Think of Florence Nightingale and her sister Parthenope. Their parents took inspiration from Italian cities they visited on their three-year tour of the country.
Given Siena’s popularity as a destination, no question that many a European tour included a stop in the city.
Regardless of the reason, the baby name Sienna might have risen in use in the UK first.
In the US, five girls were named Siena in 1965, and five girls were named Sienna in 1968. The name – both spellings – remained in sparing use for decades.
GEORGE and SIENA
The baby name Sienna first cracked the US Top 1000 in 1995.
One possible inspiration? That year, a short-lived love interest for Seinfeld’s George was named Siena. It might’ve been enough to explain the bump in the name’s usage.
Or maybe it was just our love of Italian names. After all, the 1990s were the age of Francesca and Angelica and Claudia, romantic choices with Italian roots. Place names, like Savannah, and color names, like Scarlett, were rising in use, too.
But a pair of English actors really put the baby name Sienna on parents’ radar.
There’s Sienna Guillory, an English actor with a long list of credits, particularly on television.
And then there’s Sienna Miller.
In 2004, the model-turned-actor co-starred with Jude Law in the remake of Alfie.
They became a real-life couple, too, and were married at Christmastime.
The baby name Sienna shot from #608 in 2004 to #299 a year later.
Sienna Miller became a household name, and by 2006, it ranked #177.
The name might’ve continued to climb. Plenty of high profile parents chose the name for their children. And fictional characters answered to Sienna, too, on popular shows like Hannah Montana.
But Miller stepped out of the spotlight in 2009. When she returned a few years later, Miller took on grittier, more serious roles. While she’s won critical acclaim, the work is just slightly under-the-radar.
A NOTE ABOUT THE TOYOTA
Along the way, Toyota introduced a minivan called the Sienna.
It’s been in production since 1998, so parents would’ve well-aware of the name’s use by a car company when they welcomed their daughters.
While Sienna Miller helped put her given name on parents’ lists, the baby name Sienna has since succeeded on its own merits.
Part of it comes down to sound: Sienna fits with liquid names, the Arias and Elenas so in favor now.
And while it’s not popular – or even really used as a given name – in Italy, the baby name Sienna is a favorite across the English-speaking world.
That makes it a logical crossover choice for families who wish to acknowledge their Italian heritage. One high profile use? Princess Beatrice, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, and her Italian husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, named their daughter Sienna Elizabeth in 2021.
In fact, the baby name Sienna has started to climb once more, reaching an all-time high of #166 in the US as of 2020. At #634, the single-N Siena is heard, too.
Romantic and stylish, Sienna has quickly gone from Hollywood sensation to modern staple for our daughters.
What do you think of the baby name Sienna?
First published on July 29, 2014, this post was revived and re-posted on October 1, 2021.