What do you think of the name Caelum?

The constellation Caelum
The constellation Caelum

A reader named Lisa recently wrote to me about the name Caelum:

So my husband and I named our fist son Rigel and we are looking for a second boy’s name that fits in with the space names. I really like Caelum, but we are having a discussion about the pronunciation. Maybe you can help. The English pronunciation is SEE-lum – but I do not like that. The Latin is either pronounced Kay-luhm or Kye-luhm (rhymes with tie or pie). So do you know which it is? Thanks.

There seem to be two issues here. Or, rather, there’s the question Lisa asked, and there’s a separate issue I’d also like to address.

First let’s look at pronunciation. I’m not a Latin expert, but I consulted a few sources (like Michael A. Covington’s short paper “Latin Pronunciation Demystified” [pdf]) and I believe that caelum would be pronounced KYE-loom in Classical Latin and CHAY-loom in Ecclesiastical Latin. According to modern dictionaries it’s SEE-lum in today’s English, though I think English-speakers trying to sound it out would guess KAY-lum before SEE-lum.

More important than the pronunciation, though, is the fact that Lisa and her husband are having a discussion about the pronunciation. That’s not a good sign.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, they settle on a pronunciation they like and decide to use the name. What then? They’ll still have to explain the name (how to pronounce it, how to spell it, or both) to every person who comes along. After a few years, that burden will be passed down to their son. He’ll have to deal with explaining his name to new acquaintances for the rest of his life.

I think there are better options–names that are space-related, but more intuitive than Caelum. Here are a few ideas: Altair, Castor, Deneb, Draco, Leo, Nash, Orion and Vega. (Actress Danica McKellar named her son Draco a few months ago, incidentally.)

What’s your take on the name Caelum?

Image: Caelum by IAU under CC BY 4.0.

27 thoughts on “What do you think of the name Caelum?

  1. I would go with Callum or Callan – simple spelling, nice sound. Having to explain how to spell or pronounce your name is tiresome and if it can be avoided I’d go for it.

  2. I like the idea of Caelum, but I think the parents need to also consider how similar Caelum is to a number of up and coming names: Cullen, Callum, Kellan, etc… More than likely he’ll need to correct people daily.

    I like Altair or Orion as Rigel’s little brother. Some other ideas were Corvus and Jove.

  3. I wonder what she likes about it so much, with the pronunciation still in the air and up for ‘discussion’? Is it the look of it spelled out? Or just the meaning of it? Either way, I would recommend finding an alternative; living with any name is more about how it is spoken than how it looks on paper, and this is not a common word that would immediately (or even often) evoke the definition of itself. And this is all coming from a woman who named her son Cian. :)

    I also, I have to admit, have a problem with making up a new pronunciation for an already-established word/name. That brings all the more questions when explaining the choice… not that that should be your main concern in choosing a name. I would just picture coming across a person who was familiar with the word, and the ‘correct’ pronunciation, and imagine the conversation that followed… “Oh, we didn’t love the way the word was meant to sound, just the meaning/look of the word, so we changed the pronunciation to suit us.”

  4. Without reading your explanation, I said kay LUM. Then I thought about it, reached back to my church Latin and came out with chay LUM.

    I’ll believe you that SEE lum is one possible pronunciation, but never in a month of Sundays would I have thought of it myself.

    Jamie, I think that’s a good point. Only I’m not sure that there is a correct pronunciation in this case. It is a little bit like Lucia – loo CHEE ah, loo SEE ah, loo SHAH … it depends.

    Beyond the pronunciation, I think the other issue is his sound. If you’re leaning towards kay LUM, he’ll blend in with Kayden and Cade. kye LUM meshes with Kyle and Kai. Since big brother is Rigel, I’m guessing you’re going for a stand-out sound.

    So Caelum would be out anyhow. I love the idea of Jove – rare, friendly, simple to spell, fits with Rigel but sounds distinct.

  5. I too would pronounce it as kay-luhm. I like the sound when it’s pronounced that way, better than I like Callum (kale-luhm).

    To avoid the pronounciation issue, one could spell it Caylum (for the long A) or Kailum (for the long I), but one would be compounding the spelling issues.

