Today’s choice is part-color name, part-place name, and very stylish in recent years.
Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Sienna.
First things first: Siena is the city in Tuscany. Sienna is the more popular spelling for the given name. The orangey-reddish color comes from the place.
The Etruscans settled the area, and there’s more than one possible origin for the name:
- Legend says that Senius, son of Remus and nephew of Romulus, founded the city.
- Many sources say that the Saina tribe were the first settlers.
- Several family names are suggested, including the Etruscan Saina and the Saenii.
- The Gaulish tribe known as the Senones crossed the Alps to Siena some 400 years BC.
- The Romans called it Saena Julia as early as the year 70.
- Then there’s the Latin seneo – to be old.
The city prospered in the medieval era, becoming a center for banking and trade. The arts flourished, and the Piazza del Campo remains among the most famous city centers. The Piazza has been home to the twice-annual Palio horse race since the Middle Ages. Bareback riders race around the Campo at breakneck speeds.
Now, to the color.
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 right up through the Renaissance and beyond.
By the eighteenth century, the color was known as sienna – with a double ‘n’ – in English, though the typical spelling for the place remains Siena.
Siena takes on a spiritual vibe thanks to Saint Catherine. She was born in 1347 at the height of the city’s prosperity, but also in the age of the plague. Catherine refused to marry or enter a cloister. Instead, she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic – less than taking religious vows, but more than simply being a devout Christian.
Catherine became involved in politics, traveled widely, worked for religious reform, and wrote prolifically. She’s now considered a patron saint of Italy and a doctor of the church.
If Catherine lends Sienna a virtuous side, pop culture takes her in a different direction.
The name first cracked the US Top 1000 in 1995. That year, a short-lived love interest for Seinfeld’s George was named Siena, and there was a tiny – but noticeable – bump in the name’s usage.
Both spellings continued to rise, boosted by our affection for color names and place names, too.
Then in 2004, model-turned-actress Sienna Miller co-starred with Jude Law in the remake of Alfie. They were married at Christmastime. Sienna shot from #608 to #299.
Sienna has always been the more popular spelling, peaking at #170 in 2007. Today she’s fading. And this is the only problem with Siena – despite her rich and dramatic associations, she can be perceived as a fleeting pop culture choice – a little too trendy, slightly too celebrity influenced.
There’s also the Toyota minivan, but it has been in production since 1998, and did nothing to stop the name’s rise.
Overall, Sienna is a lovely name with great connections to Italy. Spell it Siena to emphasize a connection to the historic city, or maybe the saint. Or stick with Sienna, and know that’s she in good company with Indigo and Scarlett.
Do you prefer Siena or Sienna? Do you think this name feels trendy, or do you think Siena’s status as a place name gives this one some staying power?