Spotlight on: Cecilia

Cecilia! You’re breaking my heart! You’re name meaning’s causing some problems! 🎶🎶🎶

Not for everyone, certainly — Cecilia’s definitely one of those names that’s generally favored by parents wanting an obvious saintly name (I included it my list of unmistakably Catholic girl names), and I know lots of Catholic families with little Cecilias. St. Cecilia was a martyr for refusing to sacrifice to false gods; she was the first incorruptible saint; she’s in the Canon of the Mass; and she’s the patroness of music, musicians, musical instrument makers, and singers (among other things), which makes her name perfect for a music-loving couple to consider for their daughter. She was a strong, holy woman, and her name is lovely and feminine. There’s a lot to recommend Cecilia! But I’ve heard from multiple parents who have a hard time getting past its definition of “blind.”

One reader emailed recently about this issue — she would very much like to consider the name, but said, “I just cannot get past the meaning of ‘blind.’ A positive meaning is a must for me … I was just thinking that knowing more about the origins of Cecilia might change my heart a bit.” Of course! Let’s get to the root of the problem! We know it derives from the Latin for “blind,” but why? Who was the first to be named “blind,” and why were they?

Based on my research, I’m going to argue that the definition of “blind” no longer applies to this family of given names. From what I can gather, Cecilia is the feminine form of a Roman gens (or “clan”) name, which originally — in ancient days — was taken from a mythological figure, Caeculus, who was a king mentioned in the Aeneid, and his name was indeed intended to mean “little blind one” (from the Latin word for blind) because part of his mythology was that he showed mastery over fire (and in fact his mother was said to have been impregnated by a spark of fire), but the smoke did affect his eyes, hence the name of “little blind one.” He was really a figure of divinity and strength, and I’m sure the Roman clan didn’t fuss about the meaning of “blind” (otherwise they would have changed their name, right? Or not chosen Caeculus as their “ancestor” in the first place?). (I’m getting this info from Wikipedia, hoping that it’s accurate!  I also read this.)

So really, I think the name originally persisted because of that clan, and that family doesn’t mean “blind,” they mean whatever would come to mind when those who were familiar with them would hear their name, you know? Like, my last name is Towne, but I’m sure when people see or hear my name they don’t think “town, village, enclosure,” which is what the name originally meant. Or if they do, it’s a fleeting thought that’s quickly replaced by whatever comes to mind when they think of *me.* This is all what I tried to articulate in the article I wrote about name “definitions” vs. name “meanings”.

So if the original people with this name were able to look past the meaning of “blind,” and be powerful despite their name’s origin (and there’s even a goddess [of sorts] known as Caia Caecilia), even more so can those who have no connection to them or their origins (mythological or otherwise), and in fact have new connotations that are intimately tied up in the name Cecilia. Because I’m sure it’s only name nerds (and Latin ones too, I suppose) who know that Cecilia means “blind” — other Catholics know that it means “patroness of musicians,” and non-Catholics might know that there’s a musical connection, or they might just know it as a pretty name.

Now that I’ve convinced you all that blindness has nothing to do with St. Cecilia, in an interesting twist I just read this post that says St. Cecilia was born blind, and this post, which says, “The name Cecilia means blind and so, although we don’t know if she herself couldn’t see, she is also the Catholic patron saint of the blind.” None of this info (her being blind, or her being patroness of those who are blind) is included anywhere on CatholicSaints.info (which is where I usually turn for my saint info). In fact, I’d assumed that she’s known as Cecilia because she was a member of that Roman gens, and The Catholic Encylopedia at New Advent seems to support that hypothesis when it refers to “the family of St. Cecilia (Gens Caecilia).”

Back to being able to look past the “definition of the name,” I love that Behind the Name argues, “Due to the popularity of the saint, the name became common in the Christian world during the Middle Ages.” It’s ultimately because of St. Cecilia, and no other bearer of the name (nor, of course, its meaning), that the name has the popularity it has had and continues to have! So great!

As for the name itself, isn’t Cecilia so sweet? So soft and lilting. It can be spelled Caecilia (like this family) or Cecelia, and has some great variants like Cecily, Cicely, and even Sheila! Sheila is an anglicization of Síle, which is the Irish form of Cecilia. I love the Russian Tsetsiliya, the Polish Cecylia, and the fact that Cecil and Cecilio are male variants — so cool! And lots of fun diminutives and nicknames, including the familiar Cece, as well as Lia, Celia (which can also stand on its own with separate origins), Cissy, Cila, Cilla, Cilka, Silke, Silja, and Zilla. Who knew?!

What do you all think of Cecilia? Have you, too, been bothered by the meaning? Has this post helped? Would you consider naming your daughter Cecilia, or have you? What do the Cecilias that you know go by?

