Ancient Baby Names: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Trajan
By Linda Rosenkrantz
The Roman Empire reigned for more than five hundred years, led by 140 different emperors. In modern times, though, with a couple of exceptions, the names of these august figures were considered far too august and imposing for a twentieth/twenty-first century kid. But the times they are a-changin’ and lately several of these appellations have ridden into the realm of possibility.
Augustus—Augustus, Julius Caesar’s adopted son, who was born Octavian and given the name Augustus by the senate in honor of his great achievements, was the first of the Roman emperors. Augustus is a perfect example of a name that was well used in the 19th century, then deemed too fusty for decades, and now is back at Number 688 and a high 123 on Nameberry, recently modernized by the character nicknamed Gus in The Fault in Our Stars.
Aurelian—Born Lucius Domitius Aurelianus, Aurelian reunited the disintegrating empire, earning the title “restorer of the world.” Aurelian has never been used much in this country, but it shares the golden-hued beginning of Aurelia and the ian-ending of several more popular names.
Claudius—Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who was taught by the historian Livy, grew up with a number of disabilities—tying him to the ‘lame’ meaning of his name. But with its s-ending, pleasant sound, literary (I, Claudius by Robert Graves) and Hunger Games cred, it has a decent chance of catching on.
Constantine—Constantine converted to Christianity and became the first Christian Roman emperor, ruling the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantium, the capital city, was renamed Constantinople in his honor. On the popularity charts through 1980, Constantine just might mirror the rise of Augustine.
Florian—Born Marcus Annius Florianus, the emperor known as Florian ruled for just a few months, until his sudden death. Florian is a Top 50 name in Germany and the related Flora and Florence are being revived—but would Florian be considered too flowery for a boy in this country?
Hadrian—The popular emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Parthenon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma and the famous wall across Britain designed to keep out the barbarians. In modern times, the simpler Adrian has topped Hadrian, but at this point Hadrian sounds fresher and more gender-specific.
Jovian—Born Flavius Jovianus, in his brief reign, he reestablished Christianity as the state church and issued an edict of tolerance. Far less intimidating and more—yes—jovial than any of the others, Jovian makes a totally plausible possibility.
Julian— Julian the Apostate was a noted philosopher and writer, a complex character who was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. The accessible and appealing Julian is one ancient Roman name that has long been assimilated into modern nomenclature and is now, at Number 47, more popular than ever; #30 on Nameberry.
Justinian—aka Justinian the Great, whose major achievement was creating a written code of laws, the Justinian code, mandating that all his subjects be treated fairly. Its four-syllable length makes Justinian a bit challenging; most modern parents would opt for the simplified Justin.
Lucius—One of several Roman Emperors with this name, Lucius Verus was co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius for eight years. Ancient sounding but user-friendly, Lucius also has biblical, Shakespearean and Harry Potter cred. And although it hasn’t been on the US list since 1962, the Berries like it enough to rank it at Number 172.
Marcus Aurelius —A Stoic philosopher, his writings are known as the Meditations. Marcus has long been a modern favorite—in the Top 75 in the 70s and still at #160; Aurelius shares the golden glow of Aurelian.
Maximian–born Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, he was an ambitious and capable military commander, but a rather menacing character with a savage temper. This one is for the parent looking for a completely unique path to Max–one which might, however, confuse people.
Septimus—The Harry Potter-ish Septimus Severus was a patron of the arts, but also blamed by some historians for the fall of the Roman Empire. A dashing Latin number name, Septimus has been widely used in literature, by Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Trollope, and especially Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway. And yes, there is a Harry Potter wizard named Septimus Weasley.
Titus—The Roman Emperor Titus was one of the most charming and intellectual, as well as being musical and exceptionally strong. The name Titus—also tied to a companion of Saint Paul in the New Testament and the eponymous Shakespearean protagonist of Titus Andronicus—has been on a recent roll, thanks at least in part to the TV series Titus 2000, and it’s also a Hunger Games name. At Number 316, Titus is now at its highest popularity point ever, and it’s also #296 on Nameberry.
Trajan—A Spaniard, Trajan was the first non-Italian Roman emperor; during his reign, the empire reached its greatest size. A great soldier, but also known for his dignity, wisdom and humility, he made Christianity legal. The name Trajan is virtually unknown in the baby-name world, but it is one of the most accessible and attractive of all the Roman Emperor names.
Which of these do you consider wearable?
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on December 11th, 2014 at 12:05 am
I’ve known two Florians and I’m from Texas BUT they were German exchange students so I’ve always figured that was a popular one in Europe. I hate to say it but I think Trajan is too close to Trojan…just can’t.
on December 11th, 2014 at 1:54 am
I love Augustus, Hadrian, and Julian!
on December 11th, 2014 at 11:59 am
I knew a German exchange student named Florian! I liked his name. Julian would be on my list if it wasn’t so popular. I like Maximilian more than Maximian because the L makes it more complete.
on December 11th, 2014 at 2:22 pm
I couldn’t see myself using many of these, but I would consider using Jove instead of Jovian or Gus instead of Augustus. I’d also include Gratian on this list.
on December 11th, 2014 at 3:46 pm
I have an OC named Septimus in my Harry Potter fan-fiction. He has a brother named Zephyrus.
on December 11th, 2014 at 8:35 pm
Let’s not forget Nero, which could easily follow on the tail of Hugo and Arlo. Sure, he may have been an evil emperor who flaunted his wealth in front of all the people in poverty, but it makes for one cool name!!
on December 12th, 2014 at 7:24 pm
I’ve studied Latin for six years now and am fascinated by Roman history, so this article was wonderful to read. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, looking at these names from a historical background means I can’t just allow my name nerd flag to fly, since I have certain associations with the people who had those names. I am very fond of the Emperor Titus as a person, and I also love his name. However, being fascinated and inspired by Augustus doesn’t stop me from thinking his name is over-the-top and stuffy. I prefer August. Octavian, on the other hand, is over-the-top but badass.
I’m also quite fond of the name Gaius, which was the praenomen (given name, usually used only by family and close friends) of both Julius Caesar and Augustus, as well as the name by which the emperor now known primarily by his nickname Caligula was known during his reign. Gaius was kind of like the John of Ancient Rome, so there are lots of them in history.
on December 15th, 2014 at 5:21 pm
I like Augustus, Claudius, Constantine, Hadrian, Julian, Marcus, Septimus, and Titus.
Trajan makes me think of the Trojan virus, unfortunately.
on January 4th, 2015 at 8:58 pm
While a nice idea, I think this article could have had more names talked about. My son’s name is Tiberius and it’s a wonderful name.
PS if you’re trying to sell a name on here, pointing out all the flaws may not be the best way to go lol. While Claudius does in fact mean crippled, it would be good to note that not all the Claudians were disabled. Claudius was a family name, not an individuals name back then. The Claudius in this article was picked purposely because he was disabled and it happened to be an unfortunate coincidence. The Claudians and Julians (Julius Caesar) were two powerful families to rule the roman empire. All in all the article is a good ‘introduction’ to some of these names but should be taken lightly.
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