Spotlight on: Clive

Clive is a name with English origins that retains a certain British-ness. The name originated as a surname meaning “cliff” in Old English, and originally belonged to people who lived near a cliff. Clive as a given name dates back to the 18th century when the name was first given in honor of the baron Robert Clive (1725-74).

The name’s British impression is not surprising, considering a prominent contemporary bearer is British actor Clive Owen. In addition, there are other actors with the name hailing from the U.K. They include Clive Barker, a film director and illustrator known for his fantasy horror fiction, and Scottish actor, Clive Russell, known for roles in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Clive Owen gives the name an intense artistic form of masculinity, yet Clive as a baby name is overlooked. The actor’s surname, Owen (#44), has seen more success here in America, where it has never left the top 1000 (since 1880), and hit the top 50 for the first time in 2010.

As for Clive, it briefly wavered in and out of the bottom of the top 1000 around the turn of the 20th century, and hasn’t seen the top 1000 since 1935. In 2011 there were 53 newborn boys named Clive. The name doesn’t fare any better in Clive Owen’s homeland, where it was given to only 4 newborn boys in 2011.

Clive’s low numbers are puzzling. Clive shares the C, L, V, and I with Calvin (#209). The V is found in many popular revival names for both genders. For boys, Oliver at #78 is at an all time high, Gavin is at #36 (it peaked at #30 in 2008), and Everett is at #257 and trending upwards. Clive has a style like Wyatt. Both names have a cowboy quality. Yet Wyatt is in the top 50 at #48 and Clive flounders.

I wondered why Clive wasn’t more popular in the U.K. and then realized over there Clive is probably considered dated. The blog British Baby Names helped confirm this theory. The country’s Office for National Statistics may have collected the data, but British Baby Names put the numbers into a user-friendly format.

This is a cute little boy named Clive from around the 1940s. I’m guessing he’s English, but I am not certain.

In the U.K. Clive is a mid-century favorite that peaked in the top 50 in the 1950s. Clive was in the top 100 from the 1930s to the 1960s. Roughly speaking, these historic trends make Clive the U.K. equivalent to Dale in the U.S. Dale peaked at #46 in 1952 and 1958, declined over the past 50 years, and left the top 1000 in 2010. Last year there were 163 boys named Dale.

The names share more than similar trend patterns across an ocean. Both names are also English surnames that originate from geographical landscapes. While Clive originally belonged to people who lived near a cliff, Dale originally belonged to people who lived near a dale or valley.

I can easily picture Clive on any man, and maybe that is the name’s downfall. On boys there will always be a place for authentic classics, such as William (#3). But more and more parents seek names with individuality, and this could explain why names such as Clive (and Dale), which seem unassuming, blend into the background.

This may soon change. On BabyCenter, an online parenting and pregnancy site, Clive saw a little jump in 2012. In 2011 Clive ranked #1787 and in 2012 it ranks at #1359. For names like Clive, BabyCenter suggests these favorites: Owen (what do you know), Oliver, Jude, Henry, Jack and Gavin. Most of these rank in the U.S. top 100 except for Jude at #155. Perhaps when parents tire of these contemporary standbys, they will turn to Clive.

Readers: What do you think of Clive?

Photo credit: Clive Owen movie poster / Boy named Clive from around the 1940s.


  1. When I see Clive I think of C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors. And for that reason I’d use it.

  2. British American says:

    So I’m British (in the US) and I do get an un-cool vibe from Clive. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was and it’s not the ‘so un-cool that it’s cool again’ vibe. I did a search on and found this article that supports your theory that it is dated: It’s a Dad-name rather than a cool-grandpa name. So it will be a few years before it’s back again. The article groups Clive with Trevor and Roger. (The article also lists my 3 kids names in the old lady chic and grandpa cool sections. 🙂 )

    Oh and that little boy does look British with his school uniform. 🙂

    I’d like to meet a little Clive in the US. I did spot a Trevor locally who was a toddler – which seemed really strange to me.

    • In the U.S. Roger is a granddad name, but Trevor peaked about 15 years ago over here, making it more of a teenage name in the U.S. I guess Clive Owen isn’t enough to make the name seem cool again to some people, but it works for me. 🙂

  3. Angela, this is why I read baby name blogs, to find a name that I wouldn’t have ever thought of like Clive. What a great name and great analysis! Coincidentally my husband is named Trevor, so it really would work for our family.

  4. We named our son Clive. It is the first name of my father, grandfather, and great grandfather which is ultimately why I chose it. My grandfather and great grandfather have passed and my dad, being the 3rd, uses a nickname of their middle name so it isn’t currently being used; therefore we chose it for his first name. I like that it is uncommon/unique in the US. I also love the association to author C.S. Lewis.

  5. I am a Clive – always have been – the best thing about it is that I imagine my alter ego as a rapper by the name of Evil C. I quite like it being an uncommon name but am unconvinced of its euphony. I’d sooner have been called something more dynamic like Bat or Chisel…

Speak Your Mind