How I Named My Baby: Cleo Cruize

How I Named My Baby: Cleo Cruize

Brittany, a physician, and Tyrice Johnson, a solutions consultant, live in Southern Orange County, California with their son Cleo Cruize.

Cleo was born on May 16, 2023. Here, Brittany shares how she and Tyrice named their baby boy.

Tell me Cleo’s name story!

His name story actually starts with my own. My family is first-generation South African on my father's side. I grew up hearing many stories about the impossible odds that my dad survived growing up in apartheid South Africa as a Black man.

My father wanted to be a physician himself, but it was illegal for him during that time in South Africa. His dream was to come to the United States with a few dollars in his pockets, build himself up to be a surgeon, and have a daughter named Brittany.

Even though I was born in 1990, which was peak Brittany, I felt special and called apart, like my father had spoken me into existence. As a young girl with a prophetic name, it became really important for me to cast a vision for my future children, not only letting them know that they were wanted for decades, but that their names hold a lot of significance.

In addition to that, I grew up in the church and I love the prophetic names of the Bible. That kind of reinforced having names that have significance and power.

My husband's name is Tyrice, which is not a very common name. The ending is unique — it's fashioned after Maurice in honor of his uncle. I thought it would be a no-brainer that the two of us, with our backgrounds, would be on the same page when it comes to having a very strong, unique, interesting baby name.

But Tyrice actually had a lot of opinions that I was not anticipating. I came with my perfectly curated baby list that I have had for decades, but by the time we went through my whole list, the only name that really stuck was Cleo.

I initially assumed I was having a girl, and the name we initially settled on was Cleo Evangeline. But it didn't really resonate with me, and I started to second-guess the name.

We found out we were having a boy shortly after I'd seen a Nameberry post about the name Cleo and its history. I did some more research on it and it resonated much more with me as a boy name. It's a diminutive of Cleopas, meaning "glory of the father".

We tossed around a few middle names but ended up with Cruize, a variation of the Anglo-Saxon Cruise, meaning "a man who is brave and strong". We wanted to speak that our son was a man who was brave for the glory of our Heavenly Father.

That aligned with our desire for a prophetic name. It also felt like naming our son after his father without giving him the same moniker, because Tyrice is the strongest and bravest man that I know. Cleo Cruize is a much more attainable virtue name than the majority of the ones that we had considered.

How did you go from considering Cleo for a daughter, to a son?

I love Cleopatra more than Cleo for a girl, but our last name is Johnson. It may be the influence of Miss Cleo growing up in the 90s, but Cleopatra Johnson felt so much more like a tarot card reader than our vision of a daughter.

I know that our culture leans towards it being feminine, so I did a deep dive. I went on the Nameberry forums and Reddit and read peoples' opinions on Cleo for a boy. It's strongly feminine for most people — few know it has origins as a predominantly masculine name.

It required me to accept that there would be some people who'd say Cleo is more appropriate for a girl than a boy.

Cleo was historically disproportionately popular among African American men. Did that influence your choice at all?

Yes, it did. Tyrice and I had a lot of talks about African American naming, and it felt like reclaiming a part of that history.

There’s been a lot of stigma in the African American community around our names, especially names that are considered too Black or signal that someone is of African descent.

But lately, there’s been a big push for reviving traditional names or alternative spellings. There's a lot more security in the community. People are embracing that and are more willing to give their kids these Black names that you don't see in other communities.

What other names did you consider?

I love unusual virtue names. For a girl, I like Dove Elise, translated as "God's promise of peace". I wanted to speak of this next generation of children having a peaceful, prosperous life. A boy name in a similar vein is Axel Reign, which Tyrice thought sounded like a rock star.

I also love the name Zen with the middle name Lior or Lenore, giving it the meaning "I carry a light of peace". With Louise, it means "warrior for peace".

The name Tyrice and I had the biggest disagreement over was Oona. I am so in love with that name. It’s beautiful with the double-O spelling, and so unique!

My last name was Mcunu and I thought that Oona Rue sounded good. But Tyrice said that Oona Rue Mcunu sounds like a Harry Potter spell!

If I can have one of my friends name their child Oona that's going to be an accomplishment because I think we're going to fall into the alliteration trap when it comes to our future children.

I left a comment on Instagram when Nameberry posted about names that were rising stars and Clover and Calliope were both on the list. We have fraternal twins that run in my family, and I love Clover and Calliope as twin names.

What are the trendy names in your social circle?

Some of our favorite names actually come from our niece and our three nephews. Both sets of families have gone for alliteration, which I love. We have Dion and Dior in one household, and Ari and Arthur in another. They’re very complementary names.

In our friend circle at large, some names that were on my list that they’ve used are Beau, Legend, Legacy, Deveraux, and Axel.

What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?

The most surprising part about it was seeing how much I have evolved and outgrown names I loved in the past.

Growing up, I would try names on in so many ways — sharing them with my closest friends or using them on my Sims. I liked names like Kennedy and McKenzie and Carrington.

Several years ago, I fell in love with the name Ozymandias because I thought Ozzy was the cutest nickname. But now I think that is a very lofty name for a child. It's unexpected how your love for a name can rapidly change.

How do you describe your style beyond baby names?

My husband describes my style as empathic because I like to feel my way into different things, whether it's my clothes or the things that I have around me.

It's important for me to have things that feel good to me and resonate with me. That changes on a daily basis — today I love ruffles and velvet couches and tomorrow I may love a more Scandinavian-style home and be a minimalist.

I have a lot of eclectic senses and that is reflected in some of the things that we purchased for Cleo and also his nursery, which we are working on and designing right now.

Tell me more about your plans for the nursery!

Cleo's nursery has an aviation theme, but the overarching idea is that everything worthwhile is uphill.

Tyrice and I both have backgrounds with rougher roots, in different ways. Professionally, we've also had to shatter a lot of glass ceilings. We think it's really important to encourage Cleo and our future children to shoot for the stars and be willing to go on the path less traveled. Everything that requires more effort is going to be worthwhile on the other end.

We have some really cute things for the nursery related to that, including the obligatory hot air balloons. I also found these cool little GI Joe men that scale the wall, which I am excited to put in the nursery.

Brittany's (and Cleo's) Favorite Things

Frida Baby Bath Tub

Cleo is so in love with sitting in this bath. He massages his scalp with his little fist and takes a nap.

Pigeon Nipple

This was a recommendation from our lactation consultant. It's been really awesome in helping us transition Cleo from bottle to breast.


This has been a lifesaver. It’s close to our bed and it allows Cleo to be near us and in a protected space.

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Thank you so much, Brittany!

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About the Author

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top 2020s names, Gen Z names, and cottagecore baby names. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest.

Sophie Kihm's articles on names have run on People, Today, The Huffington Post, and more. She has been quoted as a name expert by The Washington Post, People, The Huffington Post, and more. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at Sophie lives in Chicago.