Classic Girls’ Names: The Claire Contingent–Claire, Clara and Clarissa
by Linda Rosenkrantz
The crystalline clear classic Claire has seen an impressive rise recently—entering the Top 50 for the very first time in 2011—and bringing Cousin Clara and other relatives slip-streaming along with her. The perfect time to take a closer look at this clear-eyed family.
CLAIRE—Currently favored spelling Claire was introduced to England by the Normans, but its modern use only dates back to the nineteenth century. Now at Number 45, Claire has risen more than forty places since 2000, one of those solid ‘sweet spot’ names that is familiar but distinctive, feminine but not frilly, popular yet immune to trendiness. Most prominent Claire at the moment is Emmy Award-winning Homeland star Claire Danes (mother of a son named Cyrus), while characters called Claire have appeared in movies and shows from The Breakfast Club to Lost to Modern Family.
CLAIR—This French spelling, less common here, was used for perfect mom Clair Huxtable in The Cosby Show. Clair de Lune means moonlight, as in Debussy’s immortal piano piece Clair de Lune. Clair de Lune was also the title of poems by Victor Hugo and Paul Verlaine and a short story collection by de Maupassant.
CLARE—This is the streamlined English spelling of Clara—the main English form used in the Middle Ages– associated with the thirteenth century St. Clare of Assisi, a follower of St. Francis and founder, in 1212, of the benevolent Poor Clares order of nuns Because she reportedly witnessed a mass being celebrated a great distance away, this Clare was proclaimed the patron saint of television in 1958. Writer and politician Clare Boothe Luce was a notable bearer of this version. Clare and Clair were also the spellings once used for men (eg Clare Quilty in Lolita) and as a short form of Clarence. A geographical reference is Ireland’s County Clare.
CLARA—Clara, the original Latin name, has had a somewhat rougher road than Claire, having had to combat the image of an older–sometimes European– woman, as seen in such characters as David Copperfield’s nurse known as Peggotty and Aunt Clara on Bewitched. Clara came into fashion in the nineteenth century and is prominent in Victorian literature. Distinguished bearers include musician Clara Schumann and Red Cross founder Clara (born Clarissa) Barton. Clara Bow, the “It” girl of the 1920’s, infused the name with a mega-dose of oomph. Clara, which was chosen for his daughter by Ewan McGregor in 1996, now ranks at Number 136—the highest it’s been since 1945– fitting in with similar au courant revivals like Cora and Flora.
CLARIBEL made her debut appearance in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and is thought to have been invented by the Bard. But her reputation was severely compromised by her later depictions as Disney’s Clarabelle Cow and Howdy Doody’s cohort Clarabel the Clown, from which she still may not have recovered, despite the vogue for bel-ending names.
CLARICE—Clarice originated as another French variant of Clara in the twelfth century and was fairly popular in the Middle Ages. The name took on some ominous overtones via its hissed elocution (accent on the EESE) by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. On the artistic side, Clarice Cliff was an outstanding British ceramic artist.
CLARISSA—The daintier, frillier sister of the family has strong literary associations. First there was Clarissa Harlowe, the central character (“a young lady of great delicacy”) in the seminal 1748 Samuel Richardson novel, Clarissa, followed by Clarissa Spenlow in Dickens’s David Copperfield, and then the memorable Clarissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
CLARINDA—Clarinda emerged in the sixteenth century as an elaboration of Clara, probably invented by Edmund Spenser for use in his epic poem The Fairie Queen (which also includes a Claribell). HAsn’t been heard from much since.
CHIARA—The Italian version—pronounced kee-AH-ra– of the name meaning light is one of the loveliest and most romantic, and currently is a Top 10 name in its native paese. Actress Chiara Mastroianni is the child of two of the Beautfiul People—Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. Chiara is not to be confused with Ciara (KEER-a), an Irish name that grew up in an entirely different family.
CLARENCE—The sole male Clarence is a noble British name, a royal ducal title usually held by younger royal sons, that has not kept pace with his sisters and cousins, due to a somewhat high-starched-collar image. He does have some notable bearers though, such as lawyer Clarence Darrow, made famous during the Scopes ‘monkey trial,’ current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, director Clarence Brown and frozen food pioneer Clarence Birdseye.
What’s your favorite member of the Claire clan?
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on September 4th, 2013 at 10:19 pm
Unfortunately I’ve known two deeply insane Claires, making this name and all variations of it unusable for me. Which is too bad, since it’s lovely! My favorite is the delicate, vintage Clara.
on September 4th, 2013 at 10:35 pm
I have never seen that spelling – I have always seen it spelled Clarabelle – but I totally love Claribel!
on September 4th, 2013 at 10:43 pm
I’ve met two toddlers named Clara this week, which is my favorite of the ‘Claire’ names.
on September 4th, 2013 at 11:15 pm
Although it doesn’t quite feel like my style anymore, I’ve always loved the simple loveliness of Claire. I’ve pondered using it as a middle name, but wonder if it’s become a bit “filler.”