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26 thoughts on “Spotlight on: Cecilia

  1. We have a Cecilia Bernadette…and ironically, it wasn’t the meaning that tripped us up at all, it was the song! Same reason we won’t consider Jude for a first name, though I love the name and the saint. Luckily, the only person who has tried to sing the song is my mom and I quickly said, “please don’t…that song is the reason Cecilia almost wasn’t her name” and she hasn’t since! I always thought she would go by Ceci as a family pet nickname but my big girls call her Celia, and her 3 year old big sister adorably insists that she be called “Ceci Bernadette” which I indulge because it’s precious.

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  2. Interesting. I don’t worry much or even think that much about name meanings if meaning isn’t primary association and the name is more associated with someone/thing else – like in this case St. Cecilia. My own name means “bitter” – not the greatest meaning, but meaning is overshadowed by wonderful association to Our Lady. My daughter’s name, Leah, means “weary” which again is not a beautiful meaning, but I still just loved the name (though she has a bummer story to in the OT as well).

    Have you seen any of these references (to the name meaning explanation from the Golden Legends which gives her name meaning a fliperoo to “lacking blindness by shining of wisdom” based on her virtue) – suggesting it is now the meaning of the Christian name (over the ancient meaning)?
    https://books.google.com/books?id=iyTm45fYCNYC&pg=PA626
    ~Mary

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  3. I commented in the past regarding the name Cecilia as it is my mother’s name. She was born in the 1930s and on St. Cecilia’s feast day. She did not ever know another Cecilia growing up, or really even as an adult. Other than my mom the main association for me of the name growing up was the song you referenced – lol. I will be honest and say that I didn’t like it growing up as it was so different/unusual compared to my friends’ moms (Jean, Susan, Betty, Patricia, Ann, Diane, Carol, etc.). It is a great name though that has grown on me – terrific saint. We have run across more little Cecilia’s in recent years through Catholic circles as it is having a resurgence and is more popular than it ever has been. For most of last 150 years name was in the #200-400s mostly). And is currently slightly more popular – cracking into the high 100s.

    My mom prefers the full Cecilia but was also called Cec (“cease”) during much of my childhood. Her brothers teased her by calling her Cilly (Silly) which she did not like. Of the girls I know most go by the full Cecilia or some form/spelling of CeCe.

    And it is interesting that you listed Lia as a nickname – I hadn’t thought of that. Since I have a Leah I can see where I might be able to get away with claiming that it could be a nod to her grandmother – interesting.

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  4. We named our first daughter Celia as a variant of Cecilia. I chose the less common “Celia” because, as a Sarah, I was always in classes with at least one other Sarah and hated being identified by my last initial. The meaning “blind” did give me pause because my older brother is blind and it just seemed to be an odd meaning for a name. Ultimately, in our decision-making Cecilia being the patron saint of music won out over the actual meaning of the name. I have since read that Celia, on its own, means “heaven”, which I think is lovely.

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  5. My mother’s confirmation name is Cecilia, which she dislikes. She says her older sister tricked her into picking it. Apparently there is another saint who had children called Margaret, Elizabeth and Cecilia, all of my mom’s names. My aunt said my mother would have two saints instead of just one as a patron if she picked Cecilia as the confirmation name, since Cecilia’s parent would also take an interest in her. I don’t know which saint had children by those names!

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  6. Name “definitions” tend not to alter my opinion of a name. I go by how it sounds and whom it refers to or in your words Kate I go by its sometimes-more-vague “meaning.”

    Cecilia isn’t my favorite variation, but I LOVE Cecily! Possibly originally because she was my favorite character in my favorite play The Importance of Being Ernest. (: I have a friend who pronounces it Cecily but spells it Cecilie, which on paper I think is so lovely, as I’ve always preferred -ie over -y variants in general, though I am aware it might confuse pronunciation (because that spelling is pronounced as Cecilia in some languages and it’s just not a common spelling to see or know about). Cecily/Cecilie is in my top 3 if I have another girl; I’ll have to decide on a spelling if it makes it to the birth certificate. I’m more concerned with the spelling thing now since I gave my daughter a “weird” spelling and her great-grandmas have trouble with it (we spelled it Miryam instead of Miriam—though that was on purpose for multiple “meaning” reasons not just because I liked the way it looked. Grandmas had a hard time not saying Maryam.)

    Anyway…great name! I have one Catholic friend with a little Cecilia who goes by CeCe.

    Oh! And in high school I had an exchange student from China stay with me for a week and she chose “CiCi” as her American name. It probably had nothing to do with Cecilia but it seems the teensiest bit relevant here.

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  7. I love the name Cecelia and if we were ever to use it as a first name I would want the middle name to be Joy. Cecelia Joy = Blind Joy. Blind joy because of our faith in/ love for Jesus. Bonus, CJ as a nickname is pretty cute.

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  8. Bringing the story of Caeculus into it really deepens the meaning of “blind” to me: he might be blind but it was a sense he sacrifices to the benefit of other skills. The same way blind people might have better hearing or feeling to negotiate the world. So I would reinterpret the definition to mean “she who knows when to sacrifice” or “holy trade” or some thing of that vein. That sounds like someone who is smart and dedicated and able to see (understand) so well that she is willing to sacrifice to be better, not someone who is unable to see (or understand).

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