July Baby Names: Julia and Julian and beyond

July 1, 2010 Linda Rosenkrantz
July baby names

For this first day of July, guest blogger and prized nameberry intern, Sonia Tsuruoka looks into the special name possibilities for a baby born this month.

Are July baby names on your mind?

Try Julian and Julia,  the two endlessly popular offshoots of the classic Julius.  Though more soft-spoken than the original, both retain an appealing measure of power and nobility that might explain why Hollywood A-listers like Jerry Seinfeld, Robert De Niro, and Lisa Kudrow chose Julian for their sons.

Yet there’s more to these J-names than meets the eye. Along with their many variants, Julian and Julia draw additional strength from their rich, historical roots, while also offering an assortment of sleeker, modern alternatives.

One of the earliest records of the surname Julius tracks back to Rome’s most famous patrician family, the gens Julia, who laid claim to history’s best-known Roman dictator, Gaius Julius Caesar, and boasted descent from the mythological hero Julus. The family’s shared bloodline with several Olympian gods was even outlined by Virgil in the Aeneid, leading many scholars to argue that Julian, translating to “Jove’s child” in English, references Jupiter, the Roman god of sky and thunder. Others suggest that Julian means everything from “youthful” to “downy-bearded,” leaving much of the name’s etymological origins shrouded in mystery.

Julian, borne by many illustrious saints and emperors, was coolly received in the Middle Ages, when it was first introduced, but quickly gained momentum in Italy and France during the Renaissance, in more regionalized versions like Giuliano and JulienJulia — its female variant –mirrored such popularity trends, only becoming common in the English-speaking world during the 1700’s. Both names, however, were bestowed upon several important literary and religious figures in earlier centuries, including Saint Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of travelers, Julian the Apostate, Rome’s last pagan Emperor, St. Julia of Corsica, and Proteus’ lover Julia in William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.  And Juliet— a softer, more romantic female variant– was, of course, also used by the legendary playwright in his best-known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.

Presently, the popularities of Julian and Julia in the US have diverged, with Julia falling to #50 after a 12-year run in the Top 40, and Julian peaking this year at #62– the second highest it’s ever been in recorded baby name history. Julius has since plummeted to #315, after dropping out of the Top 100 in the late 19th century.

While Julia remains classically popular in countries like Belgium, Brazil, Norway, and Sweden, it’s being challenged in the US by the lovely Juliet and Juliette, two of its fastest-rising variants this year.  Julie— another French version –reached the American Top 10 in 1971, but has since faltered, falling to #354 in 2009.

Celebrity culture is bursting with Julias, Julians, and the like. There’s musician Julian Lennon, starchild of John & first wife Cynthia, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, One Tree Hill’s character Julian Baker, and more recently, actor Julian McMahon, of Charmed and Nip/Tuck fame. There are also a number of Hollywood’s leading females, from Julianne Moore and Julianna Margulies to Julia Roberts to snarky Seinfelder Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Even song and movie titles, like the Beatles song Julia (named after John Lennon’s mother, as was son Julian) — from the band’s White Album, the Fountain of Wayne’s Hey Julie, and the oldie Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard all pay tribute to these J names, not to mention Tilda Swinton’s 2008 crime-drama Julia, and 2009’s Julie & Julia, an award-winning dramedy based on the life of master chef Julia Child.

Today, fancier version of both names are cropping up here and across the Atlantic, including Jules, a French form of Julius popularized by François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, author Jules Gabriel Verne, and, more alternatively, English musician Julian “Jools” Holland. Added international flair has also made the masculine Julio and Giuliano perennial favorites among parents of Hispanic and Italian descent, and, among Francophiles, the delicate Julien and Julienne.

Even though Julius itself is in decline, its contemporary relevance rises from its legacy: an endless supply of variations for parents-to-be.  Whether you’re stewing in the thick July heat or watching a Julia butterfly float by, it’s nice to recall the rich history surrounding this timeless J name, and all its colorful offshoots.

Sonia Tsuruoka is an incoming freshman at Johns Hopkins University. Over the course of her high school career, she’s served as the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper, literary magazine, and the Opinions Editor of Her interests include everything from politics to pop culture, and she ultimately plans to pursue a career in journalism after double-majoring in International Studies and Writing Seminars.

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