My husband loves it.
on September 4th, 2013 at 11:25 pm
@Augusta_Lee. LOL at this. I had a close guy friend who always used to tell me “you’re such a Claire,” because I apparently shared distinctive characteristics with his ex-girlfriend named Claire and by extension, in his view, all girls who shared the name (and apparently why he was afraid to date me). I’m willing to entertain the possibility that insanity is one of these qualities.
That said, in 28 years, I’ve never regretted bearing this name. As said above, it’s one of those “sweet spot” names–perennially popular and yet immune to trends. I went all through K-12 with the luxury of being the only Claire in school, and I would imagine that any girl given this name today (not to mention its variations) would be likely to enjoy the same privilege–with the bonus of having a name that is still familiar to most people.
on September 4th, 2013 at 11:30 pm
I like the name Claire as a middle name. I love Clara as a first or middle though. Clara has a very vintage but modern feel to it and I find it to be a very feminine name without being over-the-top frilly and girly.
on September 4th, 2013 at 11:40 pm
Clara. I LOVE Clara. It is very high on my list of future potentials for exactly the reasons Tdillow said! 🙂 lovely!
on September 4th, 2013 at 11:54 pm
Growing up my best friend’s name was Claire. Now I have a niece named Claire also. I love the name because it reminds me of my awesome niece and friend. I also love Clara, which is my great-grandma’s name, but since my niece’s name is so close, I wouldn’t use it. Maybe I will for a middle name.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:08 am
Clara is my absolute, 100% FAVORITE NAME EVER!
So, yes, I like Clara quite a bit.
I also really like claire. I also love the nn Clary.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:16 am
Well Clara is my favorite, and it is a name I would actually consider using for a child, but Clarity is a really neat and refreshing virtue name!
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:48 am
I’m not a big fan of Clare names, but I do love Clarity
on September 5th, 2013 at 1:55 am
Oh, I have to say I do love Chiara, but it’s so popular in Italy where I live.
It’s the first time I hear about Clarity. It reminds me a bit of Charity, which I really don’t like despite the meaning. That’s the only problem I have.
I love Clarissa too.
I’m not a huge fan of Claire.
on September 5th, 2013 at 2:40 am
I love how light and airy Claire looks and sounds. I also love Clara, which is getting new life thanks to the Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald on Doctor Who. I think they’re both great names!
on September 5th, 2013 at 4:02 am
I like Clarice and Chiara most on this list. You could add Claro to the boys end. It’s Latin and is a male version of Claire. It has the “clear, bright” meaning too. There’s also the late Roman Clarus which is the male version of Clara. It’s the name of several saints.
on September 5th, 2013 at 5:53 am
My daughter Clare turns 10 this year so that’s obviously my favorite!
on September 5th, 2013 at 6:44 am
My favorites are Clare and Clarity. I can never pick between them. Love!
on September 5th, 2013 at 9:01 am
I’ve been namecrushing on Clarity lately. It is just so spunky and sweet! Plus I love Clare and Clary which can be nicknames for Clarity.
on September 5th, 2013 at 9:19 am
My favorite is Clara for many reasons, but I also love Claribel which I had only seen spelled as Clarabelle.
on September 5th, 2013 at 9:24 am
I like Clara (pronounced CLAR-uh, not CLAIR-uh) the most from this list. Clare is quite nice too. I really struggle to see Claire as a classic name though as it’s so dated to the 70s here. I feel that Claires are hanging around the school gates with Michelle and Lisa- total mum name in my eyes.
on September 5th, 2013 at 10:23 am
Oh, back to say I also really like Clarenza (clear) which is Latin and Clarimond (shining protector) which is Germanic.
on September 5th, 2013 at 11:07 am
Clarity so elegant!!!
on September 5th, 2013 at 11:09 am
I like the majority of the “Claire” names. Claire will always be my favorite, but I also adore Clarissa, Chiara, Clarice/Clarisse, and Clarity.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:05 pm
“Claire” names are trendy now? Damn
I love Clarity! Hopefully it doesn’t catch on outside Nameberry.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:24 pm
I probably like Clara best. It makes me think of the story of Heidi and her invalid companion. Claire sounds yuppie, but I like Mary Clare. I reminds me of an Irish Catholic schoolgirl.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:25 pm
In much the same way that Anne (of Green Gables) insisted on her “e”, I am horrified when people leave off mine. That being said, I love being named Claire – it has simple, clean, timeless style and grace. Clare is lovely too, and I adore Clara. I don’t much care for any of the other versions.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:32 pm
I have my own little Clara, so that is obviously my favorite! I think it is the perfect vintage name for my dainty, sweet little girl.
