Ancient Baby Names
Many vintage names are coming back into style today but there are also plenty of old gems out there that very few people are considering. It begs the question, what makes certain names desirable and others not? Here are ten perfectly viable names with history and beauty that are being virtually ignored for modern babies:
AvelineThis name originated as a French surname that was introduced by the Norman French to the British. It became very rare after the Middle Ages. I found it listed as a surname for some famous people dating back as early as 1656. Unlike most surnames, this one is actually very feminine and would be beautiful on a girl. It follows the popular Ava trend and is similar to all the other -line names. It has very rare usage in the US (the first record being in 1923) and it ranked at #3678 in 2013 with 41 births. Unlike some of the other Av- names, this is not associated with birds. Aveline is said to come from “Avila,” a town in Spain, which means “desired.” Another source says it comes from the Ancient Roman place “Avella” which means “Hazelnut.” Perhaps in this case, you can choose which meaning you like better since neither is marked as the official meaning.
A name that frequently gets tossed around naming forums but is rarely used in the US. There were only 9 births in 2013, which ranks the name at #11264; this is down from 22 births in 2012. A romantic and tragic name, Isolde brings to mind the Arthurian legends of the Irish Princess and her lover Knight Tristan. This story made the name very popular during the Middle Ages (also spelled Iseult.) It regained some popularity from Richard Wagner‘s opera Tristan und Isolde in 1865. However there are no US births on record until 1971, then not again until 1997. It’s been used regularly but rarely since 2006.
With the spunky Juno being tossed around (but still rarely used) and the lovely June coming back, I’d like to explore another rare option: Junia. Ranking at #4655 with 30 births in 2013, this Ancient Roman name could be hot again! With a Biblical twist, Junia is also debated to possibly be a female apostle who was complimented by Paul in the 1st century (some argue the name was used for a man.) The name Junia first ranked at #981 in 1883 (with 5 births) and has been used sporadically over the years with a vintage peak of 16 births in 1922. It took a hiatus through the 60s and 70s and has seen a slight increase in usage since 2004.
This name remains one of my favorites. It has been used every year since 1880 but it averages only 20-40 births a year, with a peak of 93 in both 1920 and 1921. Perhaps parents aren’t loving it because of its unknown meaning. However, she was a Shakespearean character in Titus Andronicus. Lavinia was also the wife of the Trojan hero Aeneas and was considered to be the mother of the Roman people according to Roman legend. The town of Lavinium, Italy was named after her. For those who like a name with history or one that comes from ancient legend, this is a very ancient name that sounds beautiful and classy. It was also the middle name of Ava Gardner. There were only 70 girls born with this name in 2013, with a ranking of #2534.
MinervaThis is another Ancient Latin name that has long been neglected. It means “intellect.” This name’s most notable namesake is the Roman Goddess of wisdom, invention and war, the equivalent of the Greek Goddess Athena. Minerva is also associated with art, music, poetry, medicine and crafts, which make it an excellent choice for artistic, adventurous parents. Used since the Renaissance, It peaked in popularity around 1915-1920 and again around 1955-1960, so it is due for a spike in modern usage. It only ranked at #3417 with 46 births in 2013.
This Latin boy’s name is most famously known as the middle name of classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Amadeus was the title of a Peter Shaffer play which became an award-winning film in 1984. The name Amadeus means “lover of God” and is a unique but familiar pick. It has only been used as a recorded first name in the US since 1985, probably as a response to the film. Its peak usage occurred in 2013 with only 53 babies born. That ranks the name at #2351. Amadeus definitely deserves some love!
Another Latin name that could use more usage! With the similar girl name Constance having such long-term success, it’s a wonder that Constantine is rarely heard! A derivative of Constans, meaning “steadfast” or “constant,” a famous bearer of the name was Constantine the Great (272-337), the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity. He famously moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople after himself–it is now Istanbul. Perhaps the long length of Constantine and the lack of good nicknames (Connie? Stan? Tino?) is enough to keep it from gaining popularity. However, it was given to 95 babies in 2013 for a rank of #1602. It’s been regularly used since 1906, with its first US appearances in 1885. I happen to love this name in the middle name spot!
This name tends to get associated with the “Leo” names meaning “lion,” like Leon and Leonardo, but Leopold does not come from the same source. It is derived from the Germanic elements “leud” meaning “people” and “bald” meaning “bold.” Some authorities say that it means “Brave People.” Bold or brave, this aristocratic name was used by Queen Victoria to honor her favorite uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, and it was common among German royalty as well. Leopold was also a 12th-century Austrian saint, now considered the patron of that country. In literature, Leopold Bloom is the main character in James Joyce‘s _Ulysse_s (1920). Leopold has been steadily used every year since 1880 but for just a few babies per year. It hit a peak of 79 births in 1916. In 2013, only 64 little Leopolds were born, ranking the name at #2090.
This is a Roman family name that originates from the more popular “Marcus.” All these Mar– variations stem from the name of the Roman god of war Mars, equivalent to the Greek Ares. Marcellus is a Latin name meaning “young warrior” and has been used by two popes along with the famous Marcus Claudius Marcellus. With other ancient Roman names like Maximus, Augustus, Julius and Titus gaining popularity, I could see Marcellus fitting right in with the nickname Marc. It has had very little usage per year, but has been on the record since 1880. Its first peak was in 1971 with 121 births, then the 90’s saw elevated numbers like 107, 117 and 109 births. Marcellus has stayed in the 90-110 range, falling to just 80 births in 2013. That ranks the name at #1792.
I would love to see a little Romulus with the nickname Romy. Like Marcellus, this name would fit right in with all the other Latin “-us” names that are gaining popularity. While I love the sound of this name, I do have to warn parents about its most obvious namesake. Romulus was one of the original Romans. He and his twin brother, Remus, founded Rome. However, according to legend, Romulus killed his brother and created the city in his own image. His name was later changed to Quinnius. Another notable namesake is found in the Star Trek series as the home planet of the Romulan race. Despite the legendary Romulus, a few parents have found this name appealing over the years. It was first recorded in the US in 1922 with just six births. There have only been a total of 225 boys named Romulus in the US. In 2013, just 7 boys received this strong, bold choice.
What do you think of these rare names? Do you think it is the strong associations that they have in history that keeps parents from using them? Or have they simply not caught on as a popular choice yet? Why do you think some names are overused and some remain forever obscure? Is our society just not ready for the more unusual but historic choices? Which one is your favorite?
This blog appeared previously in The Art of Naming.