Category: Latin baby names
AUGUSTUS, the pater familias of the group, actually started out as an honorific rather than a name. It was first applied to Octavius, the adopted son—actually a great-nephew– of Julius Caesar when he became the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. The Senate decreed him the title Augustus, corresponding to Majesty and meaning great, magnificent, venerable. It was after him that the month was named.
Augustus then became the official designation of every Roman Emperor who followed, but was never used as a personal name until 1526, when it was given to Augustus of Saxony, at a time when German royalty was imitating everything Roman, from palaces to sculpture, dress and wigs—and impressive Roman names.
Seen now as somewhat fusty (but really no fustier than Atticus or Maximus), Augustus is now #797 on the Social Security list, having peaked in the early 1900s, but it could find favor with parents looking for a path to Gus, and/or who like venerable Latin names. It has several literary namesakes, in books ranging from The Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit to Lonesome Dove to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter.
It also dates back to that ancient time when those Roman emperors were assuming the title Augustus upon their accession; Augusta became the honorific bestowed on their wives, daughters and other female relatives. It was introduced to England in the 18th century by the German Princess Augusta, the future mother of King George III. Well used in the US in the 1920s, it’s rarely heard today—except in the guise of yet another Harry Potter character and the formidible Aunt Augusta in the P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves stories.
AGUSTINA, the Spanish version, is very popular in South America—ranking #5 in Uruguay. It’s also spelled AGOSTINA.
This being the first day of June, it’s the perfect time to take a look at her namesake. Never as high profile as other month names April or May—or, for that matter, cousins Jane, Jean or Joan— June just might be ready for a quiet comeback.
June is a name that has suffered from, more than anything else, having a goody-goody/perfect mom image. This was formed in midcentury America via June (born Ella) Allyson, who played a succession of sunny, saucy ingenues and adoring, long-suffering movie wives in the 1940s and 1950s, along with ideal mom June Cleaver on the sitcom Leave It to Beaver, whose name became symbolic of the archetypal sympathetic suburban, stay-at-home mom of the 1950s, and June Lockhart, who played another quintessential midcentury parent as Timmy’s mother on the long running Lassie TV series. June Haver was another wholesome midcentury star—so wholesome that she actually entered a convent for a while in the middle of her career.
The few other well known Junes include actress June Havoc—the famous Baby June in Gypsy, whose birth name was actually Ellen–and singers June Christy (born Shirley), June Carter Cash and June Pointer. In literature, June was the defiant daughter of Young Jolyon in John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, and it has appeared in movie titles like Henry and June and Happy Birthday, Wanda June. June has started to make inroads into the celebrisphere as well: Balthazar Getty named his daughter June Catherine in 2007, and just about a month ago, Amanda Peet used it in middle place for her daughter Molly.
Although the name is based on an ancient Roman goddess, June didn’t start to be used as a first name until the turn of the last century, when month and flower and jewel names were coming into vogue. It was already in the top 500 in 1880, when Social Security records began to be kept, was in the top 100 from 1915 to 1941, was the 46th most popular name of the 1920s. June dropped off the list completely from 1986 to 2008, when it reentered at #867, climbing 205 places this past year to #662. So even if June isn’t busting out all over, as the song says, signs of a revival are stirring.
And if you’re not ready to consider June, there are three other names connected to the month. Rose is the flower for June, Pearl is its jewel, and then there’s the original Roman goddess name Juno which burst onto the scene with the eponymous 2007 hit movie of and was used for one of his twins by Will Champion of Coldplay.
You may or may not know this, but the patron saint whose name became almost synonymous with Ireland was neither Irish nor born with the name Patrick. He was in fact a fourth century Briton christened Sucat. His dramatic story includes being kidnapped as a boy by pirates and taken to Ireland at the age of 16, where he worked as a slave shepherd for six years. When he eventually escaped, he trained as a priest, probably in France, determined to return to Ireland to convert the pagan population. It was after he was ordained that he changed his name to Patrick, Latin for ‘nobleman.’