on September 5th, 2013 at 12:34 pm
It made me soooooo happy to see this article!!! You’ve no idea how much I LOVE Clarice: she’s been on my short list since the beginning! She’s the combination of Claudia and Beatrice (two long-time favorites of mine that hubby can’t stand) and brings about happy childhood memories of “Clarice Reindeer”, Rudolph’s kindhearted girlfriend. My late maternal grandfather’s name was Clarence who died before I was born, so I feel this is a great nod to remember him as well 🙂 For the longest time, my husband was not keen on Clarice either, but I think it’s too beautiful to toss and have refused to give it up; even tho he hesitates (like he can’t believe he’s saying it) I’ve said it so long that he thinks it’s his idea now – lol. She will more than likely be my first-born daughter’s middle name: Adelaide Clarice, but I wouldn’t bat an eye to use it as a first one day. Sigh, what charm.
Clarissa is another wonderful childhood memory ~ the white-bonneted fish “Baby Clarissa” was my favorite in the 1955 Wonder Book “Let’s Go Fishing”. I absolutely adored her and read the book All. The. Time!
I’ve known several elderly Clara’s in my life, and since I was young, have always entertained thoughts of somehow being related to Clara Barton (did you know her real name was Clarissa Harlowe??) since Barton was also my late maternal grandma’s maiden name. Clara was also the niece-in-law of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s classic tale Christmas Carole. But I think, ultimately, my second love of this set would have to be Claire. The only one I know is about 11 yrs old.
on September 5th, 2013 at 1:47 pm
I love Claire and her variants despite having a bitchy aunt named Claire and an ex best friend named Clarissa.
My favourites are…
on September 5th, 2013 at 1:48 pm
I love Clara and Clarence.
on September 5th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
I love having the name Claire! I was named after my grandmother, and she was the only other person that I knew with my name until I reached high school. It’s always been familiar enough that people know my name, but never a name I’ve had to share.
on September 5th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
Chiara- I have a friend with this name and it was so exotic at the time, She was told that Chiara is Italian for Claire. She is the mom to 3 boys, and when realizing that #3 was also going to be a boy, and her last, they gave him the name James Sinclair – his middle name taken from St. Claire, as a way to honor Mom. I thought that was pretty awesome.
I think it’s funny that you left out the Doctor Who reference for Clara – Clara “Oswin” Oswald was a major story plot and the new companion for series 7+.
Clare – will forever remind me of The Breakfast Club – when Judd Nelson’s character called it “a fat girl’s name.” that made me so angry, but I can’t get past it.
Clarissa – you didn’t mention the Nik show “Clarissa Explains It All” – a huge show for the 28-32 yr olds having babies… starred Melissa Joan Hart.
on September 5th, 2013 at 4:03 pm
Don’t forget Clarence, the angel assigned to George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life.
on September 5th, 2013 at 6:33 pm
I love Clara with a long ‘A’ pronunciation, CLAH-rah and not Claire-ah. I remember watching the musical “The Light in the Piazza” and listening to that name being sung in the song “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” did it for me.
Chiara is a lovely Italian name. I am half Italian and I have always considered using Italian names to honor that part of family. Maybe I will even be living in Italy one day!
on September 5th, 2013 at 7:21 pm
Love Clara! I named a fictional cat Clara-Kitty when I was like, five… she was a snotty rich cat, enemy to the protagonist, named simply Kitty, ha. But I love the name regardless! I like it Claire-uh, not so much CLAH-rah.
Also love both Claire and Clare.
Clarissa will always be Clarissa Explains It All to me!
on September 5th, 2013 at 9:39 pm
I really like Claire as a middle name – it ticks the boxes for both my husband and I, EXCEPT it rhymes with our surname (which also starts with C, but that doesn’t matter so much).
Unfortunately the variations don’t retain the qualities we love, so they’re off the table,
on September 5th, 2013 at 9:56 pm
my middle name is claire… for some reason i never liked it. probably because of a girl in elementary school who i hated and was named claire
on September 6th, 2013 at 6:07 am
I love Clarity but have long considered it a guilty pleasure.
on September 6th, 2013 at 12:20 pm
I almost spilled my tea when I read the title of this blog because (abolutely honest-to-God truth) I know a couple who have named their three daughters. Claire, Clara and …. wait for it … Clarissa!
The wife’s name begins with a C so all the girls names start with that letter. They are all lovely names however I think i would have gone with a Charlotte or a Cecily to avoid confusion!
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