  6. Hi – I am the original poster. I wanted to clarify a few things.

    One, if we are going to choose this name, it is important to us to spell it correctly. My husband is an aerospace engineer and works for NASA and it is a tribute to space.

    Second, With our other son named Rigel, I would have thought everyone would say it correctly, but almost everyone pronounces it like Regal when they first see it, so there is no winning on the pronunciation. We also get “how do you spell that” all the time. It is also confused with Nigel. We also have to explain the meaning (Rigel is the brightest star in Orion), but that often just opens up fun conversations. So when I thought I was picking a “safer” name last time, it has just not worked out that way. I think it is much more common to today to have “unusual” names, people are pretty forgiving and curious.

    Third, on the pronunciation. I am not sure why we pronounce it SEE-lum in English, but it is similar to how we pronounce Ceaser in the U.S. My original question on the correct Latin pronunciation, is that we do want to say it correctly. It seems that there are 3 correct pronunciations. Which goes to Abby’s point that many names have several pronunciations. I am not sure I have a problem with that, but I have 2 1/2 months to decide.

    Fourth, our last name is very short and one syllable, so many of the other names suggested do not sound good. Corvus is also on our list, but we just don’t like it as much.

    Thanks for all the thoughts. I appreciate it.

  7. Lisa, you’re absolutely right. Unusual names get mangled. So do ordinary ones. My daughter Clio gets called Chloe. I’m Abby and I get Debbie, especially over the phone.

    And still I’m surprised Rigel is misunderstood. It seems like the perfect familiar-but-distinctive choice.

    My husband actually did study Latin, and he’s sitting here reminding me of something: classical Latin pronunciations are at least partially guesswork. Pronunciation would have changed over the centuries. You won’t find a single correct version – that’s either frustrating, or possibly freeing because you can choose your favorite.

    The only thing that gives me pause is that my first impulse – kay LUM – isn’t really on the menu. And it strikes me as the first impulse for MANY American English speakers. But kye LUM isn’t unreasonable …

    I do like Corvus, too. Are there any other options?

  8. Would you consider also other type of names to honor ‘space’ than using star names (Like Tycho or Kepler) or do stars have a special meaning to you and your husband personally? Phoenix might be another idea if you decide against Caelum.

    I think the idea is really lovely and honors your husband’s passion in a sweet way.

  9. I’m portuguese and I took Latin classes; I would pronounce it like “Kailum” – the “ai” sound is like the one in Maya.

  10. We also struggled with the pronounciation but named our third son Caelum anyway Pronounced with the Gailic pronouncian Kaylum. We looked up the pronounciation through english dip thongs We found this name in My husband’s latin book, Which means sky of heaven in ancient latin it is pronounced Kylum which may be the root word for sky.
    We love both pronounciations but two days before he was born had to make sure that it would be pronounced Kaylum beacuse it would be too close to are eldest sons name Kailand which is less common. Needless to say we sometimes call him Kylum anyway But we love his name . Most people assume that we are saying Caleb and it is kind of annoying but we politely repeat it steer them in the right direction. We also included a pronounciation guide on his birth announcement but after telling people they get it.

    I would name him this again in a heart beat.

    Short names could be Cae (Kay) Or Cael

    Thank you for your time hope this post is helpful.

  11. I’ve got a 6 year old son named Caelum, also after the constellation. We pronounce it the “correct” way, in Latin, which I believe is KY-lum. The most common variations we hear are Callum and Kay-lum, which don’t bother me overly as I think they sound nice anyway. We use Cae (KY) as a nickname, and that is quite common in Australia as a first syllable for boys names over the past 8 years or so (Kynan I believe I’ve heard half a dozen times locally). When I was pregnant I thought I might use Cael (Kyle) but that has never happened. Caelum uses his name well; he spells, pronounces, and writes it clearly for others and as far as I know, doesn’t mind people getting it a little wrong.

    Interesting that a previous poster mentioned the name Maya. I believe it can be pronounced My-uh or May-uh. :)

    We love the meaning, and the astronomical application. In Australia, anyone who knows the constellation (most don’t) would call it KY-lum. We do pronounce Caesar SEE-czar, though.

    I don’t think there’s any reason not to use a name you love simply because it will be unfamiliar to people initially. His family will use it correctly, and others in his life will get used to it. I don’t care for names with creative or ‘unique’ spellings myself, or wholly made up names, but unfamiliar names spelled correctly are still a great choice. Besides, what is familiar in your neighbourhood won’t be familiar elsewhere, and vice versa. Caelum’s older sister, Miranda, gets name confusion too, which I think is mad. It’s not particularly common in Australia; she’s called Matilda often.

  12. (and I just realised this is a post from last year… my brain hasn’t caught up yet!)

  13. Old post, but I’ve always loved the name Caelum for a boy. My school Latin taught me Chay-LUM (almost LOOM, but more u-ey). Caeli (Chay-LEE) is a cute nn or for a little girl…

  14. I’m so glad this post exists. I am strongly strongly considering naming my soon to be born kid Caelum (if he’s a boy, we still don’t know). I think it’s an excellent name. I plan on pronouncing it KYE-lum, which seems to be what most posts online say is most likely it’s original Latin pronunciation.

    It does seem like there’s another name, Caellum, that in Celtic means brave warrior, pronounced KAY-lum.

    But I think I prefer KYE-lum to KAY-lum, and the fact that the Cae (kye) in Caelum may be the original root word of ‘sky’ just makes it all the better.

    And really, I feel like correcting the mispronunciations that will invariably occur isn’t such a big deal at all. My name is Javad (I bet you just pronounced it wrong), and people have always mispronounced my name, but I’ve always loved my name a lot and was never bothered by needing to correct it to people I don’t know, just tends to lead to interesting conversations.

  15. Thanks for this post, we are naming our son Caelum and this was most helpful with any minor reservations I had :D

  16. I named my son Caelum nearly 12 years ago. Kind of amusing to read all this – absolutely none of what posters wrote here, including what is in the article, is an issue. People like the name, he likes the name, and it’s not difficult for folks to pronounce. Good name.

  17. Just spotted this:

    Christopher Vincent of Santa Fe named his son Caellum (pronounced “kay-LUM”) to assure the boy’s name didn’t appear on lists like the one the state put out this week. Along with Caellum’s mom, Vincent consulted several books about choosing baby names to find something unusual.

    “It was not a common name,” Vincent said. “We wanted a very rare name. We didn’t want him to have a typical name. We wanted to name him something that people would look at and say, ‘Hey, that’s a really cool name because it’s so different.'”

    Source: What’s in a No. 1 baby name? Heritage with a twist

  18. Hi , my name is caelum here and you guys are like talking about my name and its weird when you guys say that caelum is a boys name when I am a girl . I think caelum can be spelled and written in different ways but see-lum doesn’t necessarily need to be the way to pronounce caelum .. The way I pronounce my name is KAY-lUM and the meaning is heavenly or stars in heaven

  19. My son’s name is Caelum. I pronounce it Kay-luhm. With his last name, it is difficult to pick up his prescription orders because they think his last name is his first and vice versa. A lot of people think his name is Caleb when they hear it and call him such, which bothers him a lottle bit. Yes, we deal with having to tell people hos to say his name and spell it. But it’s worth it because the name is significant because Caelum is a constellation of the sculptor’s chisel (I’m an artist). With his middle name, Orion (his father is a hunter), the name means a great deal. He loves that he has a special name.

  20. Thank you for your perspective, B!

    And you’re right about the definition. Though it looks just like the Latin word caelum, meaning “sky” or “heaven,” the constellation name actually comes from a different (but identically spelled) Latin word meaning “chisel.”

  21. Caelum is a perfect name. It is my youngest son’s name he is about to turn 30 and has always embraced his name. We pronounce it Kay luhm. It gets shortened to Cael and Cdawg by his friends lol. His older brother is Orion, and younger a daughter is Maia the brightest star in the pleiades constellation. I love that there are so many special celestial babies our there with the same special name. :) We live in Tasmania.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.