He went to Tara, the seat of the Irish kings and pagan Druid priests, whom he debated and overcame, supposedly plucking a shamrock from the ground and using its three leaves to explain the Trinity to the kings. He then traveled the country making further converts until, by the time of his death in 463, most of Ireland had been converted to Christianity.
But instead of his name spreading as well, the opposite happened: the names Patrick and the Irish form Pádraig were held in such high esteem that they were not used as first names until the 17th century (this was not true in Scotland, where is it was common in early times). But by the 19th century, Patrick was so widespread that it came to be considered a generic Irish name.
This was true in America as well, as it was especially associated with the Irish immigrants who arrived in great numbers from 1840 through the early years of the 20th century. Flashing forward to today, where does Patrick stand?
Well, it’s still in the Top 20 in Ireland (#19), but in the U.S. it currently ranks #127, the lowest it’s been since 1928, having dropped out of the Top 100 six years ago. (Its highpoint was the mid-1960s Pat Boone era, when it reached the Top 30.) Its steady fall is surprising in view of the hunky namesakes it’s had over the past few decades—Patrick Swayze dirty danced in 1987 and Patrick Dempsey became McDreamy in 2005. Plus there are any number of notable football and basketball heroes for inspiration, and of course the towering historical figure, Patrick Henry.
Most contemporary Patricks are called Patrick, as old nicknames like the unisex Pat (thank SNL for that) and Patsy and the Irish Paddy have faded, not to mention the occasionally used Rick. We think that, taken in full, Patrick has not only regained some of its old energy and spunk, but is beginning to embody its definition– and is also sounding patrician.
And in addition to the original Latin Patricus (also used by the Dutch) and authentic Gaelic Pádraig and Páraic, other attractive international versions abound—the French Patrice (though Patrick is heard there as well), the Italian Patrizio and Spanish Patricio, the Polish Patek and the Slavic Patrik—all worthy of consideration.
It’s not really so surprising that the names of dances would be strikingly rhythmic and melodic, but when I started to look into it, I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number and variety—and by how many of them could conceivably be seen as baby names.
The following list cuts across time and space, from Italian Renaissance peasant dances and stately minuets to complex international folk dances to Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers to 1960s line dancing to 1980s Brazilian zouk.
ABHIA—a ceremonial dance done by southern Sudan tribal women around a mango tree
ABRAXAS—a serpentine ritual dance of the Greek Gnostics to the deity of that name
ALEMANDER—folk dance performed in Germany and Switzerland
APARINA—a Tahitian dance for 60 men and women sitting in four rows
BARYNYA—a lively Russian folk dance; also the name of several Russian folk dancing ensembles
BOSTON—the original name of the American Waltz, introduced in that city in 1834
BRANSIE—an old French follow-the-leader dance
CALATA—an Italian town dance done in triple time
CARINOSA—Philippine dance of love
CEROC—a simplified version of modern jive dance
CHACONNE—a slow, solemn dance of Spanish or Moorish origin; also a popular social dance in 17-18th century France
CHULA—a traditional dance from Portugal and southern Brazil; also means beautiful in Spanish
Last week we unearthed twenty long lost literary girls’ names–some of which have rarely been used outside of books, plays and poetry– and now we turn to the boys’ equivalents. The diverse sources of these creative baby names range from Shakespeare to Stoppard– and be aware that, as before, the characters who bear them are not necessarily paragons of virtue.
ARKADY. A Russian saint’s name from the Greek meaning “from Arcadia,” it belongs to a genteel character in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and a much less benign one in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and is also a key figure in Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
BALTHAZAR, the name of one of the three wise men, is scattered throughout literature, from Shakespeare ‘s plays to the rambunctious title character of J P Donleavy’s The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B.
CLAUDIO. A Shakespearean favorite, appearing in both Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure; it’s a Latin clan name meaning “lame”–one of those literal meanings that can be ignored in the modern world.
DUNCAN. Duncan Idaho is the brave hero of Frank Herbert‘s classic fantasy series Dune. It’s a Scottish name meaning “brown warrior” and a nameberry favorite, despite some people’s association with Dunkin’ Donuts.