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Shining a spotlight on names in the news

Sienna

Call Sienna pretty, as pretty as more traditional picks like Sophia and Ariana.

But the name also feels modern, putting it in the company of choices like Savannah and Brianna. We first heard Sienna in the US in small numbers starting in the 1960s, but it didn’t crack the US Top 1000 until the mid-1990s.

Spelled with a single ‘n’, Siena is an Italian city. The Tuscan capital has long been a popular destination for tourists. Clay from the region produces a pretty red-brown color, known as burnt sienna.

The Italian city – or even Saint Catherine of Siena – may have influenced some parents to use the single ‘n’ spelling, but it’s always been less popular in the US than Sienna.

What explains the name’s rise? It coincides with the introduction of the Toyota Sienna minivan, but that seems an unlikely cause. British actress Sienna Guillory might have kickstarted interest in the name, but again, the timing isn’t quite right.

Instead, Sienna seems to be inspired by the runaway success of Sierra, a Top 100 choice in the 1990s.

So it’s a color name, a place name, and a modern-sounding, feminine possibility that bridges the traditional and the new.

Then along came actress Sienna Miller, and suddenly the name skyrocketed into wider use. It’s hovered around the Top 200 in the US for a decade. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, it ranks even higher.

The name might have been starting to cool off slightly. But now that singer Ciara and husband Russell Wilson have welcomed daughter Sienna Princess, interest in the name seems likely to accelerate